Editor's note: This piece was written by CUW student Anna Hagen as part of an essay contest open to all Concordia social work students. The contest asked students to articulate what it means to be a Christian social worker. Here was Anna's response.
As I was walking along the beach the other morning at sunrise, I was following behind two individuals who were picking up shells. They were, of course, picking up all of the big, beautiful shells void of blemishes. Struck by a creative vision to create a mosaic, I began to pick up the smaller, broken shards of shells. When I picked up each broken piece, I would rinse it in the water and run my finger along its jagged edges. Each piece had its own unique beauty, from flat pieces to curved pieces, and everything in between. As I examined these broken pieces, I started reflecting upon the brokenness in my own life. If you and I are being completely honest, we probably don’t have to look too far to find some pretty jagged edges in our lives. The trials we have endured and times when things just didn’t quite end up how we had planned leave behind marks that are far from smooth and even. While painful at the time, each of these experiences shape who we are as individuals. If we look a little deeper, aren’t these jagged edges where our beauty lies?
Caught up in my creative endeavor to collect broken shells and wrapped up in thoughts of brokenness, I almost missed the sunrise occurring right over my left shoulder. When I finally looked up from the sandy shore, I was almost blinded. The sun that had been just barely peeking out from behind the clouds moments before was now shining brightly on the horizon, illuminating the entire sky with golden hues. Still in my state of reflection, I wondered to myself how often we get so caught up in our struggles and grief that we miss out on the beauty and light all around us.
Then, another thought struck me. Isn’t this what being a Christian social worker is all about? Seeking out the broken who are all too often forgotten about and left behind, and reminding people to look up out of their despair and take in the light that is surrounding them? Maybe for some people that light is Christ, whom they have lost sight of in the midst of their trials. For others, that light may be a supportive family member or a caring friend. Perhaps it is a community resource or a skill or hobby that once brought joy. For others, that light may still be lingering behind the clouds, and what they really need is someone to walk beside them in the darkness so that they know they are not alone.
Being a Christian social worker does not mean imposing my beliefs and values on others. As I was picking up the shells, I had no criteria or preconceived notions. I simply picked them up where they were at and saw them for what they were: beautifully broken, one-of-a-kind, and full of potential. Being a Christian social worker does mean that my values will be a driving force in all I do. That I will be driven by love, compassion, and a desire to serve. As a Christian social worker, I will view each client as a unique child of God with gifts and strengths, worthy of dignity and respect.
Being a Christian social worker also means that my work will be more than just a job or even a career. Being a social worker will be my vocation and a fulfillment of God’s calling for my life. It means that I will have the privilege of serving vulnerable populations and promoting social justice. That I will act in love and joyfully serve, following in the example Jesus set.
Lastly, being a Christian social worker means embodying the Concordia University Wisconsin campaign slogan: Live Uncommon; using the talent, creativity, faith, and courage God gives each of us to live our lives with purpose. While picking up broken shards of shell along the beach is certainly uncommon, with a purpose in mind, the end result was one of beauty.
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