Is being restless a signal?

Restless signalI keep thinking about how we hear our callings, the “signals” we get that move us in one direction or another. We talked about pain on Friday and that can be a very strong signal. But what about more subtle things? Is being restless a signal? Because I feel restless a lot . . . in fact, I was having troubles falling asleep thinking about what “restless” really means and how to be without rest actually sounds just as bad as being in pain so maybe it’s no less subtle a signal.

Webster defines being restless as:

  • feeling nervous or bored and tending to move around a lot : not relaxed or calm
  •  unhappy about a situation and wanting change
  •  having little or no rest or sleep

I can relate to all of those! In my own experience, feeling restless often precedes a call that I can’t quite hear yet. A general discontent settles over me, a scattering of ideas, my mind runs on and on and on and on at night. I’ve written before about how I often try to force the call – pick something, hurry up! But I’m slowly learning that the restless signal is a wake-up call for me to submit to listening rather than madly plotting my next steps.

If you feel restless with your daily life, it’s another good time to check in with yourself. Is it plain boredom, is a situation bothering you, do you want change just for change’s sake? It’s a good time to journal through any racing thoughts, to pray on paper, to sit in silence. It’s a good time to go out for coffee with a friend who can reflect on your motivations with you.

I think being restless with the way things are is a pretty normal human feeling. Sometimes it’s plain old envy or greed or lust for the things we think will make our lives better. Other times there’s a holy discontent where we know we’re not living in hope and trust, when we want more for our lives because we realize we’re just sitting around.

Pay attention to your own feelings of being restless this week. Where do you think these feelings are coming from and what are they trying to tell you?

Pain is a Signal

Pain is a signal. But it can signal different things. I was reminded of this yesterday, when I was thrilled to get to spend some time skyping into the Comm 180 class at my alma mater, Trinity Western University. It’s always exciting to get to share some of my experience and hope that it helps people with their own callings.

The students asked some great questions, and as I gave answers I noticed myself going back and forth a lot. The paradoxes, the tensions, the juxtapositions. So much is situational when it comes to calling. One person asked about how you know it’s time to move on and I started my answer with pain.

Pain is a signal

When I burned out at my first job, I was in pain and it goes worse and worse the longer I stuck it out. I had physical stress symptoms, mental exhaustion, emotional upheaval etc. My pain was a signal that intensified until I couldn’t ignore it anymore. When I quit, I was flooded with peace and relief.

When I wrote my book, it was hard. I didn’t like it. I had back and neck and arm pain from the lengthy computer time. I was mentally exhausted from trying to write well. I was emotionally fragile as all kinds of classic writer’s doubts assailed me. In this instance I felt like the pain was signalling that I was doing what I was supposed to be doing. When I was done writing the book, I had a huge sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.

Both experiences involved pain but signaled something different. In the first instance, the pain was signalling that I needed to remove myself from a situation that was toxic for me. In the second instance, the pain signalled that I was on the right track – we never create without resistance, without overcoming hurdles.

To be honest, it can be easy to assume the wrong thing about pain. I picked two instances where I feel like I made the right call about it, but I know I’ve made plenty of wrong ones too. Sometimes we assume it’s necessary pain and hurt ourselves by staying. We assume we should never quit, that the pain is something we can fix, ignore or overcome with enough time. Other times we give up too easily. We experience some unexpected resistance and assume it’s a signal that we’re going the wrong direction. We stop when we should push through.

So how do you know what your pain is signalling? How do you know whether it’s a situation where the pain “is gain” or it’s a warning to stop?

I think it takes time. Time to check your reactions and underlying motivations for continuing or stopping. Time to ask your trusted advisors. Time to check your sense of well-being and identity. It’s never an easy call. It’s unlikely to be straightforward. That’s why we need so much discernment and wisdom in our lives. Because so much is situational and unique for each person and there usually aren’t quick, easy answers. It reminds me of a favourite quote my dad sent me awhile back:

Never make a principle out of your own experience; let God be as original with other people as He is with you -Oswald Chambers

What do you think? How do you normally respond to the pain signals in your life?

The Birkman: Affirmation & Awareness

The Birkman Method: Affirmation and AwarenessFirst off: the winner of the book with the free report included is Kathryn! Congrats – contact me with your address and I will put the book in the mail for you!

To wrap up September and our series (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3) on the Birkman, I want to talk a little bit about how to use assessments like this. More specifically, how you use the information about yourself.


I was able to do the mini-consultation that I gave away at the beginning of September this past week and had a blast as usual. It is so neat to see how affirmed people feel when they see how much the report “gets them.” The Birkman Method has an excellent accuracy level so I’m not surprised by that. What does continue to surprise me is that sometimes people are just waiting for an outside confirmation to really do what they already know about themselves. It’s like they just need that extra boost of confidence that they really are right about their own needs and interests. The Birkman is a great way to get confirmation if that’s what you’re looking for.

There’s a warning that comes with this though: If you don’t know what you want to do, the Birkman is not a blueprint for what you should do. It can tell you how much more interested in Social Service or Music you are compared to others. It can tell you what careers you are most similar to in your responses. But it won’t tell you that there’s just one perfect job for you. That’s because many people are successful even in their least similar career matches. These people will most likely feel different than the other people doing that job, they will bring a unique set of skills to that job and by extension face some unique challenges because of their differences to their peers, but that doesn’t mean it can’t or shouldn’t be done.

For example, I did the Birkman recently with someone whose entire career was in a job that showed up last on his Job Families Report. Did that mean he had spent his entire life in the wrong job? Absolutely not. It meant that he had faced a lot of stress integrating into an environment that wasn’t natural for him but that he had brought wonderful gifts that weren’t usually seen in that department. His career has been fruitful and rewarding. So taking the Birkman as your Bible for which jobs you should take and which ones to write off is a dangerous game, because you might miss out on opportunities that you should explore even if they don’t necessarily look like an exact fit.

That’s why I prefer to focus on awareness as the best part of the Birkman. With the Birkman by your side, you’ll know when you’re not a “typical” fit in a certain role, and that awareness will help you  leverage your unique strengths and manage the unique challenges that arise.


When I looked at John and my Birkman reports this month, I was more aware of which factors contribute to our ability to handle this crazy entrepreneurial life and which factors contribute to our downfalls. I get affirmation that if anyone has the personalities to make it work, we do. We have high Freedom scores (comfortable with being uncoventional), low Structure scores (flexible with routines). But better than that, I gain awareness to watch for our common struggles. The low Structure score is as much a liability as an asset. I dream of being so much more organized than we are. We both have high Thought scores which makes decision-making a longer drawn-out (and sometimes painful) process even when it doesn’t need to be.

I actually had to laugh out loud during certification training when we were looking at the Organizational Focus report and my pattern of having very short bars showed that I was not typical to workers in any of the four work environments (Operations/Tech, Sales/Marketing, Design/Stragey, Administrative/Fiscal), “This pattern does NOT mean the individual will not be satisfied in any work environments; rather, she enjoys a mixture of tasks across conventional work environment types and, potentially, will be more likely to create her own distinct work environment for her chosen profession.” I felt affirmed about my career path, but more importantly it made me aware of my need to diversify and not get bogged down in only one type of work. It helped explain my restlessness in the corporate world.

Tell me about affirmations you’ve received in your life that you were going the right direction – where did they come from? What insights and awareness about your own personality have helped you the most at work?

And again – if you’re interested in taking the assessment yourself and meeting with me for a consultation (in person or via skype), simply check out my services page. If you want to read up more on the Birkman, you can head over to my info page or their website.


The Birkman Method Book & Free Personal Report

The Birkman Method Book and Personal ReportSo I’ve been doing this small series (see here, here and here) on how the Birkman Method plays out in our lives in order to get you excited about reading this book. The current CEO, Sharon Birkman Fink, recently published a book appropriately titled, The Birkman Method: Your Personality at Work and it includes a free personal report (I believe it’s a condensed version). I was sent a free autographed copy in exchange for a review. Since I already have my own report I would like to give this copy away to a reader! Now is a good time to be excited.

The book explains each of the eleven behavioral components that the Birkman Method measures as well as the interest scores. It gives you many great stories and examples of how people have used the information in their reports to solve problems and work more effectively. Even though I have my certification as a consultant, I found the illustrations so helpful in broadening my understanding of how this tool can be put to good use. For those who are unfamiliar with the Birkman Method, it is a great overview and introduction to the material and what you can do with it. You’ll find that it’s a quick, easy read.

I think my favourite takeaway from the book was a point repeated once at the beginning and once at the end:

While certain unique behaviors and customs are taught in different cultures, the more important underlying motivation and needs that drive people are shared around the globe. In other words, we humans are more alike than we realize, more similar than we are different. There is consistently more diversity within any one group than there is among groups (p. 10).

The difference among individuals in any particular nationality are much greater than any differences among nationalities (p. 155).

This is such an important truth for us to absorb as our communities and workplaces become more globalized and culturally diverse. It’s something we need to remind ourselves of, whenever we feel tempted to think in “us vs. them” terms. Underneath the cultural differences in behavior we might see, we are much more similar in our motivations and needs than we think. And that means that no matter how strange it might feel, it is possible for us to relate and connect with people anywhere on earth. In fact, we should seek to find those common bonds wherever we can.

If you would like to win my free copy of The Birkman Method and get your free personal report, all you need to do is leave a comment that interacts with this blog post. I will select a winner out of a hat and send you the book! If you would like to get a full Birkman report and enjoy a consultation with me, then check out my services page and contact me. You can also continue reading more about The Birkman Method on this page. You can also check out the beautifully redesigned Birkman website for more info.

UPDATE: Forgot to mention I am giving this book away on Monday the 30th! So you have until Monday lunch to leave a comment that will be entered into the drawing.

The Birkman and my former bosses

Understanding my former bossesI feel that it’s a little risky writing a post like this . . . like airing dirty laundry in public. But this is not about boss-bashing. I promise.

What I want to do is share a few insights that the Birkman has given me into the workplace tensions I experienced with my bosses. The Birkman Method scores many of its components on a continuum. The farther your score is to one end, the harder it is for you to understand that the other end exists, let alone that there might be benefits to a different way of doing things. It is such a good reminder for me to guard against my tendencies to think other methods are “wrong” when they could simply be different.

Authority Score:

Authority is one of the 11 behavioral components that Birkman measures. My authority score is extremely high (91/100). This is good and bad (as always – each end of the spectrum has its positives and negatives). The positives are that:

You show a healthy respect for established authority, whether verbal or in the form of formal procedure and control. It is relatively easy for you to take charge and direct activities, and see to it that pre-arranged plans are executed.


  • self-assertive
  • seeks to influence and excel
  • enjoys exercising authority

High needs in this area indicate that:

From others, you need personal and clear instructions as to what they expect to have done. You respect people who appear to you to be natural authority figures, and expect them to enforce strictly the boundaries of authority.

At first I really struggled with this score since I often feel that I’m actually a little bit anti-authoritarian as far as questioning the status quo and wanting to do things differently than established procedure (Freedom and Structure scores play into this).

But this score is really about verbal, visible leadership and that does make sense for me. I hate it when I’m not sure what someone is asking of me! I want someone to take charge and make a decision even if it’s just about where we’re going to lunch! This means that if I’m working with someone who prefers a  low-key democratic suggestive style, I might not “get it”, which leads to the negatives:

CAUSES OF STRESS: You can easily lose your respect for those in positions of authority when it seems that they are having difficulty showing strength. Your morale and enthusiasm suffer in these situations.


  • provocative statements
  • undue assertiveness
  • becoming bossy or domineering

Essentially, if I don’t think someone is showing “enough” leadership, I feel like I have to take over for them and it really stresses me out. I know I’ve failed to respect people for exactly this reason. As Lucy likes to call Charlie Brown – I’ve tended to see these people as “wishy-washy” rather than understanding that they simply have a different style of leadership.

People vs. Procedure

At one place I worked, whenever we ran into a problem, my boss would outline a new set of procedures for the team to memorize and follow. I couldn’t understand how he thought this would help. I kept thinking that we needed to work it out together to get a good system because we’re all human and another policy doesn’t fix everything!  On the “Preferred Work Styles” report, I found this:

Public contact: Prefers activities that involve social contact. Seeks solutions through people. Focused on people being central to organizational effectiveness.

Detail: Concern for the procedural and detailed aspects of work. Focused on processes as central to organizational effectiveness.

Guess what my scores were? 10 for Public Contact and 1 for Detail (on this report you score 11 between pairs of words – so basically I’m all about the people). I’m willing to bet my boss was a 10 for Detail and a 1 for Public Contact. For him binders of step-by-step instructions ensured efficacy and quality control.

Work Motivation

Perhaps the biggest insight into why I even have this blog comes again from the “Preferred Work Styles” report where one of the categories scored is called “Work Motivation.” A person with a high score has:

“A positive attitude toward work; exhibits a responsible outlook toward work rules an assigned functions. Able to find value in most jobs/roles.”

My Work Motivation score is ONE (the lowest you can get)! Yikes! This basically makes is sound like I’m a terrible worker! But thankfully, at my certification training, I learned that what this is really trying to measure is how much you need a “why” to work.

The comparison group for this factor is assembly line workers who are happy in their work. I didn’t even think it was possible for assembly line workers to truly be happy in their work. That’s because my score says it’s essential for me to understand how my work is serving a greater purpose. I have really struggled with this in all my jobs because sometimes there is just so much busy work that doesn’t seem useful!

So there you have it: this whole huge project of researching calling and trying to understand the meaning of work highlighted right here in the Birkman. It’s a good reminder for me, because I think understanding calling is so essential for everyone else and yet I meet plenty of people who don’t seem to care and I can’t fathom why they don’t. They probably have a completely different Work Motivation score than I do and that’s ok!

These are just a few of the insights that have helped me get a better perspective on my experiences with different bosses.

If this stuff intrigues you and you’d like to get your own Birkman done, just let me know. Or suggest bringing me in to do Birkmans and team-building at your workplace! It can have huge benefits. You can contact me with any questions or check out my services page to figure out where you’d like to start.

How the Birkman Interest Scores Show up in Our Lives

[ANNOUNCEMENT: The winner of last week’s giveaway was actually a friend and former colleague – Congrats to Melissa! She is still deciding which prize she’s going to pick.]

Today, I want to talk about one page report in the Birkman called Areas of Interest. In The Birkman Method, CEO Sharon Birkman Fink writes,

Areas of InterestOur Areas of Interests show us a nutrient in our lives – something that strengthens our emotional well-being. In addition to using the scores to point to a career path, improve your work environment, and tailor a job to suit you, they also show you what you require in your life to maintain your energy . . . Feeding our most vital interests is as essential to feeding the spirit of a person as water is to a plant. So a high score means it is an Interest that is likely to inform your choice of work as well as your recreation. You have to tend to your passions when you are trying to be your creative and productive best. This is especially true when you have to work your hardest over many hours – exactly when your obligations can obscure your Interests or start to crowd out time for recharging.

Artists in a Messy House:

Recently, as I was rereading our Birkman reports, I was struck by how the highest interest score John and I have is the same: Artistic (his score is 87, mine is 94 for those of you who love numbers). The Birkman boils down the “Artistic” interest to visual interest or how things appear. Interests don’t necessarily equate with talent but in our case, we have some of both.

Areas of Interest
Silver Light by Andy Eccleshall

We love to create “works of aesthetic value” (duh! photography) as well as simply enjoy works of art at a gallery (my favourite gallery being Cole Gallery downtown Edmonds – buying works of art is one of those things I dream of doing). Before Canon was born, going to the Edmonds Art Walk was a frequent date night for us.

This shared interest also explains our mutual love for home decorating which has created more than a little conflict the two times we’ve moved (“No! I really think this room needs to be yellow!”).

But what really hit me this time, was what a basic influence this Artistic value has in our daily lives. Both John and I experience elevated stress in messy situations (sidenote: remember messy is defined differently for everyone). As you might guess with a mobile toddler, this season in our lives is very, very messy so I’m noticing the connection more.

I’ve been assuming for a long time that I just need to get over my perfectionism about how clean the house “should be” while at the same time thinking it odd that I care that much because I have never been a perfectionist about cleaning. I could care less if there are dishes in the sink, as long as I can’t see them. I only start caring about dust when it becomes visible. My love of organizing? Probably mostly about how nice it looks at the end. So I think my desire for a tidy home is related to my Artistic (visual) interest score!

When Canon goes to bed, I tidy the family room because that’s where I want to spend the rest of my evening. I don’t care if the living room is a disaster because I can’t see it. This isn’t really a perfect hypothesis because even though mess stresses John out too, it does so to a much lesser degree. He can live in chaos and put up with more disorganization than I can. So obviously there are more factors at play. But I think this score plays a role!

Literary Polar Opposites:

If you were wondering why Literary wasn’t my highest score, don’t worry! It’s my next highest at 92. If you have read this blog for any length of time you’ll know that I love words. I love to write. I love to speak. I love to edit. I care deeply about what words mean and using them properly – many of my rants concern sloppy language. Poor John has learned the hard way that a “you know what I mean” excuse just doesn’t cut it for a word-girl.

And of course, I love reading – it’s definitely an essential “nutrient” in my life.

Areas of InterestGuess where John’s Literary score is? It’s his very last one – a 6 (anything under 10 is something you prefer to delegate to others and which causes you stress if you have to do it!).  While I am sometimes sad that John won’t just pick up that book that I want him to read, it has been easier than I thought to get around this “problem.” Often I simply tell him about what I’m reading. Sometimes I’ll get out the audiobook for him if it’s a great novel I know he’ll enjoy. On more informational books that I want to discuss, I’ll check out the DVD from the library (if there is one) or audiobook or just read parts out loud.

I always thought that marrying another reader was going to be essential, but it turns out that what I was really looking for was someone who still loved to learn. And thankfully, John has rotating hobbies (we call it “My Next Obsession”) so he often reads and researches all evening (usually online) anything from fishing to how to build adirondack chairs to baking the perfect artisan bread to the latest lighting equipment. Which leads right into:

Persuasive & Scientific: John’s Photography Trifecta

Artistic Interest
Groom at a Wedding

After John’s top Artistic score, his next two are Persuasive (80) and Scientific (76). These are very much what they sound like:

  • The Persuasive interest is about interacting with people, motivating them to action, influencing them, competing, teaching and sales.
  • The Scientific interest is about investigative research (ahem, next obsession!), curiosity about why and how things operate, involvement with technology and experiments etc.

I am amazed at how these scores come together so perfectly in his photography work. He has a perfect balance of the artistic vision, the ability to communicate and motivate others during the shoot, and the scientific know-how to operate all of his complex gear to perfection. His highest interests are all engaged when he is shooting and you can tell (I know I’m biased but I think he is a crazy amazing photographer – see for yourself).

Ok – that post is way too long, proving the second interest and also the first (I spent 25 minutes finding photos and then resizing them, rearranging them etc until I thought everything flowed!)….. classic!

Find out more for yourself!

If you are intrigued about the Birkman be sure to read up more about it here and check out my services here – I would love to provide the assessment for you and discuss the results!

How the Birkman helps us work at home without killing each other

Change score discussion

This month I wanted to do something fun and show you how the information in a Birkman Method report plays out in “real life.” I will be using our real life as we work and parent at home. Today’s example cropped up about a year ago and continues to be something I have to consciously consider in our daily life. It’s about the Change component.

The Birkman measures you on 11 behavioral components. They put your usual behavior on a continuum from 1 to 99 with each end representing a different set of usual behaviors. While John and I are fairly similar on eight of the eleven behavioral components, we have a 47 point difference on our Change score. John is down in the lower end (34) of the continuum while I’m on the high end (81).

What is the “Change” component?

Birkman defines this as mental and physical restlessness. It describes comfort in shifting priorities, patience with interruptions and flexibility in accepting externally imposed change.

Low Change behavior is concentrative, not easily distracted, patient with long-range projects, and able to focus on the task at hand.

High Change behavior is easily excited by new ideas, ready to start new ideas, initiating change frequently and adapting easily to variety.

In terms of responsiveness to change you could compare a 1 to a supertanker needing to change course (that takes awhile!) and a 99 to a speedboat needing to change course (done in the blink of an eye!).

What are the different Change needs?

Low Change needs: protection from interruptions, opportunities to complete important tasks once started, time to consider new ways before changing methods, minimum of abrupt changes, an opportunity to give input before changes are initiated.

High Change needs: alternating work responsibilities, frequent changes of activity, relief from daily routine, opportunities to shift priorities as new interests arise.

How this plays out:

You might already be picturing the scenario: John has just embarked on editing a wedding – a “long-term” project on which he is usually able to focus for vast stretches of time. He likes to edit through until he’s done. Tash cannot fathom how he can possibly concentrate the whole day on the same task (she admires it but also wonders how this can be healthy) and she tends to suggest changes: “Don’t you need a break?”, “Let’s go for a walk”, “Can you help me with x, y, z for a minute?”, “Here talk to Canon for a second while I do this.” Tash blissfully believes she is offering him some variety in a LONG BORING day while John’s stress level rises with each interruption.

This happened quite a bit in Canon’s first year because it was also John’s first year of working from home. Since I need lots of variety and relief of routine, I assumed John probably did too. Not true! Turns out he needed to be protected from interruptions so he could complete the tasks he had started. Initially, I thought he was just trying to get out of helping with Canon by working constantly. John felt like I was trying to sabotage his work.

Looking at our Change scores helped us both to realize there wasn’t something “wrong” with the other person and that neither of us was trying to purposely annoy the other person with our usual behaviors. We were able to discuss ideas for solutions more practically and with less emotional turmoil.

While he still gets interrupted (“Help! Poop disaster!) I try to stay aware of interruptions and keep them more minimal when I know he’s concentrating on a long project. At the same time, John sees that I need alternating responsibilities and we continue to try to work out how we can best divvy up parenting and photography work.

That’s just one tiny piece of all the material the Birkman Method reports contain. If you’re intrigued – there’s still time to enter my giveaway here: The Birkman Preview report covers all eleven behavioral components and more. Or head over to my Birkman services page to learn more.

Creating Culture whether “Sacred” or “Secular”

As a bit of a follow-up to the last post, I wanted to share this excerpt from Andy Crouch’s Culture-Making – it’s a fabulous book, you should read it – and he’s coming out with a new one called Playing God which I can’t wait to get my hands on. This part is describing his time doing campus ministry at Harvard:

We labored under a subtle but real dichotomy between sacred and secular, granting full legitimacy only to callings to “ministry” under the pretext of subverting Harvard’s lure to wealth, fame and power. So we recruited more than one young associate with the rhetoric of renouncing their ambitions (we called it “leaving their nets”), only to see them struggle doggedly to produce the kind of abundance we had promised. More than one eventually left us and took up “secular” jobs – where they found a sense of freedom and joy that they had never experienced in our demanding company of workers for the gospel.

Is it possible to participate in culture, to create culture, outside of the church and experience every bit as much divine multiplication as those who work inside the church? For centuries many Christians would have answered no. A few had “vocations” – a word that still today, in Catholic contexts, refers to a specifically religious life – and the rest did not. To have a vocation was to withdraw to the edges of culture . . .

But there are two serious problems with this approach to vocation. First, even a full-time sacred agenda turns out to be no guarantee of either holiness or fruitfulness. Segmenting off a “sacred” set of cultural activities sets us up for disillusionment when the sacred specialists turn out to be no more creative and no less corruptible than their secular counterparts. Second, it becomes impossible to do justice to the biblical story, in which the whole world was created good, the first human beings were given a cultural task, not just instructed to be dutiful worshipers (unlike in other creation myths of the time), and the Son of God himself spend most of his life as a carpenter.

The religious or secular nature of our cultural creativity is simply the wrong question. The right question is whether, when we undertake the work we belie to be our vocation, we experience the joy and humility that come only when God multiplies our work so that it bears thirty, sixty and a hundredfold beyond what we could expect from our feeble inputs. Vocation – calling – becomes another word for a continual process of discernment,  examining the fruits of our work to see whether they are producing that kind of fruit, and doing all we can to scatter the next round of seed in the most fruitful places.

I would love to see more conversations taking place that help us “subvert the lure of wealth, fame and power” within the context of normal jobs and daily life. I also love the idea that we should ask whether we are experiencing joy and humility in our work.

You cannot serve both God and Money

Uh oh – it’s a rant. If you love rants, jump on in. In fact, I want your thoughts so please do read this and leave a comment.

Let me be clear up front: what I am about to rant about is language, illustrations, wording and the implications of how we say what we say. It is not about attacking people or their decisions.

I wish I had a snazzy term for what I am about rant about . . . missionary money guilt trips or biting the hands that feed us. Either way, here’s what happened:

image source:

Yesterday, John and I went to church and thoroughly enjoyed the service. There was a great testimony about God’s provision in desperate times and then one of our missionaries preached from Joshua 24. It was a great sermon on being faithful and how we have to remember God’s mercies and faithfulness to us.

But then it happened. The missionary gave a closing example of “serving the Lord” and it had to be this: his daughter who has just become a doctor gave up the top-dollar job offers she was receiving in the U.S. to serve overseas in a developing nation without adequate medical care. He quoted, “You cannot serve both God and money” (Matthew 6:24).

You might be thinking, “What on earth is wrong with that? That’s so amazing that this girl is serving people who desperately need it.” And you would be totally right. Again, I am not questioning her decision at all. I think it’s wonderful that this is what she felt called to.

HOWEVER, this is a terrible terrible terrible story to preach to people. Here’s my opinion on why:

By implication you mean that any doctors in the congregation that work here in the Seattle area and make lots of money are serving money rather than God. If they were truly serving God, this kind of story suggests, they would all be in Africa. Are people in Seattle not in need of medical care? Does getting paid for the work negate the doctor’s ability to serve God by serving his people?

Even for all of those who are not doctors, it seems to tell us that we should use a kind of reverse logic and turn down big money job offers because only then are we truly serving God.

It can even teach people to think that the only way they can serve God is to leave their jobs and become missionaries. They discount the idea that God may have called them to serve right where they are in their engineering or accounting or programming jobs. There are people who have gone to the mission field who were not called to that work. Serving the Lord in missions doesn’t automatically fix all your questions about finding meaning in your work.

Lest you think I’m overreacting to a minor incident, this kind of teaching also happened at our church a year or two ago when another missionary shared in our Sunday school class. He shared how he gave up his business dreams to “serve the Lord.” Again, I’m not critiquing his decision to do what he felt called to; what I take issue with is the premise that you cannot serve God in business. He told us excitedly about how his own daughter is going into missions as well.

It happened when our church commissioned a couple going into long-term missions. All of us tend to revere the people who ostensibly, “give up everything.”

These kind of illustrations and examples become prescriptive rather than descriptive. We use the phrase “serve the Lord” in a horribly narrow way and it hurts our congregations because they fail to understand how their own work can also serve the Lord.

Yes, it is harder to love God when you have lots of money. We have had times of plenty and times of need and it’s definitely the times of need that force us into greater dependence and trust, that bring us closer to God as we see how much we need him. BUT . . . this does not mean that people aren’t called to the difficult work of serving God and making lots of money and still learning what trust and dependence looks like in that setting.

Maybe I’m overly sensitive to this, due to both growing up as a missionary kid and all the calling research I have done since, but I think missionaries need to be especially aware of their own tendencies toward these stories. In some ways, they’ve chosen a simple way out of the money vs. God struggle by taking up a life of radical dependence. Those of us who work and try to make a living have to wrestle with money and God in a different way.

And it strikes me as extremely insensitive when missionaries dismiss the money struggle for others, because it is often the doctors that stayed home who are financially supporting missions work overseas. Without wealth-generating church members, churches cannot survive and missionaries cannot be sent. These wealth-generating church members should not be told that the only way they serve God is by giving away their money. They should also understand how they serve God through their work itself (that’s another whole topic). Seriously, folks – we need to talk about this in church!

Ok – rant over. Your turn.

Talk to me: Am I just nitpicking details? Do you notice these kind of stories and what is your reaction? Have you ever felt guilt-tripped that your work wasn’t serving the Lord? How does serving God or Money play out in your life?


The Reason for Work

Every Good Endeavor by Tim Keller: The Reason for WorkI finally checked Tim Keller’s book Every Good Endeavor off my reading list this week (good grief – I got it for Christmas!) and it was excellent! This is a must-read for anyone who is wondering what the reason for work is. Keller writes the book with Katherine Leary Alsdorf, the director of the Center for Faith & Work at his church, Redeemer Presbyterian in New York, and you can definitely tell that between the two of them, they have an exceptional understanding of the questions their congregation is asking about the meaning of work.

I want to share just a few of the things that I found most encouraging:

The book starts with a retelling of Tolkien’s short story “Leaf by Niggle” in which a painter fails to realize his dream of painting a tree during his lifetime. He completes only a few leaves by the time he dies and is saddened to think his dream will never be realized. Imagine his joy when he sees the very tree he has always envisioned, real and living, as he enters heaven. Keller writes, “But really – everyone is Niggle. Everyone imagines accomplishing things, and everyone finds him-or herself largely incapable of producing them.”

Later on Keller returns to this theme, writing: “What do we mean when we say work is fruitless? We mean that, in all our work, we will be able to envision far more than we can accomplish, both because of a lack of ability and because of resistance in the environment around us.” A few pages later he adds, “You should expect to be regularly frustrated in your work even though you may be in exactly the right vocation.”

This might not seem encouraging to you but it should be. Leaf by Niggle, “was Tolkien’s way of saying, to us as well as himself, that our deepest aspirations in work will come to complete fruition in God’s future.” What could be more encouraging than that? “The wonderful truth is that, “If the God of the Bible exists . . . and this life is not the only life, then every good endeavor, even the simplest ones, pursued in response to God’s calling, can matter forever.” This is the perspective I cling to as I move through the frustrations and failures of my work in the present.

Please read this book if you’re wondering about your reasons to work, the reason for work in general, what your calling is and how to be a Christian in your work.