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“The most important [commandment],” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
Happy Valentines Day! This holiday was once a day dedicated to the remembrance of the third-century Christian bishop, St. Valentine (and perhaps others who shared his name). For many people throughout the world today, however, Valentine’s Day is a time to celebrate romantic love. In the United States, this celebration often includes giving cards, flowers, or candy to your special “valentine.” (In the six weeks prior to Valentine’s Day, the New England Confectionary Company sells 2.5 billion Sweethearts Conversation Hearts.)
I’m sure Valentine’s Day is celebrated in many workplaces, in one-way or another. This can be quite fun, I’m sure, though I expect it could get messy, too. But, I don’t think giving cards, flowers, and candy quite gets what it means for us to love our neighbors as ourselves at work. If we are going to express our love of God by loving the neighbors in our workplaces, we need to do more than is traditional on Valentine’s Day.
Perhaps one of the simplest things we can do is to treat all of our co-workers with kindness and respect. Of course this is harder than it sounds. It’s all too easy to breeze right by someone who ranks lower in our company without giving that person even a polite nod. Treating each person with love and respect takes time, effort, and intentionality.
I saw a moving example of this kind of love in Howard E. Butt, Jr., the former President of the H.E. Butt Family Foundation, where I worked for seven years. When Howard was out at Laity Lodge, for example, he’d show just as much interest in the housekeepers and the kitchen staff as he would in me, the Senior Director of the retreat center. Howard was an amazing listener, and he’d give his full attention to anyone, no matter their status in the organization.
Another way to love those with whom we work is to serve them, even and especially when it’s not required in our job descriptions. A pastor I know once served in a large church that had a fairly “corporate” ethos. One time, he noticed that one of the custodians was laboring with difficulty as he tried to carry some boxes up several flights of stairs. The pastor said, “Hey, can I help you carry those?” The custodian paused, turned away and said, “No, thank you.” The pastor continued, “No. Please let me give you hand.” Finally, the custodian turned and handed a couple of boxes to the pastor. The pastor noticed that there were tears in the eyes of his colleague, so he asked, “Are you okay?” “Yes, I’m fine,” the custodian answered. “It’s just that I have worked in this church for many years and this is the first time a pastor ever offered to help me with my work.”
Let me add one last example of how we might love the people with whom we work. I’m thinking of love expressed in advocacy. If you’re someone of authority in an organization, you can love others by using your authority to speak on behalf of those who don’t have such authority, and to see that your organization treats all of its employees with justice and grace. I think, for example of a friend who used his authority in his company to change the medical insurance practices so that all employees, especially those with modest incomes, would have excellent benefits.
When we love our neighbors in the workplace, they often feel good and so do we. But, more importantly, this is a way for us to live out our love for God, who receives what we do as if we were loving him.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
Can you think of times when you observed or experienced acts of genuine love in the workplace?
Are there ways you try to love those with whom you work?
Do you find it difficult to love some of your colleagues? Why? Have you offered this to the Lord?
How might you love God this very day through the way you love your neighbors at work?
Gracious God, what a joy and privilege to love you. Thank you for giving us a way to love you tangibly, by loving others in our lives.
Help us, Lord, to know how best to love our colleagues at work. Give us wisdom and hearts of compassion. Help us to be good listeners, people who pay attention to those with whom we work, no matter their status in the organization. Teach us to serve others humbly, even as you have served us. And help us to use our authority for the good of others, especially those who don’t have a voice in our organization.
All praise be to you, loving God. May you be loved through our work today. Amen.
Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online Bible commentary: A Reflection for Valentine’s Day: Love One Another Deeply From the Heart
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