How is my job holy?
I am dedicated to my businesses and to my faith, but the connection between the two isn’t always obvious…
By Jeff Darrey
As told to Kerry Weber*
I grew up in the era of the Baltimore Catechism, and I learned that my purpose in life is to “know, love, and serve God.” Now, at 63, these simple teachings are fundamental to who I am. I try to quietly offer all parts of my life — the successes, the challenges, and the disappointments — to honor and glorify God. Of course, I fail frequently.
I’ve been interested in business almost as long as I’ve known the Catechism. I guess you could call me a serial entrepreneur. I seek opportunity. My primary company is called Marketing Associates USA, a marketing and promotions agency, which I’ve had for 32 years. Our work involves developing and implementing strategies for Fortune 500 companies. I also have a retail coffee company called Indigo Trading Company; some real estate; the Envictus Corporation, which is an Internet technology company; and I co-founded the Trinity Café, which serves meals to the homeless.
I am dedicated to my businesses and to my faith, and the connection between the two isn’t always obvious, but it’s always there. Every business presents me with a number of difficult decisions and this economy hasn’t made things easier. But something my former pastor, Father Mike Muhr, said stays with me. He said that there are three votes in every decision I make — God, the devil, and me — and the majority rules. I pray to “vote with God” in my decisions. My faith informs how I run my business. Both clients and employees know that we as a company are very supportive of not-for-profit and pro bono work. We support a number of different charities; we’re developing a website for a new mission church in Africa; we’ve worked to provide marketing services for pregnancy centers.
Part of what I pray for is the strength to do God’s will and to treat my clients and employees fairly. Recently, a client canceled a project with us, but my company was still entitled to relatively significant compensation. The clients were hard-nosed business people, and they kept negotiating, so I said, “No matter what the settlement is, however this ends up, I’d like you to compensate me in a way you think is fair. Whatever that is will be acceptable to me.” So they made an offer and said, “Do you think that’s fair?” And I said, “No, but I’m OK with it. I’ll accept it and we’ll just move on.” It’s my faith that helps me to know that I’m going to be OK no matter what, as long as I don’t compromise my spiritual values.
Still, these are unbelievably challenging times. Thankfully, I work with unbelievable people. They are unconditionally committed, and any encouragement that I’m able to provide for them is only through my faith. There was a time when a new employee became sick and was unable to work. We had a policy of paying employees for two weeks of sick time. Beyond that we didn’t pay, but we would try to have a position available for the employee when he or she recovered. But at the time, the income from this job was the only way this man could live, and he also was supporting his grandmother. So we just kept paying him. I told him that we were going to continue paying him until he could return to work. I said, “As soon as you can come back, come back, but don’t jeopardize your health.” We paid him for about five months of work while he was sick, and then allowed him to come back to work at the end of that time. He was very grateful.
It’s these kinds of things that help me to understand what it means to pray unceasingly. I see the actions that I am doing at work as a form of prayer. I think we always have that opportunity to try to imitate Christ in all that we do, when we plan a project or negotiate with someone or consult with a client. It’s in how we conduct ourselves, what we do in challenging moments. Whatever I’m doing in some form or fashion, a presentation or a project, I want it to glorify God. I want to see Christ in the face of everyone I talk to. It’s the difference between reading the Gospel versus living the Gospel. And in the marketplace, which is often so secular, it’s challenging to live the Gospel. Sometimes I’m forced to decide between being popular and being faithful.
In meetings, for instance, I might have to ask myself, Am I going to submit to a comment that is off-color or unjust? It’s so easy to be in a meeting room full of people gossiping and to do nothing. It’s especially challenging when I’m with clients, because there’s so much to lose if you say the wrong thing or offend the wrong person. One time, I was in a meeting with a group of men and one of them told a disrespectful joke and made a comment about a waitress. Everybody laughed except for me, and when people noticed, there was silence. The man who had made the joke looked at me and said, “You don’t think that’s funny?” I looked at him and said, “I think it’s disrespectful.” It was an incredibly uncomfortable situation, because the man who made the joke was very powerful. I could feel the tension, and I felt fear inside, but I also felt gratified. Still, I knew that it was only through God’s grace that I had the courage to say anything at all. I think that it was commonplace for this man to conduct himself in the way he did, but I honestly think he respected my response.
You never know when a small seed will be planted. Maybe what I say will make difference one day, if a client or coworker starts reconsidering the way they are behaving because of something I’ve said. Maybe somebody will think, I really need to look at this part of my life. Is this really the way I want to be? If, through God’s grace, I can humbly be that conduit, then I want to be that.
Holiness is an attribute that’s difficult to assign to a job in the business world, but I do consider throughout the day the way Christ wants me to be, and that affects how I do business. My faith has given me the courage to talk with some of my employees about what is going on in their lives outside of work, and to offer counsel when I can. I don’t wear my faith on my sleeve, but I think my employees know that I am a man of faith and that I’m happy to talk about it, if given the chance.
Recently I was faced with another difficult decision, when I learned of a job opportunity elsewhere that would be perfect for one of my employees and would likely offer this employee more stability in the long term. This person is a very hard worker I didn’t want to lose, but when I prayed about it, I knew that I had to let this person know about the job. I had to think about what is good for business and what is good for employees and what, in the end, is just the right thing to do. I knew I had to do what was best for this employee and the family of this employee.
My faith has really helped me to balance my job with the other aspects of my life. I do the best that I can and give it over to God and accept whatever the outcome is. I have kept a relatively good balance, though the work has been demanding. It helps that I have absolutely the most supportive, loving wife that anyone could want. Through thick and thin, good times and bad, she’s been supportive; and we share our faith. When I joined Legatus (an association of Catholic business leaders), it really helped me to move forward and to keep doing what I love, in God’s name. It’s remarkable how God has allowed my life to develop. Talking with other Catholic CEOs and spouses has been really energizing.
Sometimes my business sense will influence my faith life as well. I can offer my time and talents to pursue projects that serve the poor or help to build the faith life of others, like through Trinity Café, which, despite initial funding challenges and ongoing operational challenges, has served more than 630,000 meals. I was also excited when my company recently did a website for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops called foryourvocations.org, because it was speaking to young people who think they might have a vocation to Religious life. I’ve been promoting another project called Eucharist Illumination, a marketing program to promote the Eucharist. No one has bought it yet, but I’m holding on to it for now. Still, I understand that not every business venture is going to succeed.
I pray for help in my business always. I pray for success, if it’s God’s will; and if it’s not, I pray for acceptance. The business world has been good to me, but I have had some struggles too. I need to resist saying that I trust God and then trying to tell God what to do. I know that as long as I keep trusting, keep trying to be faithful, I’m going to be OK, no matter what.
*Kerry Weber is an assistant editor at America magazine and author of Keeping the Faith: Prayers for College Students (http://store.pastoralplanning.com/kefaprforcos.html)
*Thumbnail photo from Photos.com