‘I said to God: If a peace plant doesn’t jump out at me as soon as I walk into this garden centre, I’m going home empty handed.’
I’m in the middle of a conversation with Kathy*, and she’s explaining how the Transforming Work course resulted in her standing in a garden centre, trying to decipher the Latin name for a peace plant.
Head of a Department within a healthcare organisation, Kathy was going through a stressful time when someone at church suggested joining a Transforming Work group. ‘My role can be a difficult place to be, as you’re usually the bearer of bad news whilst also trying to influence behaviours and change, as well as the culture of the organisation as a whole’, Kathy tells me. ‘I knew it was an area of my life I spent a lot of time at, so there were opportunities there that I wasn’t currently taking… but I mainly chose to do Transforming Work because I thought it might help with the stress!’
A few sessions into the course, someone mentioned something about ‘having peace’. This was poignant to Kathy in her stressful job, and particularly resonated as she reflected on a difficult workplace relationship: ‘I was working as a liaison to a very influential manager, but they were a bully. I had followed all the correct protocols, but my report happened to show a part of their area of responsibility in a bad light.’ That, it seems, was too much: ‘they absolutely went for me about it in a meeting, I felt bullied and compromised and nearly walked out.’
She had been praying with her Transforming Work group about this situation, which came to mind as she drove home from work one day. ‘Suddenly,’ she explains, sounding as if she’s still surprised at the entire situation over a year later, ‘it came into my head that what I needed to do was buy a peace plant and give it to this person.’ Kathy readily admits that this was ‘the most bizarre thing ever’, but she nonetheless decided to stop off at a local garden centre on the way home.
And so, there she was. Stood in a garden centre, inspecting an item with a Latin name which ‘looked suspiciously like a peace plant’. A quick google search later, and her suspicions were confirmed: it was a peace plant. So off she marched to the till: ‘I even bought a pot to put it in!’ she laughs.
The next day, she took it into the office, knowing that if she didn’t deliver it that day she never would. She left the plant on the person’s desk with a simple note: ‘I feel we’ve got off to a bad start. I really am trying to help you, and I hope we can work more as a team. I’m offering you this peace plant in the hope that we can start again with our relationship and work better together in the future.’ And then, she admits, ‘I high-tailed it straight out of the office.’
The manager emailed her the following morning, thanking her for the plant and saying that they had taken the message on board. But, Kathy says, ‘I’d felt a peace about the whole thing as soon as I put the plant on the desk.’ Seven months on, and although the person in question is still a bully, Kathy reassures me that she’s coping much better.
What other differences did Transforming Work make to her working life? ‘I’m definitely less stressed now!’ Kathy laughs, ‘but I think what it showed me most clearly is that the Holy Spirit is at work both at home and in the office… although I might want to separate my work and my home life, I can’t switch off the Holy Spirit when I arrive at my desk.’ She’s learnt, she tells me, to listen to God in both places, and to feel his presence and support wherever she is.
This in turn has given her an openness about her faith and the courage to invite colleagues along to church events. She no longer eats lunch at her desk, but instead spends time with her employees in the coffee room – the only senior manager in the department who does so – a habit which has led to some wonderful conversations. ‘My secretary has even started doing Alpha!’ she joyfully informs me; a result of coming to Kathy’s church carol service last year.
‘It’s like spreading mustard seeds, these invites – you don’t know where they’re going to land, but I’ve just got to keep spreading them and trust that God will do the rest.’
* Name has been changed.
Transforming Work, a group resource for Christians in the workplace, is available to purchase through our shop.