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Why Americans Go to Work

Here’s how 11 different people from across the United States find meaning in ordinary work.

“When we go out the door, it’s often the worst day of someone’s life. These people need someone who’s calm and knows what to do to help them.” 
Frank Sarcone

Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Chances are, when you read or pray Jesus’ words from the Gospels, you’re not thinking about how God’s will for humanity plays out in your day job. Maybe you’ve never even thought about your job’s significance beyond your paycheck. 

There’s a lot of pain in the world — and if you’re not a pastor or front line worker, it’s easy to miss the broader picture of how your work improves people’s lives, or at least alleviates their suffering. But your work — yes, even your job — has more significant impact than you think. Even if you’re not lauded on the cover of a magazine, you’re an essential worker.

Not convinced about how your work fits into God’s mission in the world? Here’s how 11 different people who wrestle with the same thing find meaning in their jobs.

Anna Kirkpatrick

a school teacher in Staunton, Virginia

Everybody has that teacher — the one you still think about, decades later, and wish you could thank. That’s who Anna Kirkpatrick aspires to be: the kind of teacher who’s equally concerned about her students’ personal lives as she is that day’s math homework.

Currently, Kirkpatrick teaches distance learning students at a private, Christian school. But some of her most foundational lessons about finding meaning in teaching took place in the Chicago Public Schools, where the majority of her students came from poverty or tumultuous home lives.

Making sure her students understood their lessons was, of course, a big part of her job. But as a Christian, Kirkpatrick believes student success hinges on meaningful relationships. Some days, connecting with a student was as simple as saying “I’m proud of you.” Other days, it was finding unique ways to apply the kids’ personal interests in the classroom. 

One student, for example, told her he wanted to be a preacher — so Kirkpatrick told him to read the lesson out loud in his preacher voice. “It’s kind of silly, but I wanted him to hear from someone that he’s capable of what he wants to do, because I don’t think he was getting that at home,” she says.

Seeing hungry kids hoarding food from their breakfast got tiring, she says, and sometimes she didn’t know which injustice to focus her energy on. It’s in those moments she honed in on why she’s there in the first place: to help them flourish in the real world, starting in the four walls of her classroom. 

“I try to remind myself that God has put my students in my life, even if just for nine months,” she says. “If they can see Jesus in me at all, I’ve done my job.”

Taji Onesirosan

a senior compensation business partner in Minneapolis, Minnesota

“Is everyone winning?” That’s the simple question Taji Onesirosan asks himself to determine if he’s succeeding in his human resources job at a Fortune 50 company. Lucky for him, opportunities to help others “win” are baked into his job description. His role is focused on ensuring leaders have the tools and information they need to make informed and equitable pay decisions, and whenever there’s an opportunity to reward people on the lower end of the pay scale, he makes it happen.

Thriving at work is just as important to Onesirosan, who’s also a leader of his organization’s diversity action committee. 

“Creating space to amplify Black voices, reinforcing their value, and ensuring they are seen and heard — that’s kingdom work for me,” he says.

It can be awkward to address touchy topics like race, mental health, and politics with coworkers, but Onesirosan feels his company can only thrive when individual workers feel like they belong, even if they don’t always agree.

When everyone has the resources and opportunities they need to be their full selves, they can do their best work — and in the end, everyone wins.

Frank Sarcone

a firefighter in New York City 

Frank Sarcone remembers wearing his dad’s fire boots as a kid. But he didn’t realize until he had boots of his own that kicking down doors and walking through smoke can be just as spiritual as preaching a sermon or leading worship. Because staying composed in an emergency situation — cutting a 19-year-old out of a car or crawling to a back bedroom to rescue someone — doesn’t come naturally to most people, but for Sarcone, it’s a form of ministry. 

“When we go out the door, it’s often the worst day of someone’s life,” Sarcone says. “These people need someone who’s calm and knows what to do to help them.” 

Sometimes, things get scary. And when he’s crawling around through the smoke, Sarcone talks to God — and when he emerges safe, the spiritual metaphor of going through the fire isn’t lost on him. He remembers David, crying out for God’s help in the Psalms, and he sees the Bible in a new way. “My work has given me new ways to trust God and relate to his Word,” he says. “I grew up with the Bible, but it’s a little different when you’ve been through the shadow of death.”

Rachael Kincaid, DNP

a nurse practitioner in Homer, Arkansas

You can learn a lot about living by watching someone die. One of the biggest lessons Rachael Kincaid has gleaned in her job at a rural nursing home? Living out the gospel can be mundane, exhausting, even gross — but it’s always worth it.

We really like the idea of loving our neighbors as ourselves, but few of us have as many daily physical opportunities to apply it as health care workers. “I bring all the Scriptures about loving my neighbor to mind when I’m physically turning someone on their side to clean them up after a bowel movement in bed or trying not to breathe through my nose doing wound care,” Kincaid says. “That’s what keeps me going when I’d otherwise get tired of it.”

But finding meaning in medical work isn’t all in the clinical to-do list. Kincaid’s patient population affords her unique opportunities to express Christ-like empathy, whether she’s simply sitting with a sick, scared patient or comforting a grieving family member.

Forbearance in suffering, an essential part of Kincaid’s job and the Christian life, doesn’t always come easily when you’re accustomed to fixing and answering questions — and in culture at large, which conditions us to squirm at the sight of suffering. 

But in her slow, heartbreaking work, Kincaid is learning that putting a washcloth on someone’s forehead, reminding her that she’s not alone, is just as fruitful as doling out a medical procedure. “Presence is an attribute I’m seeing more and more as I study who Jesus is,” Kincaid says. “He was just as content sitting in the quiet with people as he was healing them.”

Matt Poppe

an insurance claims adjuster in Phoenix, Arizona

Nobody wants to talk to Matt Poppe when he shows up for work, but he’s learned how to make the best of it. As an insurance adjuster for vehicle injury claims, Poppe spends his days helping people recover from the unexpected — or, as he describes it, “making people whole again after a loss.” 

When you’re not using insurance, you probably think of it as just another bill on the list. But when someone comes to him with a claim, Poppe immediately has opportunities to make their life easier by setting them up with a rental car, taking care of their repairs, and getting them compensated for their pain and suffering. Mirroring his commission as a Christ-follower, Poppe gets to be first in line to deliver good news after a crummy experience.

Poppe says he finds meaning in fulfilling the promises his company’s made to its customers — paying what’s owed, but also being a source of stability and comfort for someone going through a tough time. “Not to diminish the power of ‘thoughts and prayers,’ but with so much suffering in the world, as an individual there’s only so much you can do to ease the burden in a tangible, physical sense,” Poppe says. “The beauty of my industry is how it actually gives me the resources to do something to make someone’s burden lighter.”

For anyone caught in the doldrums of a customer service job that doesn’t feel so immediately meaningful, Poppe encourages the same outward-facing mindset. “In those cases, maybe the meaning comes in just being faithful to be the best you can be in your job, so you can provide financially for yourself, your family, and your community.”

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“As an individual there’s only so much you can do to ease the burden in a tangible, physical sense. The beauty of my industry is how it actually gives me the resources to do something to make someone’s burden lighter.”

Matt Poppe

Taylor Schumann

a stay-at-home mom and author in Charleston, South Carolina

The constant laundry, the diapers, and the dishes that show up in the sink just as fast as they get put away — all of it can feel like a never-ending cycle of little actions and heavy lifting that few people will ever see. And when you’re parenting young kids, Schumann says, there’s little positive reinforcement to remind you you’re doing a good job.

After battling postpartum depression, Schumann struggled to find her footing in the mundane demands of parenthood. But she says things began to change when God gently reminded her in all those moments that she’s not just a mom, she’s Henry’s mom. “I was given my child to take care of and to raise on purpose — it wasn’t a mistake that God gave him to me,” Schumann says. “So when I feel stuck in a cycle of housework and cutting little pieces of strawberries that might not get eaten, I remember I am not doing it for just anyone, I’m doing it for my child.” 

Schumann’s learned to love creating daily rhythms her family enjoys, but she also sees the work of motherhood as a broader contribution to her community and the world. Taking care of her son and making her home is a way to support her husband’s work as a pharmacist and a way to help her son become an adult who can flourish in the world because he knows he’s loved and taken care of. In all of it, Schumann says she’s sensed God’s care for her, too. “My work may feel like it’s being done in the shadows, but God reminds me he sees all of it — and there’s certainly meaning in that,” she says.

Candace McArthur

a psychotherapist in San Marcos, Texas

Like a lot of twenty-somethings, Candace McArthur once found herself in a therapist’s office airing her own pains, doubts, and questions. Now, she sits in the therapist’s chair, supporting her clients with the same things.

It’s not hard to find meaning in helping someone work through anxiety or processing a loss. But McArthur says she sees her work as much bigger than that. While many of her clients say they feel church provides a place to belong, they don’t always feel they have a space to share their stories honestly. That’s what McArthur gets to do as a therapist. 

Rather than offering solutions to people’s problems, she focuses on creating a safe place to share pain and, ultimately, to heal. “As a therapist, I am practicing the art of giving space, which we see Jesus do over and over again,” she says. “He makes space for the lowly and weary and hurting; he sees the broken and despairing and offers them a seat at the table.”

For example, for one client who feared rejection, McArthur’s nonjudgmental, empathetic listening helped establish a new framework: one that embraced God’s love and acceptance — and, ultimately, one that empowered her to work through the struggle with him instead of hiding it.

“I get to enter into the places where the truth that people are loved and seen has been forgotten or possibly never even communicated,” she says. “Then, we get to rebuild their life story.”

Dave Lowell

a financial advisor in Salt Lake City, Utah

Money’s complicated, and Dave Lowell’s job is to help people figure it out. The first step? Before you crunch the numbers, address the often-stressful feelings lingering beneath them. 

Rather than simply strategizing with clients to accumulate wealth, Lowell helps them pinpoint and work through often-stressful emotions they may have about spending, saving, and budgeting — which not only relieves individuals’ financial anxiety, but also promotes healthy communication and wise decision-making within marriages and families. 

Along with working through barriers to financial health, Lowell asks people to pinpoint their top values so they can allocate their money (and time) in rewarding, purposeful ways. A clear, unified vision, he says, is the best way to keep people on track toward their financial goals, from paying off debt or saving for kids’ college to freedom to be more generous to others. 

And in the meantime, they have energy and capacity to live out their values in the here and now, which is exactly what Lowell set out to do. “The less you stress about money, the more you can focus on the things that add meaning to your life,” he says. “I find helping my clients with that to be incredibly fulfilling.”

Meredith Heckenberger

a church office manager in Doylestown, Pennsylvania

You might think the church bulletin isn’t an indispensable part of the worship service. But Meredith Heckenberger, who’s worked for 13 years as a church office manager, would argue otherwise. Thanks to the simple bulletin she creates and prints every week, church newcomers feel welcome, elderly members remember events, and everyone knows what to expect during the service.

Of course, Heckenberger’s job is more than that. But she sees the church bulletin as a symbol of her job’s meaning. Most of the time, nobody notices it — but in a way, she says, that means she’s doing something right. “When administration is done well, you don’t think anything of it,” she says. “They don’t do it on purpose, but people only notice when everything’s in disarray.” 

It can get discouraging, focusing on all that mundane, behind-the-scenes work. But Heckenberger says in those moments, she remembers the truth: Her organizational skills and attention to detail are significant — essential, even —  for the local church to run smoothly and, ultimately, for the gospel to be put on display. 

Heckenberger sees her job as a concrete way of carrying one another’s burdens. When she bears the weight of administration and event planning — orchestrating the details of the community Easter egg hunt or scouring the Sunday worship bulletins for typos — other people can focus on their own unique callings. In church, that’s especially important. “Pastors are the face of the church family,” says Heckenberger. “I want to do whatever I can to help them focus on their jobs.”

Emileigh Latham-Gillespie 

a barista and coffee roaster in Lubbock, Texas 

Grabbing a cup of coffee from the neighborhood coffee shop might feel like an inconsequential part of your day, but from the other side of the counter, barista Emileigh Latham-Gillespie sees things a bit differently. 

Buying a drink isn’t only a transaction; it’s a rare opportunity for customers to feel seen and known. “For some, I’m the only human interaction in their lives,” she says. “Knowing someone and having your name called out can be a huge light in their world.”

Building community in the cafe is part of Latham-Gillespie’s job, but she knows her customers have real lives outside the coffee shop. As she roasts beans, she often imagines why someone’s brewing their coffee — maybe they need a boost to drag themselves out of bed or make it through the afternoon  — and prays for those moments. “Whatever the scenarios I imagine, I pray for those moments. I pray for endurance, courage, and strength to those that need it and aren’t finding it in their cup,” she says.

Sometimes, on slow days, she has to go looking for ways to show God’s love. Sometimes he guides her to sit on her lunch break with a lonely, old man or help carry out an order for a mom with her hands full. Other days, she feels prompted to buy someone’s drink. Either way, for Latham-Gillespie, those discerning moments aren’t without eternal consequence. 

Coby Strausbaugh 

the founder of a painting company in Tacoma, Washington

When Coby Strausbaugh launched his residential painting company, he had a mission: to empower painters to flourish by paying them what they need to support their families. But no matter how noble your mission is, you can’t get very far if you’re not addressing your own needs along the way.

For the first few years, Strausbaugh worked double time to ensure his employees and customers could thrive. But beneath the surface, he wasn’t thriving, and neither was his own family. So he went to therapy, and with help he identified and addressed a constant need to outdo himself — and came back with a more realistic, sustainable version of his mission. 

He’s more passionate than ever about giving painters a clear path to a family living wage — but not if clocking extra hours comes at the expense of his own well-being. “If my work changes the world, that would be cool — but only if I can do it without sacrificing what I need and what my family needs.”

Strausbaugh cautions other mission-minded entrepreneurs against buying into the rat-race mentality that you’re only impactful if you trade your soul for a greater mission. “I believe the best gift we have to offer is ourselves, and not our results,” he says. “I want to build something healthy and sustainable — and that starts with a healthy version of me.”

“For some, I’m the only human interaction in their lives. Knowing someone and having your name called out can be a huge light in their world.”
Emileigh Latham-Gillispie

This story is from Common Good issue
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