11am used to be my most dreaded time of the day.

11am was the time I was scheduled to report daily to my supervisor for a briefing on my tasks. Only that this briefing was always loud and expressive enough for the entire office to hear, even though I was the only one in the room.

Meet Ms Abuser, my very first boss at my very first job in a corporate firm.

She made me realise just how many different ways I could enrage a person. Most memorable would be being told how stupid and useless I am for not putting full stops at the end of bullet point statements in a document.

Daily, I would be screamed at. Weekly, I could expect a fresh new snarky comment to brand myself.

Looking at how other co-workers did not get the same treatment as often or as harshly as I did, I was pretty sure after a while it was personal. 

And so, her comments started shaping who I was. I must indeed be quite useless and stupid if I had to be intentionally placed in her shooting gallery every day.

The more I tried to be as perfect as I could in the work I delivered, the more I despaired when the result was always the same. This broke my heart.

After all, I’ve always been serious about doing good work and being duly recognised for it. No one had ever treated me with such disdain before.

I saw how bolder colleagues would stand up for themselves and respond to her accusations whenever it was uncalled for. Her secretary even seemed to start indicating her displeasure at the situation by coming to slam her door shut (precisely at about 11.01am) when her rant began.

However, when I myself tried to respond and engage her, it would only serve to increase her volume and the size of her big eyes by a few notches. Sometimes, it felt like my ears (and her eyes) would burst anytime.

During that time, I remembered desperately searching up Bible verses to speak into my situation. I found Ephesians 6:5-7 (ESV) and plastered it on my desktop background.

“Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man…”

However – can I shamefully admit – it did not help one bit.

It was only later that I realised my problem was not a lack of obedience or fear towards my boss. Instead, I was TOO fearful.

I understood intellectually that my primary “boss” was God, not her. But Ms Abuser was so deadly terrifying, fear became a thick suffocating fog that prevented me from clearly perceiving God.

Ms Abuser was not the only abuser. My need for recognition was also abusing me. 

My great fear was a compass needle that pointed me to my real idol. I realised I was controlled by a need to be recognised for the work that I do.

Now don’t get me wrong… It is fair for a person to be recognised for their good efforts and good work. But this became a controlling principle for my life such that my feelings, behaviours and entire life were ordered around it.

When I was criticised, I despaired to the point of losing sleep and appetite. Satisfying my boss became a primary fixation.

I certainly prayed and continued to uphold my ministry responsibilities. But I didn’t pray with a deep abiding sense that God could be trusted through this experience.

And my ministry responsibilities weren’t so much commitments I upheld in faith as they were convenient escapes from my work stresses.

Ms Abuser was not the only abuser. My need for recognition was also abusing me. 

As I reflected back on the time I spent under Ms Abuser, I realised this was a perfect illustration of what it looked like to live enslaved to a bad master. 

It would always drain you and it would never fully satisfy you, no matter how much blood, sweat and tears you pump into it. And this is true even if these bad masters do make you feel good once in a while.

I had known from years of Bible study that God alone deserves our utmost worship and service. However, I had never understood in the depths of my heart His incomparable goodness as a master.

I also never understood the abuse I allowed myself to endure when I bowed to other bad masters, or as the Bible terms it, the idols of my heart. 

In the Book of Jonah, while Jonah was in the belly of the big fish, he uttered a prayer of repentance to the Lord and begged for his salvation, proclaiming: “Those who cling to worthless idols turn away from God’s love for them.” (Jonah 2:8)

I have a sneaking suspicion Jonah didn’t fully understand what he was professing. Because soon after this prayer, Jonah throws a fit at God, ironically, for extending His love to the Ninevites who used to cling to worthless idols but now have turned to Him (Jonah 4).

In the end, Jonah is shown to be the very person indicted by his own confession. The pagan nation Nineveh had abandoned their idols and turned to God. So had the pagan sailors. Whereas Jonah was left raging at God.

The reality is that although Jonah appeared godly and committed to Israel as a prophet of God, he had unwittingly made an idol out of his own ideals and principles of who deserved God’s mercy. God had slipped into second place.

Bringing it back to my time spent with Ms Abuser, she was certainly NOT my idol. 

But perhaps more poignantly, my time with her had revealed a hidden but true idol in my heart. There is a reason why my fear was so great that it blinded me to the love and grace of God.

My time with Ms Abuser lasted two years. By what I believe to be an act of God’s great mercy to me, she left my firm for better prospects. But by no means was my time with bad bosses over.

I also had to endure the particular blood-boiling antics of Mr Slanderer, who subjected any human he encountered to compulsory public character assassination in the office corridors.

Worst of all was Ms Manipulator who categorically played on my Christian identity to coerce and sometimes guilt-trip me into doing things beyond my job scope and capacities.

At that time, I realised just how toxic the corporate world could get. And it was sobering to note that Christians were not exempt from being the toxic ones. After all, Mr Slanderer and Ms Manipulator were professing Christians.

When the time finally came for me to exit the industry and enter full-time ministry, I thought I was done with that toxic life. However, where there are humans, you can almost guarantee that there will be toxicity.

Sometimes, as we rage against the toxicity, we are in danger of becoming the toxic ones.

Just two weeks before writing this, I got wind of how a colleague (yes, in my Christian ministry) had made comments behind my back to other co-workers on my lack of ability/experience to execute my portfolio. At the same time, he made unnecessary remarks about my upbringing.

I raged with a rage comparable to Ms Abuser. I lambasted him to my parents and best friends, channelling what I exactly hated about Mr Slanderer. Thankfully, God kept me from manipulating the situation the way Ms Manipulator would have.

I realised that not only are Christians not exempt from being toxic. Sometimes, as we rage against the toxicity, we are in danger of becoming the toxic ones.

Now, I’m not saying that this situation did not deserve anger. But rather, the toxic situation served to cast a harsh spotlight on the ugly parts within me.

Once again, the real Bad Master in my life reared its head. Even with Ms Abuser long gone, the idol of recognition/achievement was still very much present.

But instead of manifesting in fear, as it had with Ms Abuser, it now rode on the anger produced through this situation to birth momentary hatred and a lack of graciousness for my colleague. 

At the point of writing this, while the anger has certainly simmered, I’m still struggling to engage my colleague and extend grace to him.

Interestingly enough, unlike the consistent and suffocating fear I once felt working under Ms Abuser, this anger died down faster than I expected. Perhaps it was because the incident was only a one-off experience.

However, I do feel what has significantly aided me in shaping my response is this — God searched my heart (Psalm 139:23), emboldened me to recognise and bring my specific sin to light (1 John 1:9), and affirmed me that He accepts me fully in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).

Somehow, this process of arresting and confessing sin loosens its very grip on me, and the trust I once lacked in a good God grows bigger within me.

How humbling to know that to this day, I still struggle with toxic workplaces, bad masters (more so in my heart than anything else) and my own toxic sin.

I thank God that unlike bad bosses, He remains the one true Master — patient, wise and gentle, yet never compromising on His kingdom work in my life and in the world.

*The author’s name has been changed for confidentiality.

  1. Can you relate to God being your Master? What kind of Master is He to you? 
  2. What are some idols you might be keeping in your heart? How are they having an impact on the way you think, feel and behave?
  3. Is there any sin you need to repent of?