Written by Jia Yin, China. Originally written in Simplified Chinese
This is how I used to picture success: being dressed in an elegant suit and high heels, driving around the city in a luxury car, strolling down the halls of a shiny office building. So I studied as hard as I could, in the hopes that I’d get to live that kind of life after graduation.
Unfortunately, real life has been quite the opposite.
Post-college, my work life was far from smooth sailing. I encountered everything from a toxic boss taking advantage of college students to all sorts of terrible workplace intrigues and friction with colleagues, to even starting a business that did not take off.
After a series of setbacks, I decided to join my husband in construction work and learn carpentry. Before my husband entered this line of work, someone had told him this: “There’s no ‘lowliness’ or ‘nobleness’ when it comes to work. Even Jesus Himself was a carpenter.” Because of this, he was encouraged to pull himself together to learn carpentry. Those words have stayed with me, and gave me the courage to join him in construction work.
Deep in my heart, I understood that I am precious to Jesus, and so whatever line of work I do, His love for me would not change. However, when I first started this job, the foundation of my identity wasn’t fully established yet. And that, coupled with a lack of regular fellowshipping with other Christians, made me vulnerable to a lot of internal conflict.
There would always be two voices warring in me—the Spirit would remind me of how God saw me and loved me, while the devil would hurl all sorts of insults at me: You’re completely useless. You wasted your education, messed up your career; you don’t even know how to get along with others. Look where you are now–a girl working in construction. Your parents must be incredibly embarrassed.*
Soon enough, the devil’s voice drowned out the voice of the Spirit, and I spent many days living in self-loathing and regret. Even though my husband and in-laws were good to me, I couldn’t muster the energy to appreciate how they cared for me. All I could think of was, I was complete garbage, undeserving of love from anyone. I was so consumed with my own pain that I just couldn’t see past it.
This went on for about a year, until I reached the point where I could no longer sleep at nights, could barely eat, and couldn’t remember the last time I felt happy.
Where man sees his end, that is where God’s work begins
Those who have experienced insomnia know how badly it affects your mental state. When the pills stopped working and nothing else helped—that’s when I realised I had nowhere else to turn but to God.
I don’t know how many nights or early mornings I spent, wide awake, unable to sleep and on my knees, asking for His help. The amazing thing was, every time I chose to go to God in prayer, I would somehow have enough energy the next day, just as much as I’d get from a good night’s sleep. His wonderful sustenance really surprised me.
There was a point when I thought of looking for a different job. Working in the construction site is extremely tiring (and dirty to boot), and I was often surrounded by men, which can sometimes be inconvenient.
But what really pained me was that this job was really a hit to my ego. I would picture my peers milling around in their fancy offices and going to glitzy shopping malls after work to buy all kinds of branded, beautiful outfits, while I had to return home every day all dusty and grimy, and covered in putty.
At one point, I brought this up to a Christian mentor, who then asked me a few questions in the hopes of better understanding my situation. Two questions that struck me were: “Do you feel that working together with your husband in construction has allowed you to help him substantially? Are you able to actually carry out the work needed?”
When I thought about these questions, I realised that my efforts to assist my husband have helped his work progress faster. Even though my strength and physique are obviously not comparable to the average guy, I am able to learn and complete tasks that are within my capabilities. Plus, working with my husband has given me more time to take care of him and our home.
The truth is, since my educational attainment is not that high, it’s hard for me to find really decent work. I used to have an office job and often had to work till midnight, which took away a lot of time from home.
When I shared my thoughts with my mentor, he responded with this: “If you’re able to help your husband right now, and you also feel that you’re able to do the work decently, then my suggestion is for you to continue working together. This is a good thing to have.”
When I heard this, it struck me that that was what the Holy Spirit wanted to tell me. And so, I was moved to follow God’s leading, and to give up on my previous obsession with a glamorous career.
I’ve been working with my husband for a year now, and in the past year, I’ve learned to look at different professions with the respect and acceptance due them. It was a hard-earned lesson for me, to not look down on construction workers, and to not think of them as pitiful or less in any way. Ecclesiastes tells us that if we’re able to work and sleep well at night, the satisfaction that comes from this is God’s gift (Ecclesiastes 5:18-19).
From my interactions with the workers, I learned to see the beauty of the souls beneath the dust-covered faces. When I began working as one of them, they would often worry that the work was too rough for me and try to find lighter tasks for me. Other workers would tell me that they worry that I won’t have any pension or security from this line of work, and would suggest that I go get a certification that would help me land a more secure job.
Still, there were those who looked down on me, who’d say that my parents had wasted money on my education, only to have me work in such a place. Even my mother feels that my work is not as “presentable”—“respectable” and “dignified”, and that I am not successful enough.
All of this has led me to ask myself—what is success, really? And I am so thankful that God has given me the answer to this, and has freed me from the trappings of the world’s standards for success. God loves me and does not need me to change who I am with regard to the work I do. He does not demand an impressive education and a shiny appearance for me to gain His love. His is an unconditional acceptance and love; it is grace, pure and free.
Because of this grace, I am moved to respect people of different industries and professions, as well as the lifestyle and background they may have. I know now that what matters is to plant myself in God’s love and take shelter under His wings, to carry out the roles to which He has brought me, whether at home or in the workplace.
I hope that you, too, will come to realise that everything, big and small, is in God’s hands, and He makes no mistakes. Whatever kind of work you may have, I hope you will see the lesson He wants you to learn and the mission He has entrusted to you.
As children of our Heavenly Father, let us earnestly take on our responsibilities, trusting that our Father sees and will reward us for our obedience.
*Note from editor: Where the writer is from, it’s understood that construction work is considered a field for men given the physical demands of the work. It is not meant to be an explicit comment/prescription on gender roles.