Do you find yourself having the same conversation on a regular basis? When I tell people that I am a social worker, a common response is ‘Oh, that must be hard—I could never do your job!’ Such comments may be flattering (and certainly, my job is challenging), but I don't find these conversations particularly helpful. They miss the beauty and joy of the work. They focus on the risk and cost of social work, on social workers as heroes and our clients merely as recipients or beneficiaries (or worse). What, though, of the benefits to the social worker? Let's not underestimate the privileges we receive: the vicarious learning about life, and the remarkable (and bizarre and inspiring) people we get to meet.
I think of the clients I have had and the challenges they have faced and fought: the mothers with brain injuries, grandparents who have become foster carers, parents of children with birth defects or chronic diseases, parents of multiple children with disabilities, survivors of domestic violence, refugees... Can you begin to imagine the sorts of things you can learn from these people?
I think of the homes I have visited: their smells, the chaos, the cockroaches, the mice; the family photos and children's artworks proudly on display; the doors hanging off their hinges, the holes in the walls; the marks on the wall where police took fingerprints; the home brightly repainted by an unskilled but enthusiastic hand; the pride amidst the poverty.
I think of the people who answer the door when I knock: dressed neatly, well groomed and made up; looking tired and dishevelled; conservatively dressed in the clothes of another culture or religion; wrapped only in a bath towel because our appointment had been forgotten. (Why, I still wonder, did she answer the door?!)
I think of the conversations: The client who asked ‘Do you ever see happy endings?’ (I still haven't worked out the answer). The client who said he would have committed less crime if he had known that support was available. The accounts of trauma that are shocking, heart breaking and fill me anew with wonder at the remarkable and resilient person in front of me. The expressions of courage, of hope, of dreams, of faith.
I think of the children: The teenager who is a nightmare in the classroom but tends to her baby sister with great care. The primary schooler who ensures her mum knows what time to be at school in the afternoon by marking it on the TV guide. The child who can do an astoundingly accurate impersonation of a police siren, he's heard them so often (and loves to do so while leaning out of my car window, so that—he claims—the traffic will move out of my way). The toddler who empties a tissue box, one tissue at a time, in the middle of a tribunal hearing—enjoying herself so much that most people watch her instead of following proceedings.
Romans 8 reminds us that ‘in all things God works for the good of those who love him’ (v28). We often quote this in times of hardship, finding hope and comfort in the assurance that our loving God will bring good out of our time of suffering. But let’s talk about this truth on more ‘ordinary’ days as well! How is God working ‘in all things’—including our daily work or everyday experiences—to make us ‘conformed more and more to the image of his Son’? (v29)
So, if we chat about my work, let’s not discuss how heroic you think I must be. Instead, let’s talk (in non-identifying terms, of course!) about the people I get to meet, the ways they make me smile, laugh, cry and dream, the things I learn from them, the richness they bring to my life, and the way God uses this to make me grow. And please tell me, too, about your daily experiences—how are they making you learn and grow?
That’s a conversation worth having.
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