Thank God for the KGB

Swipe card

I woke up Monday morning with a bad attitude. I could feel the internal complaining about my job mounting as I sat in traffic and watched the minutes tick by. Not only was it Monday, but I was running ten minutes late. Not a good start to the week.

It was easy to replay in my head our department meeting last week. The first administrator to present told us that our graduates were doing poorly on exit exams and we desperately needed to improve the quality of education. The most important thing is results, she assured us, the way we get there is up to us. It was a breath of fresh air. Finally someone was giving us free reign to educate as we saw fit as long as we got to the right destination.

The second presenter brought me back to reality. She pulled up a detailed table listing the exact times each teacher had arrived at work (“swiped in”) and left work (“swiped out”) over the last few months. The total hours and minutes we had spent in the building were displayed on the screen for all to see. Big brother is watching us. However, our boss assured us that the teachers and administration were on the same team. I guess spying on your allies isn’t unheard of. The NSA would be proud.

So much for “the way we get there is up to us,” I thought. A glimmer of freedom was to yet again be smothered by post-Soviet micromanagement. I had seen it all before. Undue focus on the process distracts everyone from the goal and leads to mediocre results. The message was clear: we care more about the fact that you are sitting in our building than about the outcome of your work.

But as I sat in my car, driving through the first snow of the season and mulling over thoughts like these, I knew that my heart wasn’t right. I had listened to a sermon the night before that emphasized the fact that most of us have a tendency to view ourselves in the best possible light. We see ourselves as righteous and deserving. But from God’s perspective, we are sinners in need of salvation. And God’s ultimate goal for us is not personal fulfillment or satisfaction but transformation. God is not content for us just to squeak into heaven. He is on a mission to change us if we will let him. James 1: 2-4 tells us:

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

In other words, God wants us to bring us through a process to make us mature and complete. God is concerned about something much deeper and longer lasting than job satisfaction or achieving my dreams.

Besides that, the scriptures tell me that I am in debt to God because he gave his son Jesus as payment for my sin. He purchased my freedom so that I can serve him. I owe him my life and my future and I have no right to complain.

Thirdly, work itself is a gift from God. James 1:17 says,

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.

God is feeding my children and providing for us through this job, and for that I am thankful. We should never forget this basic yet essential part of being in a covenant relationship with the Lord: he feeds his children and takes care of their needs.

Finally, I don’t know all the reasons God has me at this particular job at this particular time. There might be someone I need to talk to or someone who needs to see a godly example. If I run and hide or allow complaining to ruin my life, I won’t be of any use in the kingdom of God.

So as I sat in traffic I started trying to be thankful, and I’m glad I was making a good faith effort to reorient my heart because it was just one of those days when the system gets to you. I arrived at work without my badge for the third day in a row because my wife and I are sharing the same swipe-card-thingy and I forgot to dig it out of her bag. (She was promised her own card several weeks ago and…well…no card yet.) When I forgot my card in the past, I just smiled apologetically at the guards and they let me through. But the new policy is that I have to write a letter to the head of the university stating the time I arrived, making me even later. I was on track to write my third letter in three days, but thankfully the guard just scolded me and let me through.

I arrived in my department to find that my badge-forgetting and letter-writing had not gone unnoticed. The secretary informed me that the administration contacted her about my recent habit…i.e. hint, hint, get it together and bring your stupid badge.

My letter writing for the day was not to end with the guards. You may remember that midterm grades were due. Despite being dragged to work last Saturday, I still managed to miss the deadline and found myself locked out of the online grading system. I had to track down the head of academic affairs who said, of course, I have to write a letter before the system can be unlocked for me. I jumped through the bureaucratic hoops and got my grades done.

Before leaving for the day, I ran across my boss in the hallway, who told me that I wasn’t coming to work on time. I thought she was referring to my ten-minute tardiness today (a rare occurrence), and I started to apologize. But it turned out that she was referring to every other day as well. She said I have been coming to work only three or four minutes early and that I need to be arriving at least ten minutes early. She said she has “means” of finding these things out, obviously referring to the data provided by the swipe-card-thingy system. “I know,” I said. “It’s like the KGB.” The words almost leapt out of my mouth. Thankfully she didn’t hear me.

So I need God’s help to “count it all joy” but I want to thank him for the fact that he loves me enough to bring circumstances into my life that confront the sin in my heart. Even the KGBish swipe-card system can be a tool in his hands to make me more like Jesus.

Now where did I put my badge?…

2 thoughts on “Thank God for the KGB

  1. The title of this post made me do a double-take. I was on pins and needles until the last sentence! I appreciate the turn of phrase you used, “reorient my heart.” That is a much more accurate description than “get a better attitude” or something similar.

  2. I’m glad you like the headline. Honestly, I’m glad there were no “real” KGB involved, even if the title is a bit misleading. Yes, I’m not sure where our word “attitude” comes from; it’s a helpful word but it’s not exactly a scriptural one. The Bible more often uses words like gratefulness, patience and love as well as anger, complaining and arguing.

    As a side note, the word “attitude” and “relationship” in Russian are the same (otnosheniye / отношение). So our attitude toward something is also our relationship toward it. That language lesson’s free. I might have to charge you for the next one. 🙂

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