Experience God’s Presence When Working from Home - Denise Daniels, Shannon Vandewarker

Guests Denise Daniels and Shannon Vandewarker discuss spiritual practices that can help you connect with God when working from home.

Scripture References

  • Matthew 9:1-22
  • Psalm 62:8
  • Proverbs 16:9

Additional Resources

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Leah Archibald: Making It Work is brought to you by The Max De Pree Center for Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary and the Theology of Work Project.

Mark Roberts: Welcome to Making it Work.

LA: Through conversation, scripture and stories, we invite God into work’s biggest challenges... so that you can live out your purpose in the workplace.

MR: I’m Mark Roberts.

LA: And I’m Leah Archibald. And this is Making It Work.

Today's guests, Denise Daniels and Shannon Vandewarker, have been on the show before, and their episode is actually one of our most listened to episodes of all time. Denise and Shannon are the authors of the book, Working in the Presence of God: Spiritual Practices for Everyday Work. So last time they joined us, we discussed three spiritual practices that help people experience God in their everyday work. Today, we invited them back to discuss some of the practices we didn't get to talk about last time, and since the pandemic, they've come out with a guided journal called Practices for Working in the Presence of God to accompany the book. Denise and Shannon, welcome back to Making It Work.

Denise Daniels: Thanks, Leah. It's great to be here.

Shannon Vandewarker: Thank you. Thanks for having us.

LA: So since the last time we talked, a lot has happened in the world. I'm wondering if either of you started working from home as a result of the pandemic, and if so, has the experience of working from home changed how you engage with God in your work?

DD: Well, the answer to that is yes. A lot has changed. I was actually looking back on the date of our first podcast, which was November of 2019. Our first book came out in September of 2019, and obviously the world has changed since then, but also my job has changed since then.

I was at the time working at Seattle Pacific University, and I moved in the summer of 2020 to Wheaton College. And yes, I ended up working exclusively from home, and instead of teaching classes in person, I ended up teaching classes online. And so I spent about a year really not interacting with people almost at all in a workplace setting. It was very, very different; very, very challenging. And I have to say, our chapter on solitude, I was like, oh, I better read that chapter because I need to figure out how to work in a situation that is much more solitude filled than I had ever experienced in my life.

LA: Denise, I want to probe you a little bit and ask what in particular was different about this different work environment, working from home, and how did your advice on solitude kind of inform what you were going through?

DD: Yeah, I'll actually say there were two aspects of the first book that we wrote that shaped my experience a lot in that first year of pandemic.

One was solitude, as I've mentioned, and the other one was affirmation of calling. And as I said, I shifted from one state to another, from one institution to another, and in the middle of a pandemic, which was really disruptive in many, many ways. And so the questions for me about, what is God calling me to? Is this move the right thing? So all of those questions about discernment kind of came to the fore in that.

And then the other thing that happened for me, and this was just, again, an odd year, I ended up being diagnosed with some congenital heart defects, and that required open heart surgery. So it really was a very isolated and isolating experience for me. And so as far as what that meant for my spiritual life and what does that look like, I'm asking all these questions about calling before and during and into the move.

And then also asking these questions about, God, where are you and where are my relationships? Because interpersonal relationships became something that really only happened in a mediated way. And so it became really, really, you know, it was just a very odd season. But it also was a season in which I became very, it became very clear to me that God was present. And not that I doubted that, right? I knew, I know God is present. But God's presence became the thing that kind of carried me in that season.

LA: Shannon, tell us about your experience in this work transition in the past few years.

SV: Sure. So I was already working from home. So my location of work didn't change. But the amount of people in my home while I was working changed. So my kids...

LA: That's funny 'cause it's kind of the opposite of what Denise just shared. So going from, you know, an isolated experience that Denise was sharing. Shannon, you really had the opposite problem.

SV: Yes. Yeah. So my kids were home full time and I was homeschooling full time and juggling work on top of that. And then we have a daughter who during the same time was diagnosed with some medical conditions. And so for me, the practices that I went to because of all that was happening in the world and kind of my life at home felt more. I had to juggle more. It felt more kind of chaotic.

I went to lament because there was a lot of grief, I think, for me in that season of a very sudden change on top of the timing of having to navigate a diagnosis and what that meant for our family and care in the middle of a pandemic. And so I did go to lament. I went to praying desperate prayers and asking, you know, for God to really be present in the middle of what felt like a lot of interruptions in my plan. And I think through that through that process of lament, I remember very distinctly praying to God on my daughter's sleeping mat that we had kind of on our floor because she was sleeping in our room at the time. And saying to God, I felt like the woman who was desperate for healing and just needed to touch Jesus's cloak.

And I heard really distinctly from the Lord, like, I am so present. And yes, all you need to do is reach out and touch my cloak. And you're going to be amazed at what I do through this process of grief through this, this time of kind of interruption and all of that. And God has been so faithful to show me the other side of it. When you're in it, it's very, very difficult to see the other side of it, and to believe that there is another side of it and that God will come through and that God will be faithful. But he does. He's not going to give up on us. He's never given up and so why would he give up on me. Why would I be the first person that he's given up on. And so that practice for me of lament and just pouring out my heart and just saying, God, this feels chaotic and crazy and there's so much pain in it. Show me your presence and also show me, give me wisdom here because this is difficult and so I started with lament and pivoted to kind of surrendering the calendar, which I think we may have talked about in the last episode.

Because there was so much juggling because there were so much balls that I was trying, trying to throw in the air and catch and couldn't. And so learned to surrender and learn to kind of let that go and just say, Okay, God, like, you know my work, and you know all of the things that need to get done. And also, all of the other vocations that I'm called to in the season. And so, learning to trust that I think was a big piece of me getting through the grief of stepping out and saying, Okay, God, like, you've got this, I trust you. I've grieved this and now I'm moving into a season of trust and of standing on your truth that you are faithful and you will be faithful moment to moment, hour by hour, day by day.

LA: Shannon, what I love about this little nugget from the Bible that you shared about the woman who reaches out to touch the hem of Jesus's garment is that it kind of goes from lament to surrender right in that story. So this, for those of you who are following along in your Bible, this comes from Matthew chapter nine, is kind of at the end of the chapter versus 1-22.

And there's a woman who has a disease, who just thinks if I could just touch the hem of Jesus's garment, maybe I would be healed. And it's kind of like this lament of her inner disease like, "Oh, what can I possibly do? You know, maybe I'm going to touch the hem of this garment," and then Jesus is like, "Who touched me?" And she's like, "Oh, it was me," like there's like this moment of surrender like I guess I just have to come clean and say it was me. So even that story goes through the same kind of process you just described.

SV: And I think that's the process that God takes us through with lament, you know, because it's this honest. It's this honest way of saying to God, all of the things that are on our hearts, and all of the words that we can say to God. And then like the psalmist when we read these songs of lament like the psalmist, all of them except for one turn and say, but God. And that's the surrender part. That's the, it's the way we preach to ourselves, right? When like we lament and then we say, but God will be faithful, but God has never given up, but God's steadfast love will meet me.

And so I do I do think that these practices go hand in hand. And when we practice one in one season, it leads us to another and another season and then when we need the first practice, we come back to it, but our hearts are different, our lives are different, the way that we follow Christ is different because we've practiced it in a different season. And our hearts have been informed in different ways. Our faith has been built in different ways because of what we've gone through.

LA: Mark, tell me what the past little bit has been like for you.

MR: You mean the work, working last couple years?

LA: Yeah, or let me ask you...

MR: Or this conversation, which little bit...

LA: Which question do you want to answer?

MR: Let me do the second one because I love this conversation. And part of what strikes me is how much work... In both of your stories, your work is not like a separate thing from life, you know, sometimes people talk about work-life balance, like work's over here and life's over here. I mean, you're both exemplifying this kind of integration of life including work. And for those of us who had to work from home. I mean that was also a literal thing, right? I didn't get up and go to work. I worked right where my wife is working, where my son came home from grad school, right before the pandemic, thinking he'd live at home a little while and got stuck with his parents. So, I mean that's part of what I was thinking as you were talking, that even though I know that's not the main point of your book or anything, you're illustrating that. I just want to say a couple things too. One is, we're talking about lament.

MR: So for those who aren't really familiar with your book yet, both books, I should mention there's a chapter about lamenting work in each book and in the first book you're really explaining what that is and there's some practical stuff too. The second book is really helping people to express to God, the pains and frustrations in our work life. And, you know, I grew up in a Christian tradition that didn't really do that very much. We didn't hear much about lament. And then we kind of realize, in the last few years realize, Wait, there's there's a lot in the Bible and a lot in the Psalms. One of my favorite verses in recently in the Psalms in the whole scripture is from Psalm 62.

I can't remember the exact verse number but it says, "Trust in the Lord at all times, O people." Now, in the Christian tradition I grew up in the second part of that verse would be something like, and then be fine or rejoice or don't worry. But what it says is, "Trust in the Lord at all times, O people, pour out your heart before me." And so in the trust and this is, Shannon, so much of it, actually both of you. In that place of trust, it isn't shutting down or pretending like it's all great, there's a freedom to just lay it all out before God. And what you're doing is helping us to realize, you know, you can do that with work too. That's not just your family life, your spiritual life. I mean work is a part of what we can pour out our heart to God about and, you know, it's one of the great things I think about your first book, and now you're second one.

SV: I think that these spiritual practices try and lead us to what you just described. A more authentic experience of God, so that there isn't this compartmentalization between what we do and what we believe, and what we do in our relationship with God.

And I think each of these practices, when we practice them consistently, do lead us to a more honest look at our own sin, and a more honest look at God's deep grace, and it's both together. And if we... If it only leads us to one of those, we've missed the point. And so I think we are not comfortable, especially in our North American context with being uncomfortable. And hopefully these practices are more of an invitation into that, into being uncomfortable, into being more honest with who we are at our core and our deep need for Jesus.

LA: Did the idea of creating a journal to go along with practices for working in the presence of God, did that come out in some respects of this desire to help people process a little bit more in an active way these practices?

DD: Yeah, I think that's exactly it. There was a sense from people that we were talking to that they wanted more practical how to ideas of engaging so that was a big piece of it.

One of the things that you haven't commented on or asked us about is that we have at the beginning of each chapter, we have a piece of art that we actually commissioned for this book. And I think this is something that God is is working in me on this, I think historically I've been a very sort of linear objective rational, my approach to faith has been driven by my personality, which tends to be sort of academic. And I think that's fine. I think God uses all kinds of people and engages all kinds of people in different ways. But what I have found in the last couple of years that has shifted a little bit is that I'm seeing more and more the ways that God is using things that are not word based. And there is an element of art. There's a visual art. There's an element of music that I find more and more useful in terms of how I see God engaging with me.

Let me give you a really quick example. I went to an exhibit on our campus that was a textiles exhibit and they had, it was a little hard to explain but it was beautiful. I'm not going to be able to articulate it in words particularly really well. What I found as I was looking at these different pieces of art in this installation was that at each one, I found myself experiencing music. Now there was no music playing. It was music that I was, that was being called up by memory and it was connected in some way with each art piece. And they were biblical in basis. The music that I was hearing were hymns or songs that I had learned in growing up in the church. And I found myself really struck by how God was using these non-word kind of experiences to really just to make me recognize God's presence. And again, I'm not very good at articulating this because I'm not used to this as a particular pathway. And I think other people probably are much more naturally and intuitively wired this way. I'm not. So this has been novel to me. But one of the things that we tried to do with that workbook is to provide different entry points for different kinds of people to see and to engage and to experience God's presence.

And I think God has been working in me in those ways, too. I love what Shannon said earlier about our previous practices shape us. And when we come back to that practice later, it's a little bit different. And I find that exact thing is true in my own life, that it's not... You don't kind of go down a rut and just get used to it and get good at it. And that's all you do. It's God uses all these different practices and you kind of go through them in different seasons and you come back to them and you try them again. And there's a different experience the second or third or fourth time through. And I'm finding that in my own self, looking at the seasons that I've experienced over the past several years.

MR: Well, let me act like your book promoter, too, for a moment, because what you just said is really important. So your new book isn't like a workbook where you have to like go through it. I mean, I just, people could do that. You have collected all kinds of different things. I think this is really important because somebody out there might say, you know, art doesn't really work for me. Well, okay, you've got scripture, you've got prayers, you have exercises, you have... You've just collected all of that. You've just collected all of this stuff. You have a new section speaking to managers, which I found really interesting. In fact, we should probably ask about that. Right, Leah? But anyway, I just want folks to know that it's kind of like you have collected and curated all kinds of things. So if one thing isn't somebody's cup of tea, the other is. Now, I'm just like you, Denise. And I found some of your pictures really interesting because. But I think about it. I'm not yet just relating to...

DD: You wouldn't experience music but...

MR: What are these flashlights about and what are they doing? And it's but it's it's really one of the great things about your books. I think just about anybody can find a way in. And that's worth saying.

DD: Thanks. Yeah.

LA: Well, let's talk about the section for managers, because this is something new. And this is something that I hadn't thought about before this book, which is how can managers help, especially when people are working from home and they're maybe not engaged with them visually in person from day to day? How can managers help people who are working from home engage with God in their work?

DD: Yeah, so we wanted to do something really intentionally for people who are in leadership, because this has been a season, especially the last couple of years with pandemic, I think has been a season that's been challenging for lots of people for lots of reasons. But managers in particular are kind of on the hot seat. We've seen the great resignation. We've seen a lot of burnout. We've seen a lot of challenges in lots of kinds of workplaces for different reasons. And managers are trying to manage through that. And so we wanted to try to provide something that would be useful for people, not just for themselves, but also for how do you influence those who follow you?

How do you have an impact on others around you? And this maybe is more obvious for people who work in a setting where faith is talked about or faith is overt or there's a Christian theme associated with where they may be working. Maybe much less obvious in contexts where it's a secular workplace and people don't talk about that. And it's not comfortable to bring that overtly to the workplace. And we wanted to provide something for both of those kinds of settings. So that was kind of the impetus behind those managers sections in those chapters.

LA: Mark, you were managing people through the season of transition and through the transition to work from home. What did you find was most challenging in a managerial role? And how did you find or what spiritual practices did you find helpful in that?

MR: You know, it's interesting. For me, leadership and management is a very relational act. I just I know the people. We share life together and pray together. And so all of a sudden that became different. Now, it's actually still possible. But I had to actually develop some newer disciplines. So I would always check in with somebody when I meet with them one on one. But online, I actually do it more. And so it sort of set aside the first 15 minutes of an hour meeting to say, how are you doing? What's going on? And so things like that to continue to build relationship.

LA: Something that I found really helpful with my team during the pandemic, and this is something that you could do, regardless of whether you work at a religious organization or a secular organization is every time we do our weekly meetings, we start by each person kind of gives a high and a low from the past week. And this comes from this really ancient practice of the Examen, where in you kind of look back at the past day or in this case, we're looking back at the past week and and just noticing where God maybe calls your attention. What was really life giving and what was really life sucking, you know, in that past particular amount of time. And what we do on our staff meetings is we each go around and we share that and that kind of gives like an internal temperature to kind of and it's very helpful to know about what people are going through. Sometimes we'll share about something in their work. Sometimes we'll share about something in their personal life. And I've found those moments to be the most memorable. Like I won't remember what happened in the rest of the staff meeting, but I'll really feel a connection to someone else who shared their high moment or their low moment in the past week.

I wonder if each of you could mention a practice that maybe we haven't talked about before, but that's been surprisingly helpful for this season of working from home.

DD: I'll share one, although I don't know if we talked about it the first time or not. I can't remember. And that is Sabbath. So Sabbath is something that obviously is mandated in scripture, one of the Ten Commandments. It's the last chapter of both our book and our workbook. And what I have found is that especially because of working at home, there is no demarcation anymore between work and home, between rest and work. And so it has been really important for me to continue to create those boundaries over that one day. And so on that day, I won't turn on my computer. I won't engage on email because it's important for me to have that demarcation and that separation. And it has been really, really good. I think my work would have become consuming in ways that wouldn't have been healthy if I had not done that. And Sabbath is not a new practice for me. I've actually been trying to rhythmically engage in Sabbath for a couple of decades now. So it's not new, but I think it's been something that has been really, really important in this season and maybe even harder in some ways than it has been before to practice because my work is all right here or it could be. And because I'm so used to just waking up and getting online and engaging with the workplace.

SV: Reading scripture throughout my day has been really instrumental for me in remaining grounded in God's love. I think a lot of my work is done in solitude and I can get kind of stuck in my head and think, you know, all of the pressure is on me to produce something as a writer and to produce, you know, the right words in the right way and all of that.

And for me going back to scripture and realizing it's not really about me and it's not really up to me. The outcome of my work is going to be up to God. And my job is to show up and to be faithful to what he's called me to. A couple of verses out of Proverbs have just kind of continually come up. Proverbs 16:9 says, "In their hearts, humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps," and that I can show up and have a plan for my work for the day, but ultimately, God establishes that work, that what God does with the work that I do is up to him, and I can give that over and my job is just to show up and to be faithful and to do my work as well as I can. And that that reminder of just constant truth of scripture really helps me to remain grounded in that way, because a lot of my work is in solitude and there isn't a ton of interaction with people to remind me of that, that the words of scripture kind of and the Holy Spirit brings that up for me.

MR: That's great. Leah, can I answer?

LA: Please do.

MR: Now I'm going to break your rule because we did talk about this last time, but I want to bring it up because. So after our last conversation when I read your first book, I thought, you know, I need to do this surrendering your calendar thing. So I literally adopted, I mean, I put it in my prayer list that I use every morning and there's the surrendering your calendar part, actually plug in a couple of prayers of Ignatius, including the Suscipe, and go through my calendar and do that. And so I've done that almost every day since we talked, and it has been a big deal to me. And I mean, mostly it just, it doesn't change the day except it changes the way I think about the day, right? Because now this is God's day.

And really, at least the beginning of the day, understand that my work is for God and God is in charge. And I can forget that pretty quickly, but at least I start there. So I know we talked about that before, but I wanted to mention that because it's been so important to me. And I think I would encourage others.

DD: Well, Mark, I'm actually really happy to hear that that was useful to you because I remember you talking about the liturgy of commute not being at all useful to you. So it's nice to know something was useful.

MR: It's true. And now I have no... Now my commute is like 25 steps. So although you do talk about...

LA: You can't get a lot of liturgy in, in 25 steps...

MR: You talked about fake commute, which I thought was kind of a cool idea. But anyway, yeah, no, no liturgy of commute now.

SV: I was just gonna say that particular practice of surrendering the calendar, I think becomes important for people because of what it does physiologically for our bodies. That that act of surrender and of saying, "God, you are in control of all of this, and I don't have to worry about it." It lowers our level of anxiety, at least it does for me. And in being able to trust God with that, builds our faith. But as we step out in kind of that trust in that moment by moment. For me, it changes my heart rate, it changes like, how I feel, how my stomach feels, all of those things because I know this isn't up to me, that I'm a conduit, and God is, God's got this and he's going to do something much greater than I ever could with it. If I'm able to surrender it to him.

LA: I'm so glad, Mark, I'm so glad you brought up this practice because I actually used it this morning. And I found it incredibly helpful and I was reflecting on the day ahead. And I just got a little nudge, you know, about a particular meeting I was going to have with a particular person I just got this little nudge like he needs a little bit extra love and attention during your interaction, and my first thought was like, oh, that's a pain.

You know, because I'm going to have to like, expend emotional resources, like reaching out and then listening. I'm not proud of that was my first thought. That just was that just was my first thought, you know, and then I kind of said, Well, you know, if it's from God, I guess I could try, you know, and I just kind of set, put in the back of my mind, set my intention. Did I do something that much differently when I interacted with this person? No, I just paused a little bit longer, you know, after, before jumping in with my ideas, you know, I just noticed a little bit more something positive about this person and just offered like a little more feedback. Did it take that much energy from me? No, it didn't really. But having that moment of intention in the morning really shifted the situation. And I think you could say that not just about surrendering in the calendar, but about all these spiritual practices, taking on a spiritual practice is really a way of focusing our intention to the ways God can be present later in our workday.

DD: I think right, you're right, Leah. It's focusing attention, it's focusing intention. I was thinking about this when I was, you know, I told you about my surgery, and I actually had a difficult recovery the first week or so after surgery, I was in intensive care longer than they expected. And one of the challenges I was, as it turns out, allergic to the meds that they were giving me. So that was the problem. But one of the challenges was I wasn't able to breathe, which is really a challenge. And...

LA: Kind of a big one.

DD: A big deal. Yeah. And so I had a really hard time and I would find myself just literally having to focus on every single breath, just to be able to breathe in and breathe out. And I found myself in that moment doing those breath prayers, right. And so I would breathe in and be like, Lord, fill me with your spirit. And as I breathed out, Lord, take away my fear. And so to Shannon's point earlier, those moments of engaging and focusing your attention on God really do change your own physiology and they change how you respond and react to. And obviously I was able to breathe and I survived and I'm here and engaging with you all on the podcast.

But it has shaped how I think about just the little moments, the little moments of breathing are moments that God can shape us and moments that God wants to wants us to acknowledge and recognize God's presence in those places and in those times. And so it, just as Shannon was mentioning earlier that the practices change us. And when we come back to them, they're different. My engagement now when I pray very briefly as I'm walking into a room or whatever, I'm reminded of God's power to shape me, God's power to shape circumstances and God's power to shape outcomes in ways that I can't.

LA: I think that's a really beautiful place to close. So my last question for you, Shannon and Denise is, do you have a particular hope of what people would take from your book and from your journal in this new different working climate that we've come into?

SV: I think my hope is that people see kind of what Mark was talking about earlier. There's lots of entry points into spiritual practices and to not miss the point of them, that the point of them is our formation.

The point of them is to grow closer to God and not just to have a routine or have a certain habit, but to actually be formed into the likeness of Christ. And so I think our hope is that when people pick up either one of our books, that there's several entry points that somebody can say, oh, I have a long commute. This is a great place to start. Or I really do enjoy art. Take that art piece and meditate, you know, in prayer through, you know, looking at it. Or, you know, somebody who has a hard time praying, taking some of the prayers that are already written and reading through them, letting those words be words that they can say to God, giving them language for that. So our hope is to make it accessible and not intimidating for somebody who this might be new for. And then to connect it to where they spend the most of their time, which is at work.

DD: Yeah, I love all that, Shannon. I wish I could say that. I wish I could have said that. I think one of the things that it's been impressed on me more recently is that most people write about things that they themselves are engaging with or struggling with in some way. And it seems to me that I don't feel like I'm an expert in this area at all. I feel like my hope for other people would really be the hope that I have for myself, which is that I am more attentive to God, that I am more attentive to where God is engaging with me, that I'm more attentive to the ways in which God is engaging with other people in my workplace, and that I continue to notice and to pay attention to those ways where God is showing up.

LA: Denise Daniels, Shannon Vandewarker, thank you so much for joining us on the podcast today. It's been a real pleasure.

DD: It's fun to talk to you.

SV: Thank you for having us.

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