“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.”Colossians 3:23-24, ESV
As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, I am currently employed as a social worker at a small nonprofit foster care placement agency and have been for a little over a year now. It’s funny, because the way I even came to this position is a bit of a bumble in itself; I had been training and preparing for a career in geriatric social work working with older adults and their families when, as I prepared for my final year of graduate school, I realized that it might be wise for me to try my hand at something a little different, for the sake of experience and versatility. So, for my second-year field placement site, I chose to intern at a foster care placement agency, the one where I find myself currently employed. To be honest, I have never had a passion for working with children or in child welfare or anything of the sort, but as I learned and grew at this agency, I realized that what I did love was helping and serving others, meeting needs and being effective in my work. As I got to know the clients and staff at this agency, I started to see myself working there as a full-time employee and began talking with agency leadership about procuring a position there after graduation. Long story short, I was offered a position and accepted it without applying for any other jobs. So, after years of pursuing education in geriatric social work and preparing for that path specifically, I found myself working at a foster care agency. I struggled with that decision a bit at first, but ultimately decided that it was what made the most sense for myself and my family at the time, so I jumped in head first!
I spent the first six months of my time at my agency overwhelmed with enthusiasm about my job; I was often the first one to work every day and the last one to leave, I stayed in constant contact with my foster families and even accepted work calls at night and on the weekends. I found myself struggling to leave my office at the end of the day and to leave work at work when I came home. It was exhilarating and exciting and some kind of fun! However, I did notice it taking a toll on my family and home life and realized that the way I was choosing to perform my job was not sustainable long-term.
About the time I had this realization, our agency hit hard times financially, as is quite common for a small nonprofit organization, and a colleague of mine was laid off and my salary frozen for the foreseeable future until we were on better footing financially. This meant that my caseload, and workload in general, grew substantially without additional compensation, and suddenly work wasn’t quite as fun anymore. I found myself feeling stressed, overwhelmed, overworked, and behind on my day-to-day duties, which created a lot of anxiety for me both on and off the clock. I’ve spent the last six months at my job struggling to keep up and feeling bitter and resentful that my workload had tripled without even a slight raise in salary, and I was being told that my situation was indefinite until something significant changed for our organization. In addition, the agency’s only other two case managers were taken down to part-time, which even further limited the support system available to me.
After reaching my wit’s end, I finally reached out to my supervisor to request that some changes be made and some of my work duties shifted around a bit, which she kindly agreed to. Since that conversation, things have been significantly better for me in terms of my workload and work-life balance. I’ve been able to devote more of my time to my most important duties and take more time for myself and my family, thanks to agency policies around flexibility and paid vacation. I finally felt as though I had settled in to a more manageable routine again.
However, as many of you may well know, another thing happens when a company, or a family, or a person, encounters a season of financial struggle: true colors and character are often revealed, and sometimes some pretty ugly stuff is exposed. Unfortunately, my organizational leadership and structure turned out to be very different than I had believed when I interned and accepted a position with the agency, which left me feeling shaken. Was I proud of the organization that I worked for and the people I reported to? Did we have the infrastructure to really support our foster families in the ways we had promised and that they deserved? Did it matter as long as I was doing my job to the best of my abilities?
These were some of the questions I was, and still am, grappling with. If you read my first “Thankful Thursday” post (go back and check it out now if you haven’t!), you remember me expressing gratitude for a job that provides me with pretty amazing flexibility and unlimited paid vacation. Let me reiterate that this is an INCREDIBLE aspect of my current position and one of the major things keeping me where I am. In my professional role, I have really great opportunities to take care of myself and my family as well as work when I can be most productive and effective, which is a win-win for me and my clients. However, is this enough? Is working for a company with major financial struggle good for me long-term? Will I have a job in six months or a year? Is knowing things like how unfairly other employees are treated or how poorly the agency is managed or how deeply corners are cut enough to seek out other opportunities, even if I feel fulfilled in my direct work? What about the families I serve? Will they be taken care of if I leave the agency? I have only been a full-time employee for a little over a year now, and the entirety of my career has been spent at this agency. Do I really want to call it quits after so little time? The agency has worked hard to keep me on full-time even when they couldn’t do the same for others. Do I owe them some kind of loyalty? Can I even be hired anywhere else, or at least somewhere that will provide the kind of satisfying work and fair compensation I need? Could I return to my roots in geriatric social work? Can I even adjust to working a Monday through Friday 8:00-5:00 job after enjoying such a flexible schedule for so long?
As you can see, my dilemma has only produced even more questions, questions that have been rolling over in my mind and heart for months now. At this point, I still don’t know the answers. After talking it over with my husband and trusted others, and, of course, seeking the Lord’s guidance in prayer, I did decide to apply for other positions, just to explore my options and see what else was out there. After filling out nearly 20 job applications, I didn’t receive a single callback or interview. I took this as a sign that maybe it was good for me to stay put for a while, that maybe my current role was God’s plan for my life in this season. But I still haven’t felt true peace about staying at my agency. Nor true peace about leaving.
All of this makes me feel really bumbly. Bumbly because I’m wavering on what should be more important: ethics and principle or professional effectiveness and work-life balance? Bumbly because I sometimes fail to seek the Lord in these decisions. Bumbly because I don’t know what’s best for myself and my family: a job with lower compensation and great flexibility when we’re facing what sometimes feels like a mountain of debt, or a job with less flexibility but provides the structure, security, and compensation of a more established organization? Bumbly because, right now, it doesn’t even feel like I’m qualified for other positions since no other employers seem interested in what I have to offer, at least not yet, and I just spent two years of my life and a lot of money to get a graduate degree that I thought (and hoped) would make me marketable.
So here I am, wondering about my future but choosing to rest in the fact that, for now, I know that I am good at what I do, that my foster families are in good hands, and if I can’t rely on anything else, I can rely on my commitment to providing excellent service and support to them and fulfilling my job duties to the absolute best of my abilities. After all, I’m not working to please man, or even myself, but the Lord.
I’m still walking through this small valley, still trying to pray and think and discuss my way through the pros and cons of staying or going, still applying for other positions that catch my eye and choosing every day to remember and believe that God will continue to open and close doors according to His will and hoping that I’ll be discerning and obedient when He tries to guide me in the right direction.
Where’s the beauty in all of this? For me, it’s been learning humility and realizing that I absolutely cannot rely on my strength or abilities to make this decision on my own, or even provide for my family on my own. It’s being forced into prayer and reliance on the Father for a clear path. It’s finding things to be thankful for in my current position, like my job flexibility and full-time status and unlimited paid vacation and the amazing foster families I get to work with every day. It’s accepting God’s reminders that He’s gifted me with talents and skills that make a difference in people’s lives and that sometimes that’s all that matters.
I’m not sure if things will change at my agency any time soon, if I’ll find another position, or simply find peace in my current one. All I know is that my God is faithful, faithful to provide, to give grace, and to bring beauty out of any circumstance, including the uncertain ones. I know for sure that that is enough.