Real Joy Has Deep Roots | jennwhitmer.com

Oct 18, 2020

Real Joy Has Deep Roots

I sat on the bumper of my van in the parking garage, angry and sobbing after a terrible meeting. That was the moment I realized — it was all over.

I said to my friend and colleague: “I don’t fit in the culture anymore. He’s going to fire me.”

Dana said, “If you don’t fit the culture, it’s because conflict has destroyed this culture.”

And she was right.

Unresolved conflict was the symptom of our team hiding and covering for an incompetent leader. For this story, we’ll call him Chad. The toxic work environment utterly pummeled me. And yet, I stayed. I hung on. Until that very moment, dirt from the bumper smudging my navy blue dress, I still had hope it could be different.

Or at least, I thought I had hope.

I had placed my hope in me and my team, our abilities and processes — our sheer desire to make it better. I was like the Energizer Bunny—if I just kept going, it would be different.

What I really had? A wish.

I thought I had hope. What I really had was a wish.

Henry Cloud writes, “Hope comes from real, objective reasons that the future is going to be different from the past. Anything other than that is simply a wish that comes from your desires.”

For four years, the pattern was clear. When we raised a concern, Chad had an excuse, a deflection, some reason it was not his problem to solve. And definitely, someone else was to blame for the problem. It was like the tap dance scene from the musical Chicago. Each time Chad came close to facing responsibility, he flapped, shuffled, and heel clicked his way out of it. And eventually, he chose to target me.

That was a devastating realization. After 20 years in education, I’d never been the scapegoat. I’d definitely earned some blame in my life, but being the fall guy was a new experience.

Chad fired me from my leadership role. And then offered me a different position I should never have accepted. For the next six months, I kept trying to make it work. And Chad was still passive-aggressive, gaslighting, shaming, and incompetent. 

He showed me who he was the first time. I was just wishing things would change.

God showed me: “I have freedom for you. But you have to leave.”

Fear gripped me. I allowed an internal committee in my mind to debate God’s word to me. What will people think? Does this mean Chad wins? How do I start something new after 20 years? What does this mean about my faithfulness? How do I leave my friends? In His kindness, God orchestrated a series of events that made His direction to leave undeniable.

God showed me: “I have freedom for you. But you have to leave.”

I passed Chad my letter of resignation with three weeks’ notice. And he was ugly. All the blame, shame, and attacks came. And, full of the Holy Spirit, I said, “I wanted to make this work. But your actions made that impossible. I cannot allow you to treat me this way anymore. I wish you well.”

I drove away that day, doing my own dance of freedom. This time car dancing in the driver’s seat of my van, belting with Keela Settle “This Is Me”:

Another round of bullets hits my skin.

Well, fire away ’cause today, I won’t let the shame sink in.

We are bursting through the barricades and

Reaching for the sun. We are warriors.

Yeah, that’s what we’ve become.

Wouldn’t it be great to end the story here? A Disney musical, singing off into the sunset? But I know God is telling me you need more. Because real joy has deep roots. And roots are formed in the dark.

Real joy has deep roots. And roots are formed in the dark.

So I offer the real, brave truth — the next year was terrible.


Becky Bereford invited me to share this story as part of her Brave Women series.

Head over to finish the story and find out how dreams and joy resurrect.

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