Time-Honored Advice for Coping with Your Boss

Thomas á  Kempis
From: The Imitation of Christ. ca 1418-1427

Thomas á  Kempis, a fifteenth century believer, was known by his fellow monks to be a man “filled with love for the Passion of the Lord, and a wonderful comforter of those in temptation and trouble.” In his master work, The Imitation of Christ, Kempis reaches through centuries to offer workplace Christians surprisingly relevant advice to comfort us in our modern day temptations and troubles.

In The Imitation of Christ, Kempis phrases his meditations as conversations with God. The following are excerpts of what he imagines God says to us, his disciples.

On Dealing with Accusations from Bosses and Coworkers

If you are guilty, say to yourself, “I will gladly correct my faults”; if your conscience is clear, say, “I am glad to bear this injustice for God’s sake.” It is not much that you should sometimes bear hard words, seeing that you are not yet strong enough to bear hard blows.

The only reason why such little things cut you to the heart is that you are still ruled by your old nature, and take more notice of men than you should. It is because you are afraid of men’s contempt that you are unwilling to be taken to task for your mistakes, and try to cover them up with excuses. Look at yourself carefully, and you will see that worldly interest are still alive within you, as well as a foolish love of pleasing men. When you try to run away from the shame and humiliation that result from wrong-doing, it is quite clear that you have not learnt real humility, that you are not really dead to the world, and that the world does not stand crucified to you.

A man is easily upset by censure when he does not keep his thoughts centered within him and his eyes fixed on God; but the man who trusts in me and does not attempt to stand by his own judgment will be free from the fear of men. I am the Judge from whom no secret is hidden. I am aware how each deed is done; I know who commits a wrong and who has to bear it. I allowed that word to be said; that thing was done with my permission. And so the thoughts of many hearts shall be made manifest.

How can you complain when men find fault with you? What defense can you make? You have offended God on countless occasions, and have earned the punishment of hell. Yet your soul was precious to me, and I looked down and spared you, so that you should acknowledge my love, live in continual thankfulness for my benefits, strive towards true subjection and humility, and submit patiently when you are treated with contempt.

Whenever judgment is passed, you must flee to me and not make your own decisions; for God will not let anything befall the just man to do him hurt.


On Submitting to Your Boss

Anyone who tries to escape from obedience is really escaping from grace, and anyone who pursues private schemes loses communal blessings.

If a man does not submit to his superior gladly and willingly, it is a sign that his old nature has not yet learned complete obedience, but is kicking and murmuring still. You must learn to submit to your superior quickly, if you desire to bring your old nature under control. The enemy outside is defeated sooner, when the man within is not in chaos. There is no enemy more dangerous and troublesome to your soul than you are to yourself when you and your spirit are not in harmony. You must learn a real indifference to self if you want to win the victory over flesh and blood. It is because your self-love is still undisciplined that you are afraid to abandon yourself to the will of others.

I became the humblest and lowest of all, so that your pride should be broken by my humility. Learn obedience, for you are only dust. Learn to humble yourself and to put yourself beneath the feet of all, for you are the clay of the ground. Learn to crush your own desires, and surrender yourself in complete subjection.

You must not say, “I am quite unable to submit to this sort of thing, coming from a man like that; and it is not the sort of thing I should be asked to accept. He has done me a great deal of harm, and accused me of something that never entered my head. Still, I would accept if from another man, provided I though it the sort of thing I should be asked to accept.”

This kind of thinking is very foolish. It is always weighing up what injuries it has received from which people, instead of keeping it in mind that there is a virtue in patience, and that a reward awaits it from God. A man is not really patient if he is only prepared to submit to what he thinks right from the person whom he chooses.

The really patient man does not mind who it is that puts him to the test–whether it is his superior, or an equal, or a subordinate; whether it is a good, holy man, or a wicked and unworthy one. Whenever anything happens that is hard to bear, however difficult it is and whoever causes it, he accepts it all with thanks as a gift from the hand of God. In his eyes it is a great benefit, because God will not let anything that is endured for his sake, however small it is, pass by without reward.

Adapted from The Imitation of Christ, translated by Betty Knott, Wm. Collins and Co., 1963.