Work: Resisting Going Through The Motions

6 mins read
Ballerina Misty Copeland, in a promotional image for her book, "Ballerina Body." (Henry Leutwyler/Grand Central Life &Style)

“Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina” is the both heart-warming and heart-wrenching memoir of Misty Copeland, a professional ballerina.

And, it seems like a good place to begin our journey of finding God in work.

While some of us have jobs just to have jobs, I think all of us long for a vocation, a calling.

Vocation: a strong feeling of suitability for a particular career or occupation.

But, even if we are just going to a job each day to earn a paycheck, that doesn’t let us off the hook for using our gifts, noticing the ways God is making appearances and sharing hope, joy and love with our coworkers. When we manage to do these things in the workplace, we can thrive – even if our job is not what we always dreamed we’d be doing.

If you do an inventory, there are many things that could have potentially stopped Misty from becoming a successful ballerina. Anxiety, family dysfunction, finances and racism are just a few obstacles she faced.

Misty was only two when her mother loaded her and her siblings on a Greyhound bus in Kansas City and headed for California, leaving her dad behind. So, she had no actual memory of her father. But she was aware of the hole left in her life in the absence of her father. While some of her mother’s husbands/boyfriends in the following years attempted to bond with her and her siblings, Misty would never again have a regular father figure in her life. Her mother never quite managed to create a stable life for her kids, moving from relationship-to-relationship and home-to-home.

Misty was raised on a limited income in an unstable environment that lacked consistency. And yet, she went on to be successful in an artform that requires commitment, consistency and precision. Misty notes in the book how incredible it is that all of her siblings and her overcame their childhood dysfunction and grew up to be successful.

Throughout her upbringing and into her career, she experienced times when she was treated differently because of her ethnicity. Ultimately, though, one of the biggest moments in the book was when she was chosen to play Firebird in Igor Stavinsky’s “The Firebird.”

It was huge because she was the first woman of color in that role. She shares a beautiful moment when she sees her face on a New York billboard – the first time she sees a woman of color in that spot. She often repeats this phrase because she knows what she’s doing is significant for more than just her: “This is for the little brown girls.”

What’s truly beautiful about this story is how clear it is along the way that Misty was created to share her gift as a ballerina. She naturally takes to ballet from the moment she reluctantly strikes a pose in the Boys and Girls Club, to the awkward mistakes redeemed at her first summer camp class, to the way she pushes through pain to perform Firebird. She was born for this. While Misty doesn’t talk about faith in great detail aside from noting her stepfather took the kids to church sometimes and a friend taught her tenants of Judaism, she does share a comment from that friend about who she is: “You are God’s child.” Deep down, even in insecurity, she knows God created her for this. 

Because she knows she was created for this, Misty is dedicated. She says she knows she will never achieve perfection, but she has to keep trying. So, she keeps going to dance classes and practicing steps. There have definitely been times when she wanted to give up on this art form. However, she says at the end of chapter 13, “I knew that I just didn’t have it in me to give up, even if I sometimes felt like a fool for continuing to believe.”

At the end of the day, dance is what set her free – free from anxiety and from the drama of life – to truly live in the moment and be herself.  

What if we went to work each day with that same kind of determination? Perhaps we aren’t determined to stay in a specific line of work, but instead determined to make a difference where we are? Determined to share the hope and love of God where we find ourselves. Determined to make life and work better for the coworkers who find themselves in the same work environment.

This is what we mean by encountering God in Work.

Welcome to the journey.

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