Sunday, June 17, 2012


I stood in line at the grocery store behind a young man who was obviously developmentally disabled. That's the most modern way of saying "mentally handicapped". I spent a little over a year working as a case counsellor for developmentally disabled adults. This means that not only am I able to spot a DD from a mile away, but that I also have a special place in my heart for these people. Because of my experience, I could also tell that this young man was "high functioning", which means that he is probably able to hold down a job, live on his own, handle his own finances and to a certain extent, his own medical care. When I worked in the industry, this was the type of client I counseled. Because they are high functioning, they are able to do many things independently. However, there are still many areas in which they need serious assistance. This is where I came in. My job was to help and advise my clients in areas such as conscientious shopping, being a thoughtful consumer, meal planning, portion control, budgeting, banking, social interactions, staying fit and keeping their lives generally organized. They were usually able to propel themselves, pedaling, steering, braking when necessary. I acted mostly as training wheels, insuring that they didn't fall too hard if they lost control. It was a very necessary job. I thought it quite important. At times it was frustrating. At others, it was very gratifying.

I couldn't stand it, though.

Don't get me wrong, I cared for my clients. I took a personal interest in their well-being and success, sometimes, too personal. I had a hard time, back then, leaving work at work. I was in my first year of marriage, and my wife would become frustrated that I would lay awake in bed at night, dwelling on problems or issues from work. She understood to a certain extent, because she did the same job. In another sense, she didn't get it, because she was better at leaving it at work.

My trouble was the monotony. I worked with 6 clients, for one year. In that year, I did the same thing almost ever day, week after week. I had the same conversations, mediated the same arguments, answered the same questions over and over again...and in my year there, very little changed. My clients had progressed very little. Some had actually made mistakes so big that they were worse off when I left, than they had been when I arrived. I didn't feel as if I were doing anything that mattered. The pay was ok, and bills and debt were piling up, and so I didn't feel able to pursue my dream of going into some kind of missional, full-time ministry. I was working for a secular company, so it wasn't as if I could evangelize to my clients. Very rarely was I able to advise from a spiritual perspective.

And so, it often felt as if I were doing nothing of much value, not getting paid enough to do it and not getting to do what I wanted to do, all at the same time.

Here my father would interject, "Huh...sounds an awful lot like a job!"

And it was. It was just that. A job - a way to pay the bills, to put food on the table.

My trouble was that I wanted more. I come from a generation who was told that we could do anything we wanted to do, be anything we wanted to be...and I believed it. I was told that with my talents and passions, I could change the world, but in that job, I didn't even think I could change Phil's spending habits...much less change the world. I wanted to be working in the church, in a missions context, or for a para-church organization. I wanted to be teaching the Bible or giving spiritual counsel. In short, I wanted to be doing something I thought more important.

Walking home with my ice cream bars, today, though, I realized something - if you had asked Marianne if my job was important, I'm sure she would have answered yes. To her, my job was vitally important. I helped her with her budget, her grocery shopping, her weight management, I built her IKEA furniture and helped her organize her thousands of photos of food she'd taken and uploaded to her computer...sometimes twice and three times. I made a lot of difference in her life.

In that short walk, I thought of Henri Nouwen, who, although he was a very important writer, professor, priest and spiritualist, spent more than ten years of his life (the last ten) living and working in an assisted living program with developmentally disabled adults. I also thought of Jesus and his calls to help and minister to the least of these. It wasn't the secular nature of the organization I worked for that kept my work from being a form of Kingdom was my attitude.

It wasn't (isn't) wrong for me to want to work in the church. It wasn't wrong for me to leave my job, there. However, it was wrong for me to despise it. It was wrong for me to not be the gospel in that place, to not give my all to those beautiful people, believing that that was where God, himself had placed me, for a purpose, even if only for a period.

In the past year, I've been going through a bit of development, myself, putting a lot of thought into the nature of work, secular and sacred, and the unholy emphasis we often put on paid ministry positions. I still want to work for a church. I want to be a pastor. However, I know that that may not be the next job I do. In the mean time, I want to be fully present, wherever I work. With whatever my hands find to do, I want to do it with all my might, in the name of Christ, for the sake of his Kingdom...and who knows, maybe there's even a job waiting for someone like me with experience as a case counsellor for developmentally disabled adults...

Man, that's a mouthful.

**names of clients in this blog have been changed, to protect their privacy. Thanks for reading.

1 comment:

Jay Anderson said...

The most pervasive problem in the church is that the disciples have abdicated the responsibilities of working the kingdom to the paid staff of churches. In a round about way, the church has cut itself off at the knees.

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