By Ashley Faith
For more than a decade I have worked with a difficult boss. She can be short, dismissive, uncomfortably silent, and occasionally flat-out rude. I’ve stayed because the schedule works well for my family. I stay too because I’ve worked long enough to realize that no matter where I go, there will always be difficult people.
Whenever I am struggling with my boss, I try to remember that God often uses people like her to help me grow. Pleasant words and smooth waters are my preference at work and in life, but they don’t cause me to dig deeper, stretch beyond my comfort zone, or love at a greater capacity.
There is always a purpose in our struggle. God doesn’t allow us to face hardships to watch us sink. He isn’t some mocking spectator seated on the bank of a distant shore. Instead, God is the life preserver wrapped around our chest, the smooth pebble-lined floor that graciously surprises our panicked feet when they hit rock bottom, and the gentle calling voice drawing us out of our comfort zone, asking us to walk on water—even when our boss is raging.
Rage may be too strong of a word, but anger comes in many packages. It isn’t always aggressive and in your face. In its passive form it can be silent and withdrawn. Whether it intends to or not, it communicates that we (or the job we’ve done) are unacceptable.
I remember doing an extra task at work, thinking all the while how pleased my boss would be. But when I reported it to her, she barely uttered a word. Her reaction made me uneasy. It made me question my judgment. It made me sorry I’d tried. Turns out she had a particular way she’d wanted it done. I wish she could have communicated that to me for future reference. I learned about it much later through a coworker. I also learned that it had been a bad day for my boss. I had taken her shutdown personally. I didn’t realize it had almost nothing to do with me.
That night on my drive home I complained bitterly to my husband. It was a habit I repeated almost every night after work, as the list of grievances against my boss grew. I eventually came to see the toll these calls took on my husband’s mood and the stage I’d set for an evening of continued complaining.
Biblical commentator Matthew Henry put it this way: “Those that live in contention, that are always jarring and brawling, and reflecting upon one another . . . cannot expect the blessing of God upon them and what they have, nor can they have any true relish of their enjoyments, much less any peace in their own consciences.” I’ve learned that there are times when I need to vent my frustration, but rehashing a negative checklist on a daily basis rarely makes me or anyone else feel better.
Early on I tried to set the stage for clear and open communication with my boss. I’d explained how I didn’t pick up well on cues or hints and that simply telling me directly how things were to be done would work best for my personality. Honestly I just wanted her to be happy, which isn’t a bad thing, but it does lead to two additional truths I’ve learned: 1. Sometimes, no matter how hard I try, I won’t be able to please a person. 2. My goal isn’t to be a people-pleaser anyway.
Should I put in a solid day’s work that is hopefully pleasing to my boss? Absolutely, but I need to approach it as though I’m working for the Lord, who is my ultimate boss. “You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of human beings” (1 Corinthians 7:23). “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters” (Colossians 3:23).
When I keep these Scriptures in mind, I am better able to deal with unfair reactions, unrealistic expectations, and the occasional error on the job. Knowing that God judges my daily effort fairly and with the compassion of a loving father makes a huge difference in my attitude and my ability to roll with the punches.
This type of mind-set keeps me from job hopping every time a challenging person comes into my line of vision, especially when that person is the one in charge. Honestly there was a day not so long ago when I thought I’d reached the end of the line with my boss. She wanted me to do something I felt uncomfortable doing, and when I tried to gently explain that, it didn’t go over well. I prayed about it most of the day, but there were still raised voices, frustration, and tears before I left.
Thankfully we were able to patch things up with sincere apologies and a renewed appreciation for each other’s unique life circumstances. This leads to the next thing I learned: always try to see the person behind a bothersome behavior. I never know what others may be dealing with, and they in turn have no idea what I’ve got on my plate.
A verse has stayed with me for years: “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?” (Matthew 5:46). The challenge is to love those who are hard to love.
Working with my boss has produced unexpected fruit in my life. It’s taught me not to repeat behaviors I don’t like in others. It’s helped me look deeper for the hurting person inside and try to measure that into my responses. It’s taught me to give people, including my boss, the benefit of the doubt. I’m reminded not to take everything personally by remembering that others could simply be having a rough day, and their behavior has nothing to do with me. I’ve learned to set healthier boundaries for myself because I’ve always had an issue with people pleasing. I’ve also learned to recognize when I’ve reached my limit and be willing to say so. My ability to love unconditionally has grown too, as I’m reminded that I am not always pleasant or easy to love.
What we often call the golden rule is so basic and yet so powerful: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12). With God’s help we can choose to treat others well, even when they are difficult or hard to deal with.
As I reflect on the various people who have challenged me, I wonder, who has God placed in your life? Do you have a difficult boss like mine? a pot-stirring family member or neighbor? Maybe a friend who has let you down? I believe we can trust that God knows exactly who needs to cross our paths to help us become more Christlike. I am convinced that for me, my boss has been part of that process.
Tucked into my prayers most every night is this: “I pray for those whom I love and for those who are hard for me to love. And thank you so much, Lord, for loving me.”
Ashley Faith is a pen name.