Hard Work Does Not a Good Suit of Armor Make

suit of armorOften I am surprised that at the ripe old age of 49, I am still learning things about myself. As a younger version of myself might have said, “No duh.”

This week’s insight: I work hard so as to avoid criticism. Sometimes I enjoy working hard because I love whatever project I’m doing. Back in my single days, when I had more free time, I painted furniture. I could spend an entire Saturday painting squiggles and checkerboards on chairs and love every minute of it. Sometimes I enjoy working hard because of the intellectual challenge – writing a sermon or some liturgy, or preparing for a class I’ve never taught and have to create from scratch.

But the ugly truth is that much of the time I work hard so that others won’t criticize me. I look at my to-do list and sometimes prioritize based on how much flack I will get from a person or a committee if I don’t do that particular thing. I anticipate all the critiques that could come my way if I don’t do something, or don’t do something well, and I bust my proverbial butt to create something excellent – not because the thing deserves to be excellent, but because I don’t want people to complain if/when it isn’t excellent.

Here are the flaws in this plan:

1. Some people criticize no matter what.

2. Sometimes my best is not what someone else considers good.

3. If I keep this up, I will become cranky, feel put upon, and likely burn out.

I once worked with a pastor who was adamant about not being a people-pleaser, and let me tell you, he wasn’t. There was a big downside to that, because he wore his “I’m not a people pleaser” t-shirt with pride, to every worship service, to every session meeting, to every staff meeting. But there was an upside, too. He was not overwhelmed when he was criticized. He had really decent boundaries around work. And he made decisions and prioritized not to stave off the critics in the church, but because it was the right thing to do.

Of course I imagine more criticism than would actually come my way. I work in a place where people are rather kind, and thoughtful, and gentle with their criticism, which is usually valid. But my imagination has been working overtime lately, with a few big hard decisions that have been made, and with the start of the program year and a long to-do list. With my overactive imagination has come some edginess, and anxiousness, and definite thoughts of being put upon. And I have put them upon myself.

Last week, just before the benediction, I quoted a line from our closing hymn: “My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply.” I really don’t believe God is in the criticism business, that God is in the grace business. So I’m working off taking off that suit of armor, and putting on my dance shoes, to work with grace.

“I know nothing, except what everyone knows –

if there when Grace dances, I should dance.”

W. H. Auden


My husband and I dancing (sorry the video won’t play) at a concert in a park

5 thoughts on “Hard Work Does Not a Good Suit of Armor Make

  1. Beth–I hear you, sister! Your new insights into yourself(about criticism’s role, both real and anticipated) could have come straight out of my therapy sessions! And I’m a little “riper” in age than you. Am i a slow learner or just obstinate? Something tells me we are not alone. Here’s to dancing in grace more often!

  2. Beth,
    Reading that post made me feel like you’d slipped into my brain and were secretly writing about me, and I see from Caroline’s post that there are more of us than I realized. Thanks for honesty, it really hit home!

    • Don’t you wonder where we learned it? At the choir party last night, a few people – women – commented on the post. Maybe it’s a female thing, or happens more often with women. I don’t know, but in the meantime I’m trying to shed the armor!

  3. O Beth – Not only am I thinking about preaching on this theme this Sunday, BUT I’ve been pondering a blog of my own – what goes on in the brain? And it comes down to a complex system of what balances, different for each of us, in the reward vs punishment cycle – a a shot of dopamine, anyone?
    Would you mind if I referenced this blog?

    Okay – I thought I sent this LAST WEEK, but I didn’t – but I’m going ahead and sending it now….


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