View from the Wall

Rebuilding the Walls


In 2008, when I once again set foot in my homeland, I noticed the bustling crowds and unfamiliar faces of people. This sense of unfamiliarity turned out to be a great reverse culture shock that I experienced deeply in the following days and months. I recall that at the border customs spent a lot of time interrogating me about the reason I was bringing back an extensive collection of Bible related materials from North America. I replied that they contained knowledge I would need to use. This aptly expressed my true need. In my early days in North America, I was in an environment that provided excellent Bible training and worship of God as well as practice in serving and sharing the Gospel with others.

However, since returning to my homeland, my life has been filled with all sorts of uncertainties. I faced a different culture, a different professional environment, a different set of values and traditions as well as a completely different religious environment. Thanks be to God for his help in times of need to overcome the reverse culture shock resulting from crossing time and space. He gave me comfort, rest and strength in the midst of ideology clashes. Thus, he enabled me to put my equipping in North America to very good use.

First Homework: Striving

Upon returning to my homeland, my professional sphere changed dramatically. I shifted from being an American lawyer to a Chinese lawyer. Chinese laws are very complex, and compartmentalized. They can be very advanced in certain domains where laws have been modified in reference to overseas laws to meet local conditions. Yet, such is not the case in other areas. Furthermore, the various authorized institutions do not guarantee how the laws should be enacted in actual practice. Individual businesses and regulatory bodies take huge gambles that make situations more complex than individual clauses address. Faced with such an enormous complex legislative structure, I needed first to strive for integration of fragmented and specific points for general application. I grasped the structure of a transaction and the key points of all related laws to build a foundation. Then I considered and further developed the details as a project progressed. The most important aspect of the process was exercising my faith. At all times I needed to have preparation, faith, foresight, good time management and ways to compensate for my weaknesses. In God's timing, the adequacy of my regular preparedness would be evaluated by a heavyweight project. If I did not have these regular practice drills of faith, it would be difficult for God to take me to the next phase. Equally important in the process were my endurance and determination to keep acquiring the professional knowledge in which I was still deficient. During this long accumulative process, I needed to learn each lesson well so that I would not carry my inadequacy into the next job and suffer greatly in it. In the areas of my deficiency, I constantly needed to exercise discipline to do what was required of me. This training process was more important than the results. Consequently, I was able to have breakthroughs, performance beyond my capability and more professional confidence and accomplishment.

Second Homework: Trusting

Aside from having to make a major adjustment in my professional sphere due to the switch from American to Chinese laws, I also needed adjustment in relating to others in my line of work. This included relationships within and without the team as well as maintenance of relationships with other intermediary agencies. In implementing a project, people are a very crucial element because God values man. I had to change my inclination to focus only on work and not people; I had to explore the potential of relating to others. I spent time chatting with my colleagues to understand their personalities. I took time to consider and discover individual communication styles so that I could be most effective in communicating with them. This is God's will. There have been times I came up short. However, I continued to hone my tolerance and patience and shared the message out of love for each individual. I entrusted God with whether the recipient was mature enough to receive my words and with whatever the response might be.

A great number of intermediary agencies were involved in one project, especially the overseas stock markets. Different intermediaries had different interests. Some intermediaries hoped that the lawyers would change their particular responsibility through legal advice. The wording of legal counsel issued by lawyers in the project became a battleground among the investment banks which had the advantage of being the dominant intermediaries. Lawyers were not the primary professionals in the project; rather, the lawyers' role was to provide neutral legal advice. In offering legal counsel, how to withstand the pressures from the investment banks and protect the neutrality of the legal team depended on one's legal knowledge, teamwork and especially on the practice of being in God's presence.

In drafting the final legal counsel, I faced an arduous battle that lasted from dawn to midnight and continued through the wee hours of the next morning. I was inundated with e-mails, telephone calls and differing opinions from both sides. In answering each e-mail and in each discussion, I prayed for God to give me peace and serenity and for his strength. That was how I could continue to be energetic the next morning with a clear mind and high productivity. I communicated with the company first thing in the morning to confirm with them some of the last minute add-ons that were beyond our professional obligation of due diligence. Then I sorted out the various legal clauses with the investment bank teams one by one. The investment bank teams added many of their own opinions and some even involved strange regulations. While I searched for ways to digest their regulations and opinions and formulated my own counsel, I also had to communicate with my own team. Furthermore, during the entire time, I had to edit for proper grammar and fluency the wording of the points already agreed upon by the investment teams. That was to ensure that the revised version would pass in content and format.

I think the key is to have our work ethics approved by God. I could insist on my own opinion when necessary, or I could deliver my opinion in a sincere friendly tone when conflict arose. I would sincerely urge the other side to see that no progress could be made if we insisted on our differing opinions. Our common goal was to modify our own views and work together towards a mutually acceptable view. To achieve that, I explained my own wording to facilitate their understanding of my considerations. I also spent time trying to understand the messages behind their wording and, if possible, I suggested alternate wording to them. Some people would inevitably get upset with such slow progress. I could control my own emotions despite how others felt and even calmed them down, encouraging them to continue working towards the common goal. I was able to rise above the emotional impact from others because I experienced strength from being in God's presence. I also knew that I was accountable to the customers and to the legislature for the writing of the legal counsel; yet, ultimately, I must face God's judgment. I am accountable to God for both the completed content and the methods of arriving at it.

My training in godliness definitely benefited both others and myself. However, it did evoke varying reactions from others. Some superiors supported me more because of their personal faith. However, there have also been fiery trials that included internal and external politics indicating a certain amount of badmouthing me behind my back. There has been hostility from others that was triggered by my faith. I understood that I needed to learn to trust; I needed to abide in God. First, I should not lose heart. God is in control of all things even in the midst of my trials. Second, God has his special purposes, some of which I can understand now while others are for me to understand later. God allowed me to experience his divine, life-giving power that transcended my circumstances. When I realized that God was with me, I no longer felt lonely and my response in faith resulted in perseverance and maturity in my life.

Third Homework: Practicing Peace and Joy

The lesson I learned in trusting is related to my homework of practicing peace and joy. The greatest source of joy is not our circumstance but God and abiding in him. Life situations often come in different shapes and sizes. Oftentimes they are also filled with different responsibilities; quite often increasing responsibilities lead to stress and anxiety. For example, under pressure, I unconsciously have the impulse to rush from one thing to another looking for hasty solutions. However, my anxiety will affect my entire emotional state and my ultimate effectiveness. To deal with this problem, I often reflected on the practical aspects of management and the projected timeline in order to be more sensible and realistic. I also strived to pursue peace and joy from the Lord in every situation in the course of completing each assignment.

When God calls me to fulfill a task beyond what I am able, I cannot retreat into my complex emotions. Rather I have to choose to trust God because I know him and his promises. Though I am inadequate, I have learned that by stepping out in faith with God I can have breakthroughs and can surpass my original imagined limitations and experience his faithfulness. God always endowed me with his divine life-giving power in my work. He encouraged and strengthened me when I prayed in times of need. All I needed to do was to persist in the practice of faith and continue to grow in my work. In life, we often encounter difficult people, difficult issues and difficult situations. These can cause me to lose control of my emotions, make wrong decisions and say the wrong things until I strive to enter into God's rest. I must keep my soul in God's serenity, independent of the circumstances, or I will be powerless.

The Chinese martial arts advocate a state of inner peace, but they need to pursue this from the proper source. Inner peace indeed can release massive energy. When I am in a difficult trial, sometimes the first reaction is to either grope around for ways to handle it on my own or to keep dwelling on the challenges. These are signs of little or no faith. I have learned to adjust myself so I can practice being in God's presence. I turn my eyes from the narrow focus of "win or lose" probabilities to the lesson God wants me to learn, to trust him and to align myself with his guidance. To practice peace demands a focus on God's goodness. God orchestrates events in our lives and we need to walk through them with him while practicing peace so that we can experience him. This is to transcend all and abide in God so that our knowledge of him is not just on the intellectual level but the experiential as well. If we do this all the time our character will be changed. We will become a truly, godly person, one with real power.

The world is always changing; many risks, once thought to be in the future, are now realities all around us. The world is in peril triggered by the series of debt crises in various countries. China's stock market cannot escape the downturn. This changeable environment highlights that only God, only our relationship with him and his blessings will never change. Thanks be to God.

Translated by Ping Ng.
Image credit: crumbling great wall by Zervas, on Flickr

Shirley Zhao

Shirley Zhao is a US and PRC licensed attorney practicing in the area of capital markets in a leading PRC firm in Beijing, China. View Full Bio