“Ask a Priest: What If I’m Surrounded by Unhappy Co-workers?”

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Q: I am employed in a temporary position over the summer, and my office is filled with unhappy people. I’m doing my best to keep a positive attitude and to find strength in God, but I’m having a hard time keeping the negativity out of my personal life. I am an education student and all I want to do is teach. I want to help kids grow in their knowledge and thrive in our ever-changing world, but my job is filled with people who never did — or could — find a passion as I found in teaching. The longer I stay around my co-workers, the harder I find it to seek out God for comfort and strength. It has me questioning everything about my life — not just my faith, but my purpose. Why did God put me in this job if not to help my co-workers to hate their jobs less? I wish there was a priest in my community whom I could turn to, but I’ve never been to church outside of school functions and would feel out of place going to a service. I’ve been keeping my faith as much as possible, but I end up feeling more alone. Thank you for any advice you can give me. – M.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: Our Lord might have allowed this cross in your life right now to help you grow in your faith — not lose it!

We can tell our faith is strong when it doesn’t get shaken very easily.

Perhaps this experience of being around unhappy people can serve a few purposes.

First, it gives you the chance to go deeper in your relation with Christ and to realize that he ultimately is the only source of your happiness. At best we will find a relative, limited happiness in this world. Our happiness shouldn’t depend on other people in the sense that we allow their problems to sour our outlook on life.

Second, it gives you even more insight into human nature. It can give you more motivation to help your current and future students base their lives on something solid and worthwhile — that is, faith in God and selfless love for other people.

Third, think of this office as a classroom – and you are the student. It would help to look for ways to consciously keep a positive attitude. One suggestion is to always speak positively of everyone. Never get involved in gossip or backbiting.

Also, remember that this summer job is only a temporary situation. There are plenty of teachers out there who have the passion that you have. In God’s providence, you will likely meet some of them along your journey. Keeping your passion strong in the face of this difficulty could be a way to purify and strengthen it, to make you more convinced and more courageous.

Fourth, and this is related to the first point, this office situation might be a motivation for you to connect with a church community. Being part of a faith community is crucial for nourishing the faith. We are meant to form a family united in Christ. So if the negativity of the office seems overwhelming, try to reach out to people who will support you — such as a parish. Until you find a real-life faith community, you might find it useful to explore some of our other resources designed to help people like you grow in their faith and deepen their spiritual lives, such as our Retreat Guide on “The Complete Christian: A Retreat Guide on the Calling of the Twelve Apostles,” for example.

In the meantime it would be good to pray for your co-workers daily, and to let them know in subtle ways that you are concerned for them. This might help sow a few seeds that could change their outlook on life. The kind of thing you will be doing as a teacher countless times.

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