What does faith look liked played out in day-to-day realities of work in a broken world?
A while back, I wrote a series of short stories based on interviews with people in Denver. These stories were used for the NIV Faith and Work Study Bible. Each story was meant to highlight one doctrine, and how an individual person interacted with that doctrine in either their heart, their work, or their broader participation in the world.
We will be doing a series of blog posts highlighting these real-life stories of men and women here in Denver — a series we're calling "Heart, Work & World: Telling First-Hand Accounts of the Gospel in our Work." (Because of the vulnerability of the stories, we’ve elected not to include names.)
As you read these stories, remember that God is working in and through our daily lives – and even in our sin – to bring about his redemptive purposes. He alone brings peace to our hearts, and to our world.
This first story is one of my favorites. It begins in a mattress store, at only 14 years of age…
I started working in the mattress business when I was 14.
I was delivering mattresses at a small furniture store in Texas. I tried to quit high school when I was 16. My mom asked me to keep going, so I did. But I knew I enjoyed working. I didn't really have any desire to go to college.
Whenever we graduated — I had three brothers — my dad would give each of us $5000 as a gift. So, when I was 19, I took my $5000 and drove to Denver. I pulled into Denver with my trash bag of clothes and stereo, rented this little abandoned gas station on 58th Avenue. I ordered a truckload of mattresses and put a banner out that said “Mattress Sale” and paid for my motel for two weeks. After two weeks, I was 100% out of money. Literally. I had to negotiate with the Indian who owned the motel to let me stay. I finally sold a mattress. That was my first mattress store, which I built into 10 stores and sold in 1998.
Through my 20s and 30s, I think what motivated me was a deep insecurity. A need to succeed. When I was 14, my father was a very successful business man. We lived on this beautiful ranch. During the oil crisis in Houston, my dad lost all of his assets. We had a 10 bedroom home, and I then moved into a 14 x 70 trailer home. When I was a kid, the school bus would drop me off in front of my beautiful home and all of the things I had developed my identity out of. Then, the school bus dropped me off in front of a trailer park. It was an enormous, crushing blow to my ego as a kid; from being proud of my father and the things that he'd accomplished to, "I have a 4 x 8 bedroom that me and my brother share.”
It had a pretty huge impact on me. I developed an oath that said, "I will never, ever, ever fail. I will never put myself into that circumstance." So, later in life, I was creating things — companies, structures — to run away from the anger, sadness, and stuff that I was dealing with my dad, and I was damn good at it. I worked way too much, way too hard, took way too many risks, and for all the wrong reasons.
Three years ago, I woke up the day after Christmas and I told my wife, "I'm going to go see my dad." She's said, “What?" I said, "I'm going to confront him.” She's said, "What are you going to do?” I said, "Well, I feel like I'm gonna kill him, but I hope that's not the case." So, I went and confronted him.
I just said, "Why'd you do this? Why'd you do this? And Why'd you do that?” He denied all of it — like when he used to get angry, lose it and beat us. But my mother was behind the door listening, came in the room, and said, "Actually, everything he said is true. I was there."
I became a Christian when I was 25. Somebody left one of those Chic tracks on my desk at the store. “Confess your sins,” it said at the end of the booklet. I was blown away. I memorized thousands of Bible verses. Just like me to overdo everything. But it wasn’t until I confronted my dad that I was able to really rest. I felt a release.
People used to always asked me, “What are your hobbies?" I'd go, "Well, I don't have a hobby. I make money. That's my hobby." But now I have recreation, I volunteer, and I work. I have a level of balance. I also sold two of the three companies I owned.
I’ve been studying a lot lately. In The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis talks about “need love” and “give love.” Need love is like when we nurse at our mother's breast as a child, and we love our mother, but the truth is that we need milk. For me, what I needed was affirmation. I needed people to tell me that I was as smart as I thought I was, and I was as hard-working as I thought I was, and on and on and on.
Give love is where I begin to love from a place where I don’t need much in return because I have what I need from God. So, I still work, but I don't need people to affirm me nearly like I used to.
You know, it's minimal, but it's changing. I don't need much. Now I have what I need.
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.