So next week, I’ll have an interim performance review at work. It’s the mid-year check-in to make sure you’re on track to deliver on your goals. Here’s my sick secret – I kind of love performance reviews. I love them, because I tend to be a bit of a workaholic and perfectionist. For six months, I work and work and work – sacrificing, learning, stretching myself – and then for 30 minutes or so, I get to bask in someone telling me how great I’ve done. And then even if there’s some things to work on, I know in six months, if I work hard enough, we’ll be talking about what great strides I’ve made in those areas. What used to be called “teacher’s pet” is now referred to as “upward potential.” It’s Junior High Academics awards day, only 15 years later.
I know this sounds pretty ugly, and it is. Some kind of weird pride and insecurity hybrid drives my desire to do more and do better every day. And while this has actually been somewhat beneficial in my professional and even personal life, it has been the single greatest struggle of my spiritual life.
Let me tell you about my least favorite performance reviews ever.
In college, I worked at Bath & Body Work in the mall. It was a good experience, in the sense that everyone should work a job where people regularly scream at you because someone 16 levels higher in the organization than you determined that Sun-ripened raspberry needed to be discontinued.
Honestly though, I really liked that job. I didn’t just clock in and clock out – I got to know the products really well. I greeted regular customers by name. I LOVED the sales competitions. And of course, the performance reviews every six months.
The highest raise I could earn for my performance was $0.25/hour, if I got really strong reviews. Additionally, when I worked there, Illinois was in the process of their graduated approach to raising the minimum wage - $0.25 every six months.
Every six months, I would think, “Yes! Great performance! $0.25 raise!” And then you know what would happen? Two weeks later, every person with poor performance who didn’t get a raise would have their pay bumped $0.25 to the new minimum wage level.
And of course, I was the bigger person, glad that we all made a livable wage. Just kidding. I actually cried once in my car on the way home because I was so frustrated. I worked so hard. Melissa sucks at talking to customers and her shelves are never neat and I worked her 4 a.m. shift on Black Friday. And now we are recognized exactly the same.
Embarrassing? Sure. Ugly? Oh yeah. But the implications are much greater and uglier when these tendencies seep into our spiritual lives. It looks a lot like post-whale Jonah.
Blakely is learning about Jonah right now in the church nursery, but mostly the part where a big fish swallows him and then he’s like, “My bad!” and then he gets spit out and does God’s will. But I am always much more fascinated about Jonah post preaching in Nineveh. I’ve read Jonah’s story probably 15 times in the last year. Why? Because I have Jonah tendencies that I’m trying to let God kill. Jonah was a top performer. Jonah saved thousands of MESSY people. And then you what happened?
He went and cried in his car. Melissa sucks at being a nice and Godly person and if it weren’t for me, she wouldn’t even know who God is. And now we are recognized exactly the same.
Grace wrecks all of the artificial structures and ladders and hierarchies that our society builds. Grace says, “Just follow me” and mentions nothing of your failures – or your good works. Grace is the anti-performance review.
I don’t have a neat “moral to this story.” I can’t quite wrap this up in a bow at this point. Why? Because I still struggle. Because when I imagine God saying, “Well done good and faithful servant,” I’m only now beginning to see Him holding my face in his hands and not some sort of spiritual resume. Because The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16) still unsettles me a bit at first read. Could I see my greatest worldly enemy in heaven someday and rejoice that they’ve accepted the same gift of grace given to us all?
God has brought me far in this journey of grace, and I still have a great deal to submit… Add that to my performance review goals. ;-)