Thursday, February 05, 2015

When Work's Emotional Toll Is a Privilege


Many of us have emotionally “safe” jobs. Many do not. Police officers and firefighters, doctors and nurses, teachers and social workers, aid workers and missionaries are examples of those I think hold emotionally risky jobs. They work with people, and so many of those people are suffering. Yet these professionals keep on keeping on, called to their work, hopefully each guarding against the emotional toll of their work overtaking them. Aren't we grateful for them?

Most of my professional life has provided emotional safety. Still, as I have provided editorial services, I have worked with material containing subject matter that challenges my emotions. That reaches deep down and pulls hard. That stretches and bothers me. That is difficult to let go even when my work is done.

A book written by a young mother fighting cancer. A powerful novel about a young girl’s abuse and rape. True accounts of abandoned babies or those without hope under the burden of addiction. A devotional that reveals the heart cries of single mothers. A widow’s account of her struggles following her husband’s sudden death. Stories of children who age out of the foster care system and then . . . have no one. The ache of a birthmother making a sacrificial decision for love of her child. A book about the horrors of human trafficking and those (yes, even in our own American communities) who are trapped in its dehumanizing cycle.

The book about human trafficking was the latest. It took me longer than usual to do the work; I had to keep taking breaks. My stomach roiled at times. Tears, which are not my usual MO, sometimes welled. I wondered if I would—for the first time ever—have to ask the in-house editor for a deadline extension.

I talked through what I was learning about human trafficking with my husband; I could not not talk about it.  It was too much to ask why and how by myself. But not once did I wonder why I was being asked to “suffer” an emotional toll. Why not me? Not once did I consider turning down the next project that would exact a toll. Not because I am special, but because I, too, am a human being and I know these dear ones could be friends or loved ones. They are all precious to God. 

These stories need to be told, and I am given the opportunity to help tell them. Any emotional distress is a small, small price to pay. My work does not compare in the least to the sacrifice so many others make on the front lines of human suffering. It does not compare to the suffering of so many in the world. But this work is a privilege. Not just to help tell the stories, but to help reveal through the stories hope. To communicate ways we can dare to address evil and suffering and despair in this world. 

I tell you, there is always, with God's help and the work of His people, hope.

How and when does your work sometimes take an emotional toll? Do you count it a privilege? Please feel free to share.



  1. Thank you, Jean, for recognizing the toll that working with the suffering takes. And the privilege it gives. Some ask, "How can you do what you do?" I say, "How could I not?" The hurt is sometimes overwhelming. But the blessing is always up to the challenge. I work with the dying, and often conduct funerals. But tomorrow, I get to lead a gathering for my co-workers because we lost one of our own, likely a victim of suicide. Hardest thing I've ever done, but also very fulfilling. I want to honor her life and those she touched with it. How could it be otherwise? There is privilege and even joy, in doing so.

    1. Thank you for sharing. God bless all you do.


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