Inner Work-ing


A friend of mine just landed a job. The job-hunting process was quite an ordeal. As it turns out, looking for a full-time job is a full-time job. I learned a lot from my friend’s experience, and I am proud of all she did to land a job that seems like the perfect fit.

A lot of the work of job hunting involves talking about ourselves, our accomplishments, and our failures. All of this requires taking stock of where we’ve been, where we hope we’re headed, and what we’ve learned about our strengths as well as our weaknesses. This is work that leads us inward, nudging us to embark upon a bit of internal work. Often, taking time to “deal with” whatever it is we may have going on in our souls is one of the last things on anyone’s to-do list.

How can we help those on a journey of introspection and internal work, whether provoked by a job search or not? Here’s what Parker J. Palmer has to say about this internal work, in his book, Healing the Heart of Democracy: the Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit:

For many of us, the inner is alien territory, unmapped, the last place we want to go. The inner journey that might allow us to find life-giving sources of meaning within us and between us is blocked by two fears—that we will get lost in this terra incognita and that what we find in those uncharted wastes may frighten or even harm us…

Many times, the return to work in a corporate environment is the catalyst for exploring this inner, alien, unmapped territory. Sometimes, however, it may be something else that sparks a season of introspection. The important thing is that we take the journey inward. Some people set aside time at the beginning of the school year, or a new calendar year, or when nearing a birthday, to consider how they’ve grown, what they’ve learned, and where they can make necessary course corrections.

Perspective for Your Inner Journey

Whenever you decide to take stock of your inner life, begin with God. Invite him to guide your journey. Then, as you go, be sure to keep these three things in mind:

  1. Celebration is Worship: Even if you’re not working on a resume, your internal journey will bring you face-to-face with a lot of accomplishments. Many times, we find it difficult to discuss our accomplishments with others, because we think it makes us sound boastful. But, talking about a problem you’ve solved, a goal you’ve achieved, a discovery you’ve made, or a promotion you’ve received is one way of worshiping God. We become boastful only when we take for ourselves the credit that belongs to God. While you won’t write, “To God be the glory!” on your resume, you can definitely think it, and you can thank God as you add those accomplishments to your list.
  2. Weakness is Normal: No one is good at everything. We each have our strengths, and those show up most easily in the things we accomplish. By the same token, however, our accomplishments also point to the many ways we overcome our weaknesses. I once heard a business coach say that our weaknesses are the flip side of our strengths. We learn to overcome our weaknesses, through the strengths God has given to us. As long as we live, we will live with our weaknesses. The same is true for our employers, our partners, our coworkers, our neighbors. Facing our weaknesses gives us grace to allow the strengths of others to shine. It also gives us grace to love others, in spite of their weaknesses.
  3. What Looks Like Failure, isn’t always Failure: This life we’re on is a journey. If you’ve been led to believe we travel through on a straight line, I’d like to offer a different perspective. Life is lived as a series of loops that travel along a line, like this:startIn pursuit of a goal—at work, in the public square, in our families—we begin at the “Start” and we travel forward. We reach “A” and feel as if all is right with the world. Then, through fits and starts and the normal stuff of life, we find ourselves at “B.” “B” feels like the bottom of the barrel, because it’s lower than “A” but, when we take the entire journey into account, “B” is still forward on the continuum from “Start” to “Goal.” When we find ourselves at “C” it may seem we’ve gone backwards and we might be tempted to get discouraged. But “C” is also forward on the continuum from “Start” to “Goal.” Keeping this perspective in mind has helped me remain hopeful through the inevitable disappointments and struggles of life.

An Age-Old Practice

At the very end of Psalm 139, David beseeches God to search his inner life and reveal to David where there might be need for David to take a different approach, confess a wrongdoing, or press on in the course he was on. “See if there is any offensive way in me,” David says, “and lead me in the way everlasting,” (vs. 24). When you and I spend time wiht God, looking over our lives, we are following the practice outlined by David, all those years ago.

At the beginning of that very same Psalm, David acknowledges that God has already searched David. “You have searched me, and you know me,” (vs. 1). God knows David, through and through, just as God knows you and me. Like David, we begin our inner work by acknowledging God already knows everything about us that there is to know. When we embark on this inner work, we don’t go alone. God is already there, ready to reveal our weaknesses and to celebrate our strengths and accomplishments and, ultimately, to bring us into the fullness of life that he envisions for us.

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