To Women Who Work
This piece is based on a talk given by the author during a young adult women’s retreat for the Diocese of Arlington on October 16, 2021.
In his 1995 Letter to Women Pope Saint John Paul II says, “Thank you women who work! You are present and active in every area of life-social, economic, cultural, artistic and political. In this way you make an indispensable contribution to the growth of a culture which unites reason and feeling, to a model of life ever open to the sense of ‘mystery,’ to the establishment of economic and political structures ever more worthy of humanity.”
Whether you’re looking for a new job or trying to thrive in your current role, these are the three lessons I’ve learned in discerning God’s will in my work life:
- Remember your identity as a daughter of the King.
- Invite God into your discernment process early and often.
- Approach your work with a servant’s heart.
My mom was the breadwinner in our family of four. She was a tangible example of a woman who fought for respect and a leadership position in the competitive world of biotechnology and pharmaceuticals. She was (and is) an independent, powerful woman who could provide for her family. She’d go to business conferences and come back with the coolest souvenirs. She got to travel all over the country and sometimes even brought us with her to places like Hawaii.
At the same time, my mom made sacrifices. She missed soccer games, school performances, and end-of-year parties. Years later, she sacrificed climbing the corporate ladder to spend more time and be closer to my brother and me. She earned her PhD while studying and writing on nights and weekends so she could leave the biotech industry, sell her stock, and work from home as a nursing professor and later as an education consultant.
When we think our own careers we often compare ourselves to our parents or our peers. My mom was an amazing example of a workingwoman, but she was a workaholic. I definitely took after her and inherited this trait.
Remember your identity as a daughter of the King.
As I was preparing to graduate college, I thought I had my career figured out. I would join the Foreign Service and after two consulate tours become a public diplomacy officer to serve in embassies around the world as a press and cultural attaché. I took the diplomatic entrance exam (the FSOT) for the first time and passed—the first part. Then I failed the personal narratives. I took the exam a second time and failed again in the same place.
Dejected and close to despair over my life’s plan unraveling, I attended a weekend retreat through my college Catholic Campus Ministry. During Adoration, I prayed for God to make my career path clear to me. He answered my prayer by whispering that he was my ticket to success, not my career.
God gave me so much peace on that retreat that I was able to trust him and surrender my dream of becoming a diplomat. Soon after, I moved to Washington, D.C. to get my master’s from the Elliott School of International Affairs.
Invite God into your discernment process early and often.
Two years later, it was nearing graduation time again. While my classmates were busy applying to hundreds of different jobs, I took a step back before applying and attended another retreat. This time, it was a five-day silent retreat in upstate New York with the Institute of the Incarnate Word.
On the silent retreat, God’s voice felt closer than it ever has. In the silence, I encountered God’s grandness and discovered that he was much bigger and powerful than I ever realized or could even fathom.
God is omnipresent – present at all times, omniscient – all knowing, and omnificent – unlimited in creative power. He gave me the great gift of applying to only two jobs before the retreat and accepting the right one before the third day ended (I had to break the silence to call my future boss and accept the job!).
Approach your work with a servant’s heart.
After working my way up from an entry-level job for three years after grad school, I married my best friend from college and started a new job at an international development firm. Through both my job and my marriage the Lord taught me about humility (see Luke 14:7-11).
While advocating for yourself professionally is both essential and right, I’ve found that being asked to do a task below your rank can be both humbling and rewarding. My boss recently asked me to coordinate a happy hour for our company. We also decided to turn it into a baby shower for our coworker who was about to give birth as a single mom.
I was tempted to go and just enjoy the food and drink while I networked with my colleagues, but instead I spent the evening serving them. I organized baby shower games for the mom-to-be and sought to talk to the co-workers who were sitting alone or who I knew were having a particularly tough time at a work.
This opportunity to go beyond the tasks written in my job description allowed me to serve others, affirming both their dignity and my own. At the end of the night, people left with huge smiles on their faces and I could tell they felt genuinely cared for by the company. No matter where we are in our careers, our work is sanctifying when we surrender our own plans and allow God to redefine success and lend us His servant heart.
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Renee lives in Arlington, VA, and works for an international development firm in Washington, DC. She loves leading Walking With Purpose Bible studies at her parish and trying new cuisines from local restaurants. She has a Master’s in Latin American Studies from GWU and a Bachelor’s in Communication Studies from the University of Miami.