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The Big 3 and the Singing Test

by Barry A. Thomas

One of the amazing times in my life was when I transitioned from my engineering career and to a career in full-time ministry. I literally left my engineering job on a Friday in Houston, drove my family to Oklahoma City on Saturday and began my ministry job on staff at a church on Sunday. God’s direction in my life has never been as clear and as pronounced as it was during that time. There is so much I could write about this period, but it is too much to put into blog form.

However, this process of changing careers did not just happen over one weekend. The move was the culmination of a year or so of soul searching. Let me be clear: going into vocational ministry was not part of my career plan. When asked, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” the answer was not “working on staff at a church somewhere.” God worked through a process of introspection and wrestling. I have learned that when I go through these times He is often preparing me for the next phase of my life.

Unfulfilled and Discontent

In my sixth year of working for my company, I began to get the corporate “seven-year itch.” I had moved around in the company and had a worked in different facets of my engineering discipline. I had had some good job assignments and responsibilities in the company and was able to work with a lot of great people. At the time I was working in the corporate headquarters. A big part of the job was making weekly presentations to management getting approval for capital projects. Although I could play the corporate game, it was not my favorite thing to do. I preferred wearing blue jeans and getting out in the field over wearing a tie and sitting behind a computer.

The fact is I was very blessed and I did not lose sight of this. I was not going through a phase of being a disgruntled employee. I was not playing the part of a victim. I simply was becoming uninterested in my job.

And then the wrestling began…

I began to ask myself why I was not fulfilled in what I was doing. Was it my current job responsibilities? Was it the corporate environment of headquarters? Was it the company? Was it the oilfield? Was it engineering as a career? Was it me…was there something wrong with me? These questions rolled around in my head for several months. For the first time in my young life I was open to a career change.

The Big 3

All of these questions led to more specific questions. I call them the Big 3. I believed that the answers to these questions would probably converge on the same thing. They would point in the same direction. In the athletic arena, I knew the sports I enjoyed the most were the sports in which I excelled. And I excelled at the sports I was most passionate about. At least for me, these things were undoubtedly linked. I thought, “If that was true for me in sports, it must be true for me in other areas in my life including my career.” These were the new questions I mulled over for a while. Here are the Big 3:

  • What do I enjoy?
  • What am I good at?
  • What do I have a passion for?

I don’t know about you, but I tend to enjoy the things I am good at and I tend to dislike the things I am not good at. For instance, I hate Do It Yourself home projects. (I know hate is a strong word, but it best fits my sentiment in this case.) I hate them because I am terrible at fixing things around the house. My average project requires four trips to the hardware store. Trip #1: Purchase the materials I think I need for the job. Trip #2: Return an item from the first trip and get the correct item for the job. Trip #3: Purchase a different item to replace the one I broke fixing the original broken item. Trip #4: Purchase more materials because the job was bigger than I first expected. This four trip thing is no exaggeration. This has been a repetitive and definitive pattern in my adult life. I must say, the job eventually gets done and I am proud of the work when it is done, but it was not a process that was effortless and enjoyable.

The Singing Test

When I considered what it is I enjoy doing, a simple pattern caught my attention. I loved to sing (and still do). Often times during any given day I would just start humming or singing a tune. When I would catch myself singing, I began to notice when I would sing. I would ask myself, “Why would I break out in song? What caused me to want to sing?” I realized that I would sing when I experienced joy. That was it! I was singing because I was full of joy. I call it the Singing Test. Now all I had to do is figure out what happened right before I started singing.

The Singing Test worked. When I caught myself singing I would rewind the tape and take note of what just happened before the singing. These were the things that brought joy to my life. Was there a pattern to the things that made me sing? Were these also things that I had a passion for? Were these also the things I was good at? The answer was yes!

For me, the Big 3 converge on one central theme: helping people. I loved to help people and to make a difference in people’s lives. Anytime I felt like I was helping someone with any little thing, I broke out into a song. Sometimes it was mowing someone’s yard; sometimes it was getting someone a cool glass of water; other times it was inviting new friends over for dinner; making a caring phone call; answering someone’s question; sharing a funny story or lending listening ear. Regardless of form or fashion, I loved to help people. As simple as it seems, the Singing Test was a real breakthrough for me. It helped me converge on the answer to the Big 3.

Maybe the Singing Test does not fit for you. But here is my question: What do you do when you experience joy? How do you express it? For you, that is your Singing Test.

Parenthetically, let me just add here: The answers to the Big 3 and the Singing Test do not just apply to your career. I think more importantly, they can point you to your mission and purpose in life. Your job does not necessarily have to line up with your mission and purpose. It is possible to live out of mission no matter what you do from nine to five. (BTW, who really works nine to five these days?) Since that time in my life, I have learned to get fulfillment in life independent of what I do to make a living.

  • What are your answers to the Big 3?
  • Do they converge on anything in particular?
  • How do you express joy?
  • Is there a connection to the answer to these questions and God’s calling on your life?

If you do not have clear answers to these right away, do not fret. These are not easy questions to answer. They are simple, but not easy. I encourage you to wrestle with these questions understanding that answering them is a process that takes time.

Love, Work, Play

I’ve been thinking about marriage a lot this summer since I was invited to three weddings. It raises reflections for me about the connection of love and marriage. While I was mulling this, I remembered a quote from Sigmund Freud stating that humans need two things in order to be satisfied; love and work. I can’t remember who added a third to that list, but it was play. Perhaps we need all three of these to have a healthy balance in our lives.

So let’s go on a journey with love, work and play and see where it takes us…

To be transparent about my relationship with love and marriage, I feel grateful that I’ve been unusually satisfied with the amount of love I’ve given and received in my life and yet my track record with marriage is less than stellar. I believe in marriage and all that it brings to those who embrace it sincerely, and, at the same time, I think of it as excruciatingly wonderful. Maybe this discrepancy is what draws me so strongly to ponder love and marriage.

Love is the most complicated, and in my experience the most misunderstood of the three human needs. Love, for me, means caring, shared memories, positive regard, respect, shared time, vulnerability, trust, presence in pain, ability to work through conflict without hostility, provision for one another, affection, appreciation. The finest marriages result in each partner becoming their best self with the support of their partner. Most marriages (and friendships) have a hard time measuring up to that standard day in and day out, but after all, we’re human. What confuses me is that, if we “know” that the one we’ve chosen to marry is the right one, why do 50% of marriages, even Christian marriages, end up in divorce. And the numbers are higher for second marriages. I grieve that in my soul. I know love asks a lot of us and most of us need to stretch and grow in order to be up to the task. Marriage is the beginning of our inner work as a couple, not the end. We come together to grow in each other’s company not to breathe a sigh of relief and slump into self-neglect.

If love is what I outlined above, is marriage the only way of knowing what love is? I think the culture (neighbors, friends, parents, the church, work associates, well meaning aunts/uncles, even magazines) would say yes, at least if you look at the focus churches place on marriage and family and the number of businesses associated with the marriage market. And just ask any single 30-year-old if she or he feels the pressure to “find” the right person to marry in order to feel normal. The latest US Census reports that more than 50% of adult Americans are single, 53% of them women, 47% of them men. That is astounding given that the cultural norm still seems to be married with two+ children.

Of course, we all need love. Whether married or single. Which I suggest means to love and be loved in return? How do we satisfy that desire, if marriage is not the only option? I will suggest four sources of love that I have observed to have satisfying effects on people’s hearts: friends, animals, nature and God. Let’s start with friends. Here I would include family, friends, teammates, mentors and military comrades, all of whom can give and receive love in their own ways. The animal option is a no-brainer; connections with pets and untamed animals are deep-seated ways of relating. Ask any pet owner or anyone who has swum with dolphins! And nature includes things like water, plants, trees, birds, mountains, flowers and prairies. Most of us yearn to be in nature since it restores something to us that we don’t seem to find any other way.

The fourth and, in my experience, the best way to receive and give love is with God. With God there is always a guarantee of being loved in return, no matter what (even better than pets who can hiss or growl!). God is a lasting presence that never leaves us, even if we lose our earthly relationships. I know many people have negative images of God from childhood, and I heartily encourage those who do to work with someone to help heal or change that image. For me, love is from God and includes all the things I mentioned in my definition of love. In addition, unlike some human love, God’s love is unconditional and unending. Even when we question God’s love or feel God is absent, God still waits patiently for us to once again allow divine love to flow into our hearts.

If we feel unconditionally loved by God, we are whole, no matter what our marital status; married, divorced, separated, single, committed. Our love is not dependent on other things, despite the cultural pressure and shame.

I also seems clear to me that single people can love and be loved, that married people can love and be loved, but that marriage does not guarantee love in the way I describe. One of the issues with marriage that I have experienced and seen others experience too, is that we look to our partner to meet our needs and when they don’t, we blame them. I think we are looking to them to fulfill something that we can only truly get from ourselves and from God, unconditional love. And if we do seek love primarily from God then we can honor the things that our spouse does give us instead of being disappointed in what they don’t give us. No human can meet all of our needs.

Everyone can feel love, needs to feel love, no matter what. I find this liberating and hopeful.

The forms of love in my life have been somewhat unusual since I lost my second parent by the time I was thirty-nine years old and I was estranged from my only brother due to alcohol. So my forms of love have been, not only with marriage partners, step-children and in-laws, but with a host of others. I have adopted brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers and I have opened my heart to mentoring and friendship relationships with a group of amazing people, who give to me and receive from me as much love as I can handle. This kind of love includes emotional and spiritual intimacy, sharing of honest emotions and mutual good will. And it requires that I stay present to the relationships and not take them for granted.

Other kinds of love? I’ve had pets most of my life, mostly gentleman cats, but dogs as well, and I hold nature, especially birds, trees, flowers and moving water in high regard. Oh, and I have an ongoing love affair with the MN Twins.

If you are game, I’d like to invite you to reflect on love, especially on the people, pets and nature experiences that have given you a feeling of being loved. How did it change your life? And God, how does feeling love from God make your life different? And how have you seen your love affect others’ lives?

The second part of the equation of what all humans need is work. By that I mean to be productive in some way, to contribute to the greater good, to feel some sense of accomplishment. What does work usually give us that matters most to us? Many people would say we work primarily for money but I have found, in my career development work, that was not the case. Sure, we need that basic security (and many workers do not even have that) but after that we usually don’t work for money. Volunteers and parents do not work for money and their work is just as meaningful as income generated work, even though the culture does not value what they do as much.

I work because it satisfies my desire to express ideas, it gives me an outlet for my creativity, it engages me with other people’s stories and it inspires me to share spiritual healing experiences. Staying engaged with friends and clients helps me feel whole. But we all work for different reasons. Here are a few of the other reasons people say they work.

Recognition and approval

service and social welfare

leadership and personal power

Interpersonal relations

moral value

creativity and challenge


If you are game to reflect on your motivations for work, which three motivations do you resonate with the most? Be honest! Knowing why you really work and how to obtain more of what satisfies you results in renewed energy, productivity and satisfaction.

I was writing this essay at one of my favorite restaurants and I asked my server why she worked. She said it was the exercise built right into the job and the social outlet it gave her. Then when she goes home she is tired but she gets to spend time with her seven pets! (this includes 3 rescue and foster pets). She said that, as a single woman, it was a good life. I asked her where she gets love in her life and she said, “To be honest, from my pets more than from my children.”

But, sadly, work has its negative side effects as well. We can become addicted to work; becoming married to our work with no balance in our lives. We can produce degrading products that hurt or injure people. We can become greedy and overly competitive. We can lose our jobs for whatever reason, and suffer grave consequences of identity or health.

So how do we work in a way that leans towards deeper satisfaction and contribution? I’d suggest that we bring our love for God into our work. I do not mean that we necessarily witness for our faith in the workplace since that is precarious and even illegal, but that we allow who we are in our inner connection with our loving God to seep out deliciously into the core of our work.

~What if you’ve had a deep and lasting experience of community through meeting with a group of spiritually minded people? Why not bring the concept of true community into the workplace, even if you don’t talk about it that way. Just try to create loving communities that represent the gifts of your spirit!

~What if you are a creative person but do not have the obvious outlets to use your gift in your main work tasks? How about asking God how to use your creativity in other ways at work, for events you volunteer for, for photos or posters if that is available, for spoken word opportunities at celebrations. Use your creativity to bring your spirit of love from God to people in the workplace.

~What if you believe in the power of inclusion since you feel so included by God? If, in your workplace, there are diverse cultures, why not really engage with people from other cultures and see what can happen from those engagements?

~Ask yourself this question: When have I had a spiritual experience at work? See what other opportunities come to mind as a result of things that you may have forgotten about or not thought of as spiritual.

So whatever your gift, ask God how you can use that in the workplace in a more sustained and satisfying way. If it’s humor, ask how you can use humor in a satisfying and sustaining way. If it’s collaboration, ask how you can use your skills in collaboration in a more expansive way at work or in your volunteer work.

I’m working with a group of ten people from different occupations and from different age groups (from 30s to 70s). We are asking what it looks like to be a healer in our workplaces, spiritual and emotional healers. So what would it look like to do accounting in a healing way? To do ministry in a healing way? To create art or to write in a healing way? To parent in a healing way? First we needed to look at what qualities were helpful in being a healer and then we needed to look at how God works, so we weren’t caught in trying to do this healing by ourselves. I think we’ve concluded that we can’t be effective healers (whatever that means for each of us individually) unless we are also in a healing process. It seems elementary now but it was a revelation when we first discovered that truth. So we heal, we ask God for guidance, we claim our gifts, we look to see what healing opportunities are coming our way. Daunting but very satisfying.

And here’s an intriguing thought. What if love and work are integrally connected? What if a portion of our work is actually to give and receive love wherever we are?

Love and Work. What love and what work are beckoning us? If we keep asking we will keep learning more.

In order to love and work effectively, we also need some balance, some outlets for rejuvenation and release. What about play?

Play feeds our souls. Play is so fun. We need it. We crave it. We spend millions of dollars on it each year. So play is good. But I’d suggest we look at it carefully to keep it playful and not just another way to work.
My premise: we need to learn to play without feeding our addictions
Many people in our culture think they know how to play because they engage in competitive, adventurous, or physically strenuous exercise. Our culture encourages these activities as a way to balance a stressful work schedule. I would suggest that these activities be called stress reduction techniques but need not be confused with the concept of play. Most of them inadvertently feed people’s addictions, especially the work addiction, and do not relieve long term stress, which leaves deep scars on the psyche.
Think of a few of the ways you usually play—recreation, travel, hobbies, exercise. I used to describe play as anything that took my mind off work. Now I think about it differently.
Play may seem to many of us as something we left behind in our childhoods, but playing (without feeding our work or other addictions) can help us feed our soul. Feeding our soul not only rejuvenates our mood and our body, but it also helps us remember who we are and whose we are—and helps immensely in getting us up in the morning. Feeding our soul fuels the love and work that we desire in our life.
I suggest that soul feeding is what matters more than love or work, and that it is vital to our life. We feed our soul through solitude, rest, dreams, breaks, exercise, prayer, music, healthy food etc. And mindful play is a fine way to feed our soul.
Reflect on this list of some key characteristics of soul-feeding play and see what activities come to mind for you. Which of your regular activities have these characteristics? Which don’t? Why?
• Activities that leave your body, mind, and spirit rested and refreshed, even though you may get physically tired.
• Activities in which you do not have to win or be an expert to feel good about yourself.
• Activities that stimulate your creativity.
• Activities that take your mind completely off your work and problems.
• Activities that increase your appreciation of others, of nature, of relationships.
• Activities in which you laugh freely and do not feel angry, tight, or ashamed afterward.
• Activities that do not require you to travel long distances.
• Activities in which you do not have to prove yourself or be in charge.
• Activities that do not require a large investment of money or exhaustive maintenance.
• Activities that bring you closer to who you were as a child.
• Activities that feed your soul.
Soul play may now include singing in the shower, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, stopping at a coffee shop to read a book in the afternoon, making a shawl for a neighbor, riding your bike with no destination, giving someone a free ticket to a concert, dancing in your office when no one else is watching.
Reflect on which of your play activities meet at least half of the criteria listed above. Some probably do and some don’t. Try substituting one new play idea for one of your current ones. You may have to expand your concept of play to include things you previously would have rejected. Or you may consider doing your current recreation in a different way. Don’t expect people to applaud you when you change. Most people are moving too fast to notice. You can applaud yourself.
My list of soul play activities includes reading in my favorite chair, walking in nature, driving on curvy roads, making icons, having coffee with friends, baking cookies and brownies, watching murder mysteries on TV, tango dancing in my living room and watching pro baseball and college basketball. I believe that soul play, whatever that means to us, brings us closer to others, to God and to ourselves.
Here’s a soul play story from my earlier years! I think it represents the time I changed my concept of play in my life—and it made a big difference. In my ex-husband’s family golf was important. My father in law was the son of the head groundskeeper of a large metropolitan golf course. He played exceptionally well. My husband and two stepsons also played well. So naturally I played too. It was our family sport, and it was competitive. Tempers flared when things did not go well. I finally figured out that although I loved golf and could hold my own with these men around the greens, it was not fun or relaxing to always be competing, betting, or comparing scores.
I decided to play my own golf game. First I read the book Inner Golf and practiced the principles until I was playing a relaxed inner game. Then I decided to enjoy the weather and nature, since they were major reasons I liked golf. Lastly I decided to scrap the official rules and make my own rules. If I didn’t like the lie of my ball, I improved it. If I didn’t like the length of the hole, I shortened it, like when we came to a long par five. I dropped my ball at the 250 yard mark and played from there.
I began enjoying golf so much that I made a decision that almost started a riot. I quit keeping number scores and started keeping letter scores: W for wonderful holes, S for scenic holes, G for a great shot. My philosophy of golf was, “It doesn’t matter. “ Not only did I enjoy it immensely, my game was more relaxed and consistent.
So, God can be involved in love, in work and in play. How do you experience God in your love, work and play?

© Janet O. Hagberg, 2015. All rights reserved.
Reflections on this essay, in case you haven’t already done this in the body of the essay!
Which is more compelling to you, love, work or play? Why?
When have you given and received love in a satisfying way in your life?
Why do you work? How have you increased your satisfaction in work?
What is your most soul restoring form of play?
Where does God fit into your love, work and play activities?
How does that make a difference in your life?

A note on this essay. Some of the “play” portion of this essay was published in a chapter called Soul Leadership in my book, Real Power, 3rd edition, 2003.

Faith Goes to Work: Part 2

Spirituality in the Workplace


How do we go about incorporating our faith in our work? Where do we find the most meaning for our skills, values and faith in the workplace? What are some ways that our faith can impact how we work and our attitudes about work?

Frederick Buechner, in a now famous quote, says that work can be a sacred calling, a vocation for anyone. He says,

“The kind of work God usually calls you to do is the kind of work a) that you need most to do and b) that the world most needs to have done. If you really get a kick out of your work, you’ve probably met requirement (a), but if your work is writing TV deodorant commercials, the chances are you’ve missed requirement (b). On the other hand, if your work is being a doctor in a leper colony, you have probably met requirement (b), but if most of the time you’re bored and depressed by it, the chances are you have not only bypassed (a) but probably aren’t helping your patients much either.

Neither the hair shirt nor the soft berth will do. The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”


So Buechner is saying that a wide variety of work can feel like a vocation if it leans towards need and gladness. We don’t all have to be curing leprosy to feel our calling. We can do work that fosters healthy relationships, we can make useful and beautiful products, we can teach, we can clean houses, we can take care of children, we can preach, we can make clothes, we can build buildings, we can serve coffee. It all depends on how we see our work and if we can make that connection between our gladness and the worlds needs.

Here are some ways in which people’s faith has impacted how and why they do their work?

-A radiological oncologist has a difficult job. Most of his patients are not going to be cured. He could easily have a morbid view of his work and just treat it as a technical duty. But because he has chosen to incorporate his faith, he asks his patients what sustains them in their cancer journey. Often they will say their faith sustains them. In that context he can talk with them further about faith. He says it strengthens his faith and his connection to his work to hear their stories.

-A poor woman with a tough life story chooses to do cleaning and odd jobs for a group of nuns in her neighborhood rather than work in a factory. She may make less money but she feels she is part of something larger than herself by working to further hospitality in the neighborhood. And she loves the nuns.

-A corporate guy, a human resource professional in a division of a large corporation, feels he could easily be lost in the bigness. So he decides that his meaning will come by creating loving communities within the corporation. When one of their division’s plant managers dies in a small town several states away, he instigates a private flight for all the leaders of the division to go to the funeral. The plant leaders are very moved by this gesture as is the whole town. Making a small difference big.

-A woman manager in a costume design production firm came on board in the middle of a very stressful environment in which people routinely displayed poor manners and tolerated meanness. Her spiritual values were the opposite. So she begins treating people well, listing each person’s gifts and uniqueness, bringing food, hugging the most angry people, and asking people to leave their issues at the door. Within a year the whole atmosphere has been transformed.

-A cabinet maker, faced with cutting corners in order to make a better profit in an economic downturn, prayerfully decides to stick with the principles of his workmanship, possibly making less money but feeling good about his products. He adds some smaller products as part of his bread and butter. And he does some volunteer work with his extra time, work that eventually brings him some valued cabinet making

-A woman who is in customer service at a medical device company starts a “faith at work” brown bag lunch discussion just to see what others are thinking about this subject. Soon the group develops into a support group that fosters different ways to incorporate faith into work.

-A housing developer makes it a part of his practice (years before it is legally required of contractors) to include some affordable housing in each of his development projects. He does this because he is aware of the affordable housing shortage and because he believes he is called to be a man of God and to make changes in the world as a result of his work.

-A spiritual director who occasionally meets clients at coffee shops, gets to know the coffee shop manager and happens to have a spiritual conversation while buying coffee. Now the manager seeks out the spiritual director to accompany him on his journey, not only to be a more present manager but to heal some issues in his life and his relationship with God.



In my own life one of the times that my faith made a huge difference in my work was when I was beginning leadership in a national organization whose aim was to reduce domestic violence. We had to decide what our goals were, how we would reach them and what kinds of resources and people we would work with. There was a lot of anger and victimization in this field and it was almost contagious. I went on a retreat to think and pray about this. As a result of some soul searching and praying and connecting with my own journey, I decided that in order to work meaningfully in this field I had to have a healing stance instead of a stance of justice or punishment. We developed our mission statement and the five principles by which we worked based on that healing stance. It made all the difference for me as a north star by which we navigated and it allowed me to stay connected far beyond the usual tenure in the field.


What would you advise the four people whose stories we encountered in the first essay on Faith Goes to Work: part 1; the woman working in the entertainment business who wonders about the product she is spending her career producing, the young man working in the coffee shop who feels as if he may be wasting his time preparing coffee for weary workers, the doctor who feels like a pill machine because of all the patients she has to see in one day, or the stay-at-home dad whose kids are programmed to the hilt with activities he wonders about?

Perhaps you could even go back to my original question to help yourself get started on this journey for yourself: Have you ever had a spiritual experience at work?


ÓJanet Hagberg, 2014. All rights reserved

The wonderful Buechner quote is from his book, Wishful Thinking: ATheological ABC, p. 95.

Reflections on this essay

How do you think about your work as an outgrowth of your faith?

What have you seen in other people of faith at their work that has intrigued you?

What could you do differently to integrate your faith into your work?

Who could you talk to, to help you reflect on your faith and work questions?

Faith Goes to Work

Spirituality in the Work Place


Sometimes there is a disconnect between church on Sunday and what we do for a living on Monday. Many of us are unsure of how to take our faith to work. It’s not something we talk about with our friends as a rule. And I, for one, have childhood memories of this topic that bring up fearful scenarios. We were encouraged to give our “witness” whenever we could and we were instructed to carry our Bibles on the top of our books. When I tried it, I was petrified that someone would ask me about it. No one did. It was not my personal style, no matter how strong my faith, so I gave up.

So how do we take our faith or our spirituality to work? If we go beyond the witnessing scenario, some people think immediately of ethics or morality as spiritual principles that we bring to the work environment. These are important principles and integrity is a north star for many in the work world. Honesty and integrity can be major challenges, especially if our work place adheres to a different standard.

Let’s probe this issue a bit deeper. How do you personally feel about the impact of your faith or spirituality in your day-to-day environment? What are some personal and honest questions it raises for you?


*One woman is troubled about the fact that her company is in the entertainment business and she has a hard time reconciling all the work she does for a “product” she has little commitment to.


*A young man is working in a coffee shop until he decides what to do next with his life. He feels like he may be wasting his time. He likes his job but some days he wonders what difference it makes to provide weary workers with early morning caffeine.


*A woman in medicine feels immense pressure to see too many patients in one day. She feels like she has no time to know them and that she is just a prescription machine.


*A stay-at home dad feels like his kids are so filled with activity that the culture puts on them (and to be honest, he as well), that he is just a “driving” machine. He sometimes wonders if all this activity will make them better people or more prepared for life.


How do we deal with situations that are not strictly ethical in nature, but which may erode our souls in the workplace, cause us to be less effective, or even burn us out? What do we do about situations that, as a person of faith, go against the grain of what we think we are called to be? How do we bring our souls to work?


Why do you work?

Before we get to all of that, let’s look at a key question that may get to the heart of the issue? Why do you work? The most obvious answers are the ones that come to mind first; security, money, recognition. But underneath that, why do you work, really? And how might your faith be a motivator in your day-to-day work?

In a book I co-authored on career renewal I included a small self-scoring test to see why people work. Included on the list were the three reasons listed above. But the total list of reasons included:


Recognition and approval                         Variety

Socioeconomic status                                 Teamwork

Interpersonal relations                               Mastery, skill, achievement

Independence                                               Service and social welfare

Leadership and personal power                Creativity and challenge

Adventure                                                      Self-expression

Moral value                                                    Security



Over the twenty years I used this profile, the vast majority of people did not list the big three; security, money, recognition as the most important or even the second most important reason they worked. They chose things like personal relationships, self-expression, moral value, or service as their main values. What they wanted was meaning.

So if we desire deeper meaning in our work or a sense that we’ve made a difference, what better way, as people of faith, than to somehow incorporate our spiritual lives into our work lives–in very practical, creative and meaningful ways. That would look different for each or us, but what if we asked God to show us how our work could be more meaningful by integrating our faith at work?

For inspiration, let’s look at a few Biblical examples of people who had regular jobs (well all except Esther who was a queen) and who faced incredible crisis or incredible opportunities and drew upon their faith to live out their calling.


-Joseph was a government bureaucrat who wisely used his skill to ward off starvation of the people during a massive drought. He had to struggle with the false accusation of a treacherous woman in order to rise to his position of authority.


-Lydia was a seller of purple cloth in the marketplaces of early Christendom. Even though women were considered powerless, she hosted Paul on his visits to her town of Philippi and was one of the early church leaders.


-Esther was the Queen who risked her life to save her people, the Jews, from total destruction. She was terrified to present herself to the king without his invitation, but she listened to the wise counsel of Mordecai, her uncle, who believed that she was born to be queen for just such a time as this.


-Jesus was a carpenter, but you all know about that.


-Nehemiah, upon returning from exile in Babylon requested permission to supervise the restoration of the walls and gates of Jerusalem. Under ridicule and duress from his distracters he became one of the Bible’s most revered construction general contractors.


-Deborah was a judge over Israel who sustained her general, Barak, in a crucial time of battle. Her strong presence and belief in God made the deciding difference.


-Paul was a tent maker who used his trade to support himself as he traveled around the Mediterranean, teaching and preaching to his newly formed churches


Ponder the relevance of these stories for your own work life. Next week–part 2 of this series on faith and work.


Ó Janet O. Hagberg, 2014. All rights reserved

My book on this career topic is called The Inventurers. I am grateful to Robert Banks, retired professor at Fuller seminary specializing in the Laity, who so thoughtfully inspired me with stories of Biblical people who lived out their faith at work. Rob edited a book called Faith Goes to Work by Albion Press. And I am grateful to Bethel Seminary for a workshop I took on faith and work in the fall of 2013.


Reflections on this essay:

Why do you work?

What are your major disconnections from work?

How do these stories inform your work?

What does God have to say about why you work or what you are called to do?



Spirituality at Work

Friends, I’d like to know if you have ever had what you would describe as a spiritual experience at work? No matter how remote or strange it may seem, let me know what it is.

You can post on my blog, on facebook or email me directly at   I do not need to use your name if you want me to withhold it. And I may or may not publish all of the responses.

Next week I’ll post the first of a two part blog essay on how our spirituality or our faith relates to work. It’s a current question many people are asking; So what difference does spirituality or faith make in my daily life?

Let’s go… everyone has an answer to this. We all experience it whether we have any connection to a faith or not.


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