When it comes to “relationships,” women tend to throw more of their time, energy, and even money into the ring to keep things “just right.” Chances are, you are one of these women, and chances are, all of your efforts are going to waste. Catherine Gates, Director of Outreach and Engagement with Workmatters, shared her personal story of relationships, divorce, and recognizing which relationship she had to put first.
4word: Are relationships – personal and professional – more important to women than they are to men?
Catherine: We were all created in God’s image to be in relationships. I want to be very careful not to minimize the importance of relationships to men – relationships are important to both men and women. However, in general, there is a difference regarding how we each approach relationships and what we need those connections to look like. Women are designed to make relationship building and nurturing a high priority. We typically have a deeper need to connect with other women, and benefit a great deal from strong friendships in which we can share our thoughts, experiences, concerns and support.
I saw this very vividly when I worked for the National Association of Mothers’ Centers. That organization was born in the 70’s out of the fact that women who were having children no longer had the extended family and support network around them that had traditionally been available. As a result, many women were experiencing a sense of isolation that led to anxiety, lack of confidence, insecurity and other feelings that had a negative impact on quality of life. When women were given the opportunity to connect with other women and share experiences, their confidence and sense of peace increased significantly. The connection to other women going through similar experiences helped them experience greater peace, joy and overall fulfillment.
While becoming a mother is a particularly intense and demanding experience, all women need these kinds of supportive relationships at work and in general, regardless of what season of life they are in. Many of the business women I interact with have a deep desire to connect with women who are navigating the same challenges of being great workers, spouses and moms while also living lives that are pleasing to God. Last year, a group of women in Northwest Arkansas started organizing regular lunchtime gatherings to give women in the workplace the opportunity to connect. We always do our best to end a little early, but many of the women stay to continue the conversations.
4word: Women in the workplace have many relationships to navigate. How does “bringing our whole self” to those relationships help make them matter?
Catherine: It takes a great deal of energy to try to compartmentalize the spiritual, emotional, intellectual, intuitive, etc. parts of ourselves. Doing so can actually hinder our ability to make vital contributions that can make a huge difference in our relationships. Over the years, I’ve noticed that many women have felt a need to leave their feminine side at home so they could “fit in” to what was perceived as a man’s world.
The fact is that our feminine strengths along with our faith give Christian women a unique advantage that is very much needed in the relationships we build in the workplace. Obviously, we always want to express these strengths in ways that are appropriate to the context. But we can contribute so much more to others by bringing our whole selves to work so that our relationships are meaningful, and based on trust, mutual respect and love – and that’s how we ensure we can really make a difference in and through those relationships.
I met with a woman going through a significant work transition, and as we talked I realized she was dealing with a lot more than just career challenges. Thankfully, many of the things she was facing were things I had been through. I was able to encourage her and share all of the ways God has been there for me through those times. I was able to validate her and remind her of who she is in Christ – that as she walks in faith, God will be there for her. But I had to be willing to be vulnerable and share my own messes and difficulties.
God has given me the strength to be vulnerable. When we contribute to others authentically and we’re willing to be vulnerable, it allows us to create relationships that truly matter, not just today but for eternity.
4word: You’ve been divorced three times and are now happily married to your fourth husband. What have you learned about yourself through those difficult times?
Catherine: I never wanted to be divorced once. My parents divorced when I was 11, and I swore I would never get divorced. It’s one thing to say that and judge other people. It’s another thing entirely to know how to make a marriage work. I’ve learned that in spades.
Marriage is a beautiful and difficult calling. We are all flawed and we bring all of our baggage, beliefs and experiences, for better or worse, into marriage. It’s important to realize that marriage is NOT about keeping that magical feeling we experience when we fall in love. We can have glimpses of it and maybe even more than that, but we are going to have to navigate the everyday with all its difficulties.
We all have unconscious beliefs about marriage that essentially only show themselves after we say “I do.” The more you can do to become aware of the beliefs you’ve formed and the way you handle conflict, disappointment and communication, the more equipped you’ll be to address the difficulties that come up in marriage. I was clueless about that baggage I was carrying and its impact on how I interpreted situations. Had I been aware of, or had someone to point out, my blind spots, things may have turned out differently.
Marriage became an idol in my life. I put being married above my relationship with God and tried to do it my way. As a result, I was often insecure, disappointed, frustrated, angry – and, ultimately, alone.
I finally learned the most significant lesson in 2013. I finally got down on my knees and surrendered that area of my life to God. Jesus Christ is my Provider and Protector. All that I need I have in Him. When I surrender my life to Him, everything else works. That doesn’t mean there aren’t stormy days, but I have to keep my eyes fixed on Jesus – through daily Bible study and prayer. He always uses those difficult times and turns them around for good – my good and the good of others who are drawn to Him when they witness what He does in my life.
While there were many very difficult and lonely years, I’m happy now because I know who my first Love is. And the experiences I’ve been through allow me to minister to other women who have gone through divorce and feel a sense of hopelessness. God is a God of second chances – and He doesn’t seem to keep count as long as you keep counting on Him.
4word: What is the most important relationship a person can have?
Catherine: The most important relationship anyone can have is their relationship with God through Jesus Christ. I’m not saying that to sound super spiritual. I’m saying it because I have tried to make other relationships more important and it doesn’t work. When I have a relationship with Jesus and that relationship is working, life has hope, meaning, and joy in all circumstances: at work, at home and in the community.
After my second husband, Max, and I divorced, we agreed that our son would live with me first, then live with his father when he turned 11. We lived a mile from each other on Long Island. But as we approached that time, Max moved to Arkansas, which meant that our son would have to move to Arkansas. I fought it in court and lost. My son moved 1300 miles away from me at the age of 11. I was devastated. I prayed for three years that they would have to move back. Then I asked God if He wanted me to be close to my son. I had peace about it, so I finally asked God what He wanted the situation to look like. It became clear to me that God wanted me to move to Arkansas – a state I said I would never move to, where I knew no one and had no idea where I might find a job. But God went before me.
I found a house to rent a mile from my son and his dad. I got a job I didn’t technically have the credentials for, and I eventually discovered Workmatters and joined the team helping people discover God’s purpose for their work. God has done amazing things in my life through Christ. Because I have a relationship with Jesus Christ, and because of my faith, God turned a devastating situation around for incredible good. Today, I have a great relationship with my son, his dad and I are on very good terms, and God has used my story to make a difference in the lives of so many others.
I don’t know how people get through the challenges in life without Jesus. People will let you down. I’ve certainly hurt people in my life. Life can take some crazy turns. But Jesus Christ will never let you down. He is endlessly patient, forever forgiving, generously gracious and persistently loving. He has cleaned up after the messes I’ve made in my life and never gives up on me. It’s in Christ that I can find rest when life is a whirlwind of chaos, and joy even when things look like they’re falling apart.
4word: What are three relationship tips you would give to anyone in any relationship, romantic or professional?
- Put God first. This is so important. If you don’t have a relationship with God, you are going to lean on your own strength, knowledge and abilities. And honestly, that can be a recipe for trouble. Matthew 6:33 gives us sound advice: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.” When I make God my first priority every day by spending time with Him, however it looks, I am plugged in to the only one who can help me deal with challenges I can’t possibly anticipate. When you put God first, other relationships work so much better and you’ll get more out of life than you could have ever imagined.
- Think of others more than you think of yourself (Philippians 2:3-4). When you are concerned about what others think of you, it distracts you and robs you of the precious energy you need to carry out the purposes and plans God has for you. When you focus on serving others with the gifts and skills God has given you, you’ll accomplish much more good in the world while building great relationships. God knows what you need and He will meet your needs. You just need to trust Him.
- Remember that God loves you and you are His (1 John 3:1). We have to remember whose we are. People will always let you down. And you will let people down. We are all flawed. And we all want to be loved, valued and to know that our lives matter. Well, the good news is you are loved and valued and your life matters to God – so much so that He has numbered the hairs on your head (Luke 12:7). Remind yourself who you are: you are a daughter of the one true king, you are more than a conqueror in Christ, you are an heir of God, God knit you together in your mother’s womb and He loves you with an everlasting love.
What relationships in your life are you struggling with? Do you have any that you are putting above the most important relationship you could have? We hope that Catherine’s testimony and candid advice helps you to not only enrich your relationships but also point them all back to your relationship with your Father.
Catherine Gates is Director of Outreach & Engagement for Workmatters, a nonprofit marketplace ministry helping people pursue God’s purpose for their work. She oversees the development, marketing and customer support of workplace Bible studies designed to equip marketplace leaders with biblical leadership principles for their work. She also develops and builds partnership relationships to provide greater reach and benefit to those they serve. Catherine’s background includes diverse experience in technology and systems development, training, non-profit management, sales coaching and training, writing and instructional design.
Catherine is married to Thomas Gates and has a 24-year-old son, Devan. She’s originally from Long Island (NY). God brought her to Arkansas in 2009 – a move that clearly demonstrates that God’s plans are greater than anything we could ever imagine! Catherine is passionate about helping people tap into more of God’s best in their lives. She volunteers for She Who is Able, a women’s prison ministry that teaches and encourages women who are incarcerated to understand God’s Word and develop a personal relationship with Christ. One of her favorite verses is Ephesians 2:10, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”