“We’re going to have to let you go.”
No one wants to hear those words, especially in a politely packaged corporate layoff surprise. It’s disheartening to have a trusted supervisor hand over your final paycheck and find an empty box sitting on your chair when you return to your desk.
I became an instant pariah.
My co-workers tried to express sympathy, but through awkward utterances that didn’t effectively mask the fact that they weren’t that sympathetic. They still had jobs.
To alleviate my state of shock, I packed my desk as casually as possible. My desk, just like a cubby in pre-school or a locker in high school, was a miniature domain of my personality amidst the beigeness of a financial office. Putting small bits of me into a cardboard box, I erased the proof of my existence.
It’s almost like dying. Suddenly this huge aspect of my life was gone. Although I wasn’t intimate friends with most of them, my co-workers shared 50 hours of my week. I knew them, and they knew me. I could look at their family photos and rattle off the names of their children, and they always knew which roommate I was talking to on the phone. That relationship was severed, and by no choice of my own, is over. The office life goes on as well; some may miss me, but I am gone.
In the true realm of life and death, the deceased probably don’t contemplate why they were chosen. I do. I know people talked about me. I know my performance, abilities and even personality were scrupulously evaluated. To some I was a number and an easily replaced portion of the budget. Others knew me well. They kept track of my mistakes and my successes, and they decided I wasn’t good enough.
On my first day of unemployment, while reading my Bible, I read Philippians 1:27—“Whatever happens, as citizens of heaven live in a manner worthy of Christ” (TNIV).
A lot of “whatevers” have happened in my life, so it wasn’t only my layoff that made this verse resonate with me. Moments after leaving the building, I recognized that I had found a new freedom and an opportunity to be used by God in an unpredictable way. What I wanted to know was, what kind of conduct is truly “in a manner worthy of Christ?”
Gospel means good news. The good news of Christ is that he came to earth, died an excruciating death for my sins, gave me the gift of salvation and by his grace allows me to one day enter heaven. What can I do that is worthy of that?
The fame of Christ and His reputation in this world is built on my reputation. My reputation as a quick-witted, hard-working and sometimes emotional person. My reputation as the girl who moved to a new state to help start a church. In the end, my reputation was not good enough for me to keep my job. Although I was genuinely joyful about my circumstances, I felt I had failed Christ.
One of the most important things to remember as a Christian is that I have two audiences: God, and everyone else. My actions must be “worthy of the gospel” in the eyes of both spectators.
Often, I skim over verses like this, thinking I should just live a nice, clean life. But according to this verse, I am a spokesperson for Christ. That job entails a lot more than just being nice. A spokesperson understands their audience. Also, that spokesperson must be absolutely in love with what they sell.
For example, think about the Quaker Oats guy. Not the man in the hat on the box, but the guy who did the commercials. I think he was on some sort of family television show, portraying a beloved family patriarch, which is why his audience would trust him enough to believe which oatmeal is healthier for them. Lately, I’ve seen him on a medical home delivery commercial, but to me, he is still Grandpa Oatmeal. That man fulfilled his job requirements for Quaker Oats, because his face and even his voice will always be synonymous to oatmeal.
How do I do that? What kind of actions could possible build a good reputation for Christ? Actions that are out of the ordinary. Actions that are holy. But how does anything holy come out of me? The fact is that nothing holy ever comes out of me, but “because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy, Christ, and Christ alone, is what causes anything of worth to come from me."
Fortunately, God doesn’t evaluate just my actions, but my heart. To conduct myself in a manner worthy of the gospel, I must be broken before God, seeking His strength. From me, God desires a “broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart,” which He promises "He will not despise.” To the world, my life should reflect “my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” The transformation that comes through the increase of God’s power in my life is what will allow the world to see that the old has gone and the new has come, which is the gospel of Christ.
The reality is, I don’t know what effect my life and my reputation as a (albeit flawed) follower of Christ had on my co-workers. Whether my influence in that office was good, or bad or both, I don’t want to know. I do know this, God used me there. Otherwise, He would not have put me there. It’s not my job to know how. My job is to seek Him so that He may continue use me, however He desires.
And now I have sometime to work on my spokesperson wave.