This is the second story (of five) about men and women in Denver who’ve experienced the living God in their work. As I mentioned in the first post, a version of these stories were included as illustrations of various doctrines in The NIV Faith and Work Study Bible (Zondervan).
The next story focuses on the doctrine of Adoption: the idea that we’re adopted into God’s family through Jesus (both our Lord and our brother). It also highlights one of the most common jobs in America: retail.
The story begins as many do – with pain. She graduated, got engaged, and then everything fell apart….
After I graduated from school, I got engaged. I then found out my fiancé was a gambling addict with $100,000 in debt. Everything in life stopped. I had to figure out a plan. I broke it off with him and went to Missouri to live with my sister. I just needed to recoup.
It was Christmas of 2007, and when I wasn't getting a job in counseling, I thought, “Ok, I need to do something with my life. I’m sitting here depressed and not doing anything.” So I took a part-time sales job at Banana Republic because I wanted something that could be temporary, that I didn't feel like I needed to commit to. At least, I thought, I’d get some cute clothes out of it.
The first day on the job, I worked a 6 hour shift and had a 15 minute break. I had been sweeping the floors. I slipped out the back, went out to my car and just started bawling, crying, crying out to the Lord saying, "What's the plan? I have a master's degree in counseling and I'm sweeping floors at Banana Republic! This is ridiculous.” I didn't see the plan. It was painful. I felt useless.
But as I swept floors, folded $150 sweaters, and got people to sign up for store credit cards, over time I felt God’s quiet voice. He still loved me. God still saw me as his daughter, loved and adopted into His family. That made me realize that my identity had been in being a counselor. And the fact that I wasn't a therapist anymore - all of that was stripped away - taught me to ground my identity in Christ.
As my identity changed, I saw two things for the first time. First, I actually liked sales. I got four promotions within nine months. My sales dollars were the highest in the store within a couple weeks. I had no idea I could persuade people. I became a manager and ended up the main sales supervisor back in store in Colorado.
Second, I started to see the hearts, lives, and souls of the people I was managing. I found nearly all people in retail were in a life transition. Transition and turmoil. Many were in college, or just out of college, and had relational difficulties. Lots of divorces and break-ups. Some had young kids and were trying to be single parents. A lot of directionless people, not knowing their goals or their vision for their life. So they kind of just landed in retail. They weren’t weird or anything - just people with hard, messy lives.
In time, I learned to listen. So many didn't have anybody to listen to them. While putting clothes away, I’d hear, "My dad kicked me out of my house,” or, "I got drunk last night and I'm getting really tired of this pattern. When is my life going to change?" You have time in the store to talk about life. Lifestyle, relationships, finances, family, desires, failures. As my identity changed, my heart opened to their pain.
My tears for an unsuccessful career quickly dried up as God opened my eyes to the lives of others around me. Not only did I learn that I actually liked customer service, I learned to love my co-workers — as we folded $150 sweaters together.
Jeff Haanen is a writer and entrepreneur. He founded Denver Institute for Faith & Work, a community of conveners, teachers and learners offering experiences and educational resources on the gospel, work, and community renewal. He is the author of An Uncommon Guide to Retirement: Finding God’s Purpose for the Next Season of Life and an upcoming two-book series on spiritual formation, vocation, and the working class for Intervarsity Press. He lives with his wife and four daughters in Denver and attends Wellspring Church in Englewood, Colorado.