My first experience with a bad boss puzzled me for years. Nearly eighteen years ago, I taught at a small Christian university in Kentucky. A single mom with four girls, I was incredibly grateful for my job. I kept my head down and taught my classes. Towards the end of the school year, the chair of my department called me in. I remember the moment quite clearly. I liked my boss. He was about thirty years older than me. I had met his lovely wife and, from my naïve standpoint, thought they must have a lovely marriage.
He asked me if I had heard the rumors. I had not. Up to that point, I had ignored the warnings of older, wiser heads than mine of the vulnerability of being an attractive divorced woman in the South. The rumors had complicated origins and involved people I had never met, though apparently, I attracted their notice. A science professor had an affair with a student and was fired. He threatened to sue. He was rehired. That much I understood.
The next part, the actual rumor, was convoluted. I don’t remember his name, but apparently, the science professor alleged that the chair of my department and I were having an affair. When my boss told me about the alleged affair, my reaction was disbelief. After all, my contact with my chair had been limited to a hiring interview, retrieving my books for classes, and a couple greetings in the hallway. I pointed out that he was quite happily married and I had a boyfriend at the time.
The reason for the vicious rumor, my boss went on to say, was that the science professor was fishing. If my boss and I were conducting a clandestine relationship and the chancellor knew of it and did nothing, then the science prof thought he had grounds to sue the university. I left the meeting confused. As the sole provider of four children, I felt an intense anxiety. This was a small town and reputation is everything in a small town.
A month later, the chancellor strolled into my classroom at the end of class. After the students left, he let me know that my contract would not be renewed. The school had every legal right to not renew my contract, but the school was short on college English instructors. I was the only one with the qualifications in town. My student evaluations were excellent. He insinuated my performance was sub-par. I read contempt in his expression that haunted me for years. My confidence in my teaching ability suffered for a decade.
Now, nearly two decades later, I wonder what really happened. I knew that I had been judged a liability. I don’t really know who to blame. The science professor clearly thought nothing of damaging the reputation and livelihood of a single mother with four children, though I’m sure he did not think of me as a person, but merely a tool in his quest for revenge.
I sometimes wonder if the chair, my immediate boss, was attempting a liaison, though I did not think so at the time. Did my disbelief and shock wound his ego? Did I misread his seemingly benevolent nature? I have blamed the university for behaving as most institutions behave, always choosing the safest course for the preservation of the institution. I do not believe myself to have been a danger to the school, but the contempt from the chancellor, my boss’s boss, suggested that the reports of my supposed sexual exploits posed a threat to the good name of this Southern Baptist institution.
That summer, I subsisted on unemployment and food stamps. But God is good and I soon had a new job that paid better and with a new boss who I still think of as a friend. But I learned a number of things that helped me grow beyond this experience, though the pain of it still lingers as I recount the story.
- I learned to throw myself on the mercy of God. The entire summer I felt the presence of the Lord. He reassured me over and over. I was actually pretty free of anxiety during the summer between jobs. Later I realized how crucial my peace was for my daughters who at the time were splitting their time between me and their father before our judge finally saw reason.
- God does not abandon the orphan or the widow. I very much saw myself as a widow to Narcissistic Personality Disorder. I can say without any hesitation that God provided for my daughters and me faithfully and often quite miraculously during that time. This was just my first true sampling of it.
- I got to identify with Jesus in a whole new way. Every time we are falsely accused, we get to enter into the experience of Jesus. No one has ever been more falsely accused than Jesus. His response was to trust God and in the end, He received his vindication. In fact, His vindication is still happening and will culminate with every knee bowing.
- God is bigger than any institution. This seems obvious but sometimes institutions such as universities or churches can obscure the presence of God which is in us. It is our communion with the Holy Spirit that sanctifies organizations. We often get this backward, thinking our association with an establishment gives us anointing. On the contrary, our anointing blesses the organization rather than otherwise.
I did not lose my teaching gift because the university rejected it. Later, I taught at a Christian university where my gift found a home for a decade. But my early experiences as a teacher helped me understand the limitations of such places. I have never again made my spiritual home in an organization, though I have been a part of them. Rather, my life is hidden in Christ. This experience was the beginning of understanding just what that meant.
I have been really enjoying this old classic from one of my husband’s spiritual mentors. It really talks about what a life hidden in Christ means…
My husband and I are currently rereading this one together. It really goes in depth about the spiritual disciplines that the church tends to ignore but are necessary for spiritual growth:
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