Take The Humble Path (Saturday)
Today's devotional comes from "Falling Into Goodness," a book of Lenten reflections by Chuck DeGroat. You can purchase the entire book on Amazon in paperback or for Kindle.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Matthew 5:9
“I’m a peacekeeper,” she said to me, with her head tilted downward. I had asked her if she could speak to her boss about sexist and racist remarks he’d made toward her. But she made clear that it was not her personality to stir the pot.
“What if you could become a peacemaker?” I asked. She looked confused. I wondered aloud with her whether or not it was time for someone to declare shalom where there was no peace.
“But I might lose my job!” she retorted.
She’d been there for 10 years. She was the senior engineer in a Silicon Valley startup, and at 35 she was probably more than a decade older than most of her colleagues. Her boss and the founder was 32, a young, brash, and narcissistic guy who experienced his early success as a sign of impenetrability.
I could conceive of several different ways in which she could and should tackle racist and sexist comments, but peacekeeping wasn’t on the list. After running through options which included outside, legal intervention, she said to me, “I’ve been here with him a long time. I think I owe it to him relationally to say something clearly and directly.” Wow. Something new was emerging in her.
We walked through her language and tone. She wanted to practice – to imagine herself in the conversation, speaking non-reactively but with strength. I coached her to share how it felt and what she needed. We talked about specific requests she’d make. She did meditation exercises in which she imagined speaking to him, in the setting they’d gather, face to face, with clear speech and direct eye contact. She wisely planned for another senior employee to be present. And then the big day came.
When she called me that evening, I could hardly wait to hear what happened. My formerly anxious and diminutive client had chosen to become a peacemaker. She knew the risk. She’d planned for multiple contingencies. She’d also received the affirmation of several peers at work who were willing to go to battle if and when it was necessary. However, she’d go before them.
I can’t imagine anything more Christ-like, in some respects. But I worried whether or not I was unwittingly setting her up to “cast her pearls before swine.” Regardless, she’d made the choice after a lot of deliberation. She didn’t have to do this. She longed to. Something in her shifted in our weeks of discernment. She was beginning to have a vision for a workplace where people wouldn’t walk on eggshells, where trust and vulnerability could fuel creativity and innovation. Her imagination was lifted to a place of wholeness and vitality.
“Well, it was disastrous,” she said, with an unexpected calm. “Within minutes he was twisting my words into some conspiratorial theory about me undermining him for years. Within the hour, the board was contacted, my desk was cleared, and I’m now sitting at home with a glass of wine and a box of memories a decade old.”
I was stunned. Of course, I felt responsible to some degree. I didn’t say a word.
“And I feel exhilarated,” she said. “I don’t think I’ve ever felt more alive than I did today. The texts I’ve received range from profound gratitude to words like ‘hero’ and ‘role model.’” While her own future was uncertain, she anticipated a larger fight in which she’d play some role in and for the sake of her colleagues that remained.
Flocks of people did not come to Jesus that day. A narcissistic founder did not fall to his knees and pray the Sinner’s Prayer. No, but something profound happened. Words of shalom entered into a dark space. A light shined in the darkness. A woman experienced persecution. A courageous soul experienced rejoicing. And the kingdom was among us.
I think that this brave woman’s imitation-of-Christ happens every day. She’s not going to be sainted. Her name won’t appear on some wall of courage in downtown San Francisco. But her words brought disruption, holy disruption into unholiness. And she felt alive.
You’d probably like to hear the end of the story. I would too. But like many biblical parables, it is unresolved. Like our lives, it is unresolved. I don’t live in San Francisco anymore. I’ve heard an update or two. She’s landed on her feet. He’s still doing his narcissistic thing. But I believe the kingdom came in a tangible way on that day, through an ordinary woman, much like you and me. She certainly inspired me to follow Christ on the path of humility.
Peacemaking God, every day you go before us. But it takes a lot of courage for me to step into the fray. I’ll admit, I am kind of scared. But I also long to be alive, to live with freedom. Give me the courage to live for you. Amen