It promised to be a difficult day. I hoped my early-afternoon MRI would shed some light on what caused the nagging pain in my neck, shoulder, and arm, but I did not relish the thought of enduring the tight clanging quarters of the MRI tube.
Sitting at my desk, I struggled to focus on the marketing copy in front of me, to accomplish something before my appointment. My boss interrupted my efforts just after 9:00 a.m. She rarely graced my office with her presence. This day she did so to hand-deliver a Plan of Improvement memo—the first step in our organization’s disciplinary process. She smiled as she tossed it on my desk. Four years of mostly positive performance reviews didn’t prepare me for this. I had successfully launched our online library ahead of schedule, mediated a long-standing feud between two of my staff, and shortened the time between planning and release of our publications. What could she possibly think I needed to improve upon?
“Now don’t spend all day coming up with arguments to refute this,” she said. “We’ll meet this afternoon to go over it.”
Her retirement date loomed, a mere five weeks away. Her replacement as executive director was already on-site learning the ropes. I’ll never understand what prompted her to take this draconian action. Did she need a scapegoat for the financial struggles the organization had experienced under her watch? Or was it a clash between my firm faith and her aggressive atheism?
In hindsight, I should have seen it coming. She had targeted me with subtle prejudice before when she ridiculed my faith in front of the other directors and managers. Then there was the time she declared, loud enough for others to hear, that my Jesus was a myth and I a fool for believing he was real. The Gospel of John records the words of Jesus: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” He sure had the trouble thing right.
That afternoon, I lay in the MRI machine for forty-five minutes. “God, give me the words and the attitude I need for the confrontation ahead. Help me to remain calm and not yell or cry. I especially don’t want to cry—not in front of her.”
I contemplated the promise of one of my favorite Bible passages: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” I longed to find that peace. As I drove back to the office, the rain clouds didn’t offer much hope.
Gray skies outside brought a gloom to her spacious office that overhead fluorescent lighting couldn’t dispel. I took a seat at the square conference table, the HR manager to my right, my soon-to-be boss across from me, and the bane of my day sitting to my left. I placed a yellow notepad with two pages of my notes on the table, the Plan of Improvement tucked in the back.
She reviewed all my faults and shortcomings; I could almost see the venom spewing from her mouth. The malice in her voice as she accused me of betraying her, of lying to her, deepened the gloom.
And yet I felt a perfect peace in my soul knowing none of her false accusations mattered. While she lost her cool berating me for things I hadn’t done, I remained calm. Not a single tear threatened my composure—an MRI prayer answered.
When she finished her diatribe, she stood as if to dismiss me, but the HR manager stopped her. “We need to give Linda a chance to respond.”
My soon-to-be boss agreed. “Yes, I’d like to hear what Linda has to say too.”
The pinched scowl on her face said she didn’t care to hear my side.
I picked up my notepad and flipped to the second page of notes where I had detailed ideas for remedying the low revenue problem my nemesis claimed I had intentionally caused. “I would appreciate input from all of you regarding the best course of action to minimize expenses and maximize revenue for the remaining five weeks of the year.”
When we finished discussing plans going forward, I turned back to my first page of notes where I methodically refuted all of the accusations leveled at me. At the top of the list was the fact that I had emailed my boss a detailed summary of activities and issues related to my department every Friday for four years. If she had read those emails, she would have been aware of project delays and revenue concerns I had raised all along.
I still marvel at the peace I felt throughout that meeting—a peace that transcends all understanding. In the face of her vehement attack, my resolve should have buckled. But it didn’t. I didn’t. I held back my tears and my emotions until I reached the safety of my own office with the door closed.
I often wonder how this exchange looked in the spiritual realm. If I could have transcended this physical world to get a glimpse of heaven’s view, I believe I would have witnessed a spiritual battle. How many fallen angels were egging her on? Was heaven’s army encamped about me to protect my heart and mind? Paul wrote in Ephesians 6, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” We win that struggle not with words or tears, but with prayer and faith.
Five weeks later she was gone, leaving me with the task of redeeming myself in the eyes of my new boss. But I found that God had already redeemed me. When I met with her to discuss the implementation of my Plan of Improvement, she said to me, “You handled that meeting with such grace.” Perhaps a little of the spiritual realm had spilled over into her view. As we worked together, she learned for herself that the accusations against me were unjustified as I continued to run my department with integrity and truth, and one eye on the spiritual influences all around me.
Cover image by Jonathan Meyer.