We’ve heard of a few friends and acquaintances who have lost their jobs recently or have experienced a breach of contract by their employer. My heart goes out to them, because the same thing happened to me, during my first year teaching English in Taiwan. I’ll never forget that experience, and I’ll reiterate the highlights briefly here.
My boss frequently got very angry with me, and he told me that I had failed at each assignment that he gave to me. I reminded him that the assignments were not given to me under the conditions we agreed on before I accepted the job. I had a big “Wake up!” when he said,
“All the things we talked about before don’t matter now! All that matters now is the work before us, and how to get it done!”
I was shocked that he would change our agreement so casually! But gradually, I came to see that my boss, and God, were both testing me. My boss said it was his job to know all his employees well, and to schedule their work accordingly. He felt justified in changing our agreement because of the dictates of the job, and his assumed authority to test my abilities as his employee.
I was really offended, because I felt like he was really shifty and untrustworthy, while at the same time, he expected me to be a superhero slave as he treated my livelihood as his little toy. Honestly, I didn’t know why it was so hard for him to accept the fact that not every person can do whatever kind of job that’s demanded from him.
Realistically, people have strengths and weaknesses in their abilities, and people need to know themselves sufficiently well enough so that respective expectations can be ironed out in dialogue before an agreement is reached. (On the other hand, God does push us to our limit, but there is always love and grace, which we can’t find from others.)
Afterwards, God spoke to me about a few things here. He eased my heart a little bit from what had happened, and helped me see that I had trusted my boss totally and put my whole heart into my job, but my boss is only doing business, and he used my diligence and trust to sift me. I learned the following things from this experience:
- I must put more , and less in man. I should have found a job on my own, in faith, instead of depending so much on others to help me find employment. But I could not have done that very easily, since I needed this very experience to teach me how to get along on my own here. So there is a necessary learning curve that I must endure.
- I’ve grown to know myself better – I am hard working and earnest about my work, but I am also easily trusting, happy-go-lucky, and good-natured. Some Chinese people seem to find it hard to believe or respect a person like this. It even seems to make my boss angry when I am so open and optimistic about my work.
- I understand more about what it means to trust someone, and all that can happen as a result. We trust others at our own risk, but at the same time, we should harden our heart and refuse to trust others either. We must find a way through this dilemma, in our daily interactions with others.
I should not feel bad to fail my boss’s tests, because my boss intentionally designed those tests so that I would eventually fail. He wanted to know my limit. He deliberately went against the grain of my capabilities, just to see what would happen.
How could I have passed my boss’s tests? Being diligent and working harder would only lead me to exasperation and fatigue. My boss would only push me harder in his search for my weakness. Instead, I have to change something deeper about myself – stop being so emotionally outgoing, open and trusting, and start giving more attention to my place and state, take some thought to plan things out, in terms of my social interaction and my responsibilities. That was a real challenge for me, because I saw myself becoming more reserved, cold and calculating, but I think God saw it as maturity!
Looking back on this experience over the years, I also learned that I should not have entered into contractual agreements with my boss, because it joined our lives together in many ways. Sometimes that’s a good thing, but with certain other people, that’s really bad!
One thing I did gain from this event, is knowing that people are people. My boss is just a regular man who cannot necessarily be trusted as a leader or as a friend. He focuses on the errors of others in order to throw them off guard and keep control of the place. But in fact, he has his own weaknesses, such as his perceived need to control and test all his employees. He thinks that his attitude is necessary to run his business efficiently, but he doesn’t seem to realize that it also makes his employees cold, critical and cynical.
If I had more discernment, then maybe I wouldn’t need to take such risks to have this knowledge.
I’m still not sure how this experience has taught me to trust in God more. I do see that I need tomore (described in point #1), but this experience has not really led me to do so. But I did come to understand that it’s necessary to trust myself and have a secure self-esteem, in order to protect myself from vipers like my old boss.
I walked away from this with a better understanding of the importance of God’s covenant with us, and why covenant is so important. It’s because the whole enterprise of a relationship with security and purpose becomes unsteady and risky, without a backbone of God’s word as a guarantee, or a vision of future glory, to hang our faith on. (Employer-employee and marital commitments also provide a similar, necessary structure to a company and to family, respectively, and both of these contribute to society.)
Perhaps the most extremely valuable lesson from this experience is this, and I think it’s a pity for others who don’t learn this: A lot of people from western countries, especially English-speaking western countries, have this idea that all they need to do to succeed in life is to work hard and respect the rules – basically the Protestant Work ethic. But my experience teaching English in Taiwan taught me something I’ll never forget…
“Working hard and following the rules is good, but it’s no guarantee of success.”
To really succeed, you’ve got to focus more on yourself as a person, and make yourself into the kind of employee that is indispensable to your company. That is REAL job security! The boss will only need to scrutinize your performance if you fail to do so yourself.
The Apostle Paul instructed us to “discipline our body and make it our slave”, which is really extreme, but the idea is that there are no guarantees in life. If we could only see how far off the mark we are, and make a diligent effort towards bettering our worth, then it becomes quite obvious that the obligations we have in any contractual agreement are actually the bare minimum requirements. Paul also instructs us to work for our taskmasters as we would for the Lord.
I learned an application of 1st Corinthians 9.
8 Do I say these things as a mere man? Or does not the law say the same also? 9 For it is written in the law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain.” Is it oxen God is concerned about? 10 Or does He say it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written, that he who plows should plow in hope, and he who threshes in hope should be partaker of his hope.
19 For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; 20 and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law; 21 to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ, that I might win those who are without law; 22 to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. 23 Now this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I may be partaker of it with you.
24 Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. 25 And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown.26 Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. 27 But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.
This really puts our present condition in very clear terms, and shows us how lazy and spoiled we have become, by growing up in civilized countries that have a culture where Christianity is popular, and where contracts and agreements are always honored.
I firmly believe that these lessons are what the Lord wishes us to learn whenever we have been infiltrated, cheated or defrauded by our employers.
Now, I think about it like this: If we were really so “good”, we would be the last person to be “let go” from the company. If this is not the case, then it means that (1) our services simply are not needed and we would do well to offer our services elsewhere, or (2) our services are not “good enough” to be necessary. Unless we rank among the best employees, our testimony and example as a Christian is disqualified.
I hope it is clear that I say these things to challenge you, and not to condemn anyone. It’s not about DOING the best work, or the most work, or following all the rules – that is the western version of “wearing face”. We say, “Look at me! Look what I have! Look what I’ve done! But life is much deeper than that. It’s about BEING the best! We can achieve this with God.
At last, my boss cut my hours and my pay to the minimum, and eventually I decided to look for a better job that could sustain my needs more sufficiently. At that time, God opened the door for me to earn a Ph.D. and to teach at a University full time, and this is what I have been doing since then, with a lot more satisfaction, appreciation and compensation!