How to Practice Lent in the Workplace
“Lent is a time of going very deeply into ourselves… What is it that stands between us and God? Between us and our brothers and sisters? Between us and life, the life of the Spirit? Whatever it is, let us relentlessly tear it out, without a moment’s hesitation.” Catherine Doherty
Ah, the workplace – where many of us spend more of our waking hours than we do with our families.
I specifically remember one Ash Wednesday where I had to go to a job training and networking event in the evening, and I kid you not, in a room of over 100 people, I was the only one with ashes on my forehead. “Hi, I’m Sam…” and I’m Catholic, my forehead seemed to scream.
Fortunately, people were more curious than judgmental, and it turned out to be a great opportunity to explain that no, I didn’t have dirt on my forehead, and tell people about Lent.
Because we’re surrounded by people who are different than us, practicing Lent at work offers us countless opportunities to…
1. Grow in holiness
The goal of any Lenten prayer or practice is union with God. If we are adding on a daily Mass or examen, or removing a bad habit or something we love so we can offer it as a sacrifice, it should lead us closer to God, plain and simple. If it doesn’t, you need to rethink your Lenten resolutions and check where your heart is at. However, with that said, the simple act of going to work with the right attitude can lead you closer to God.
When you look at your workplace through the eyes of faith, you begin to see that God is in everything – in your boss, in your co-workers, in the sun, in the rain, and in your traffic-filled commute – which means that every moment can be used to love God or thank God.
For example, as a I sit in a cafe typing up this post, I can thank God for my way with words, for my literacy and education, and for my parents’ support in pursuing English literature, I can bear wrongs (like spilled coffee, a lack of outlets, and people talking loudly on their cell phones) patiently, and I can love the baristas and other people in this cafe by treating them with enthusiastic, exuberant, and radical respect and dignity.
Works of mercy, especially those done in secret, are great ways to invite the Lord into your day and grow in holiness. Read this blog post from LifeTeen to brush up on them. (Though aimed at teenagers, it offers lots of practical ways to practice mercy that you can adapt to your life.)
2. Have more loving interactions with others
The workplace is the number one source of stress for adults in America, with team dynamics directly affecting 90% of work stress. That means that the negative interactions we have with clients, customers, employees, bosses, and co-workers are a significant issue, and they take a toll on our minds and bodies. In a study by the American Institute of Stress, one in four people said they wanted to scream at work. Maybe you’re one of them, or maybe you’ve been on the receiving end of a boss or co-worker’s outburst.
If a situation at work is stirring up anger, annoyance, or stress, think of it as an opportunity to practice radical love and to be merciful as Our Father is merciful. People should know you are a follower of Christ by your love (cf. John 13:35).
St. Josemaria Escriva, founder of Opus Dei, once said, “Don't say ‘That person gets on my nerves.’ Think ‘That person sanctifies me.’” When a co-worker is rude or curt with you, it’s an opportunity for you to be patient and kind and to surprise them with charity. They are making you holier. You should be thanking them… and yet, isn’t that the strangest and most counter-cultural thing to do?
In my Aspera small group this week, we discussed how being rooted in prayer helps you to see the good in others and to be good to others yourself. Our relationship with God and our lives of faith and prayer will set us apart in the workplace if we allow it to, and we can use the little moments of suffering we experience at work to help us and others get to Heaven.
When your habits change, people will ask questions. Do not be afraid to tell your co-workers that you’re not eating meat on Fridays or that you’re reading a spiritual book or that you’re going to a Stations of the Cross during your lunch break. You’ll be surprised by how many of your co-workers are secretly Catholic and are now emboldened to share their faith in the workplace, as well as how many of your co-workers have questions about Catholicism and want to know what Lent is or why you fast.
Lent is a time of preparation, reminding us that the greatest suffering can lead to the most extraordinary joy. In the context of the workplace, little moments of despair and frustration can lead us to holiness.
Lord, give me an opportunity to practice mercy and love You through others in my work today.
Samantha Yee is a national Catholic speaker, writer, poet, and the managing editor of the Catholic Women in Business blog. A Bay Area native and alum of UC Berkeley, Sam grew up in the heart of California’s Silicon Valley and is largely influenced by the innovation and creativity of the burgeoning tech industry. When she was 10, she taught herself to code, started her first business (an online T-shirt shop), and was instantly hooked; the rest, as they say, is history. Sam consults for churches, nonprofits, and businesses around the United States and the world. Her favorite projects include running a Pinterest marketing campaign for Walmart, giving a talk at Google, being interviewed on CBS News, editing Br. Anthony Freeman’s book, and writing a play for the Missionaries of Charity. Sam spends most of her days discipling married couples and creating resources and curriculum for intergenerational family faith formation as a parish missionary in Anchorage, Alaska.