Helping others was exactly why Karl Macomb went into his line of work. “Seeing myself as someone people could go to in a time of need was always a draw for me,” says Macomb. Photo credit: Jae’O’na Middleton
But there are a few positions with particularly high-pressure demands—daily demands that can bring burnout, backlash, even life-threatening blunders if one isn’t careful. The only way some employees keep themselves grounded is by clinging to something higher than themselves, and leaning on the One far above the stresses and strains of this world.
Jharony Fernandez-Gibbs’ first child is now 18 months old. She admits caring for her has been tough, but not quite as all-encompassing as the 15 or so children (ages newborn to 17) for which she used to be responsible.
As a foster care specialist in Berrien County, Michigan, she remembers appearing in court every 90 days, juggling seven-plus cases and, ultimately, trying to bring broken families back together again. “I saw such sadness, sorrow, depression at such young ages,” Fernandez-Gibbs admits. “It was almost too much
Yet, the 32-year-old was all in—meeting deadlines (like finding a new place for a runaway before dark) and following strict standards (documenting every conversation, contact or visit meticulously). She explains why crossing each “t” and dotting all the “i’s” was critical. “It just wouldn’t cut it to say, ‘I’m too busy to enter the last known address in connection with my progress check. . .’ By then the child could be dead,” she states matter-of-factly. “The first priority always had to be the safety of the children.”
Sometimes that safety was at the expense of Fernandez-Gibbs’ own sleep and finances, but NEVER at the expense of her time with God. “I have to have that quiet time with Him. I can feel the difference if I don’t,” she says. Fernandez-Gibbs describes her early morning routine: up (often before dawn) for earnest prayer, blanketing her “kids,” clients and coworkers with the Holy Spirit.
Focused time in the Word also was a must. She admits it would’ve been harder to smile or find any silver lining without that routine, amidst days of endless documentation, family members cursing at her, and kids asking, “Why was I taken from my parents?”
You may notice the past tense when referring to Fernandez-Gibbs in her social work role. She left it just more than a year ago for a position in full-time ministry. Although she insists she wasn’t fervently looking for something else, she admits the ministry position is more flexible, a big draw for a new mom. More flexibility, however, doesn’t necessarily mean less stress (as ministry causes its own unique wear and tear), but Fernandez-Gibbs credits her centeredness and successful balancing act to the great I Am. “He reminds me what I’m here for,” she says. “It’s all about serving others.”
Helping others was exactly why Karl Macomb went into his line of work. “Seeing myself as someone people could go to in a time of need was always a draw for me,” says Macomb. He typically clocks in for 2nd shift, which is often the busiest for police work. “Most people are awake during those hours [2:00 to 11:00 p.m.]. Kids are out of school; people are out of work; more folks are on the road, or just settling in at home. That’s also when most people are drinking and doing drugs,” says Macomb, which are added elements that can make a dangerous job much more complex.
Macomb admits there have been at least three times in his 18-year law enforcement career when he wasn’t sure he was going to make it out alive. He’s convinced it was only the grace of God that brought him home in one piece after each situation. “I do believe God is constantly with me,” says Macomb. “I don’t take that as a greenlight to run unnecessarily into dangerous situations, though,” admits the 48-year-old. “I’m not thinking I’m invincible or anything.” In fact, says the patrol officer, his spiritual walk has helped him be more careful and cautious. “My faith definitely helps me take extra pause on the job,” says Macomb. “It helps me reflect on how I could’ve done something better or reacted differently.”
Macomb is careful not to insinuate he or other Christians on the force are better at their jobs, but he does note distinctions. “You see a difference in attitudes, how we carry ourselves, how we interact with others,” says Macomb. “There tends to be more kindness, more of a loving attitude shown, regardless of what’s happening.” Macomb insists, when he’s able to look at the tough situations through Jesus’ eyes, it becomes easier to separate what some
people are doing intentionally and what they are
not intending to do.
“As a Christian, an Adventist, I especially understand the battle inside. I’m seeing the great controversy in real life. I see what’s really at play and I’m able to not take certain actions or reactions personally. . . . Faith and compassion are important tools needed in law enforcement,” Macomb says soberly.
A good family support system doesn’t hurt either. For Macomb, his faithful, Spirit-filled wife often has been the Godly-glue that helps him keep his chin up, keep perspective and keep going.
“Nearly every officer will tell you that the hardest part of the job is dealing with the death of a child [i.e., after a car crash or domestic violence incident]. It’s always a sad, sad scene . . . very hard to deal with. . . . I often get distracted and fixated on the tragedy,” admits Macomb. “Sometimes my mind is just stuck on some rough images I’ve seen that day. It’s hard to focus on faith and God after some tragedies, but then my wife is able to help me refocus and reminds me of the necessity of prayer. If I didn’t have someone to come home to like that, I don’t know what I’d do,” emphasizes Macomb.
There are not too many jobs more stressful than that of a healthcare worker. Couple that with working during the peak of COVID outbreaks, then throw in running a respiratory care unit. Well, it’s a perfect storm of intense, lives-on-the-line pressure. And that’s exactly how you’d describe a day-in-the-life of Abigail Greaves.
“A respiratory therapist is at every single Code Blue [when someone’s heart stops], managing life support and attempting to resuscitate the patient,” explains Greaves. She’s been that therapist for 12 years and currently serves as Emergency Management coordinator at a central Illinois healthcare system. Greaves confesses her job has always been stressful, “but manageable.”
That all changed when COVID-19 cases started getting wheeled into her unit two-plus years ago. “Right at the beginning,” says Greaves, “it was terrifying. Everything we would do with people on a ventilator before COVID wasn’t working.” As a therapist and administrator, she also has to lead a team that’s “in the trenches,” doing direct patient care for 12 straight hours. “It drains you,” Greaves admits. “Then you go home.”
Greaves explains that it’s those quiet times between jobs (from the hospital to home, where she’s a mom of two young boys) that often get her through. She may be the only person in her car, but she knows she’s never alone and that makes a “world of difference.”
“Before I get in the house, I often need to have a good cry. I need to tell God how I feel,” explains Greaves. She has found the most effective way for her to do that is through prayer journaling. “Any stress or anxiety I have, I can leave on the pages. When I pray in my head [I find] I’m often still holding on to the burden,” admits Greaves. “I tend to be honest in journaling. Even if He didn’t answer the way or when I wanted, it makes me. . . He makes me feel better,” says Greaves.
Nature also has been an especially important outlet for her, particularly at the height of the pandemic. She says her faith helps her appreciate to the fullest those times of needed rejuvenation. “When I see a beautiful sunset, for instance, it strikes me—the same God who has the ability to create this magnificent scene also has the ability to take care of me, my family and my patients,” says Greaves.
It’s important to note, the faith described here doesn’t just soften the rough edges. It’s foundational and fundamental to thriving amidst stress. “I don’t know how I would do it without God. I can’t imagine not having a relationship with Him, not being able to have the God of the universe to cry to, to shout at and lean on,” continues Greaves. “I honestly don’t know how I would make it from day to day.”
Greaves is certainly not alone. Both Fernandez-Gibbs and Macomb share similar sentiments. All three also tell of how their faith changes workplace circumstances.
Fernandez-Gibbs describes usually “out-of-control” parents/clients suddenly reacting calmly, after she prayed for them. Macomb holds tight to the promise that God won’t give him more than he can bear. Just when his work seems at its worst, there’s a “thank you,” or a life saved. There’s help from unexpected places, or there’s simply hope. For Greaves, it’s peace amidst the chaos. “When I’ve had the opportunity to show my faith or pray with someone at work, I’ve physically seen the patient relax or heard a family member’s sigh of relief. I do believe there’s power in prayer and, more importantly, in God. He’s going to be there for this patient in whatever form He chooses.”
It may be hard to discern which impacts the other more. Does the stressful job drive someone to faith? Or does a strong faith make it possible to withstand a stressful job? Perhaps, it’s a bit of both. Bottom line, the best Boss Fernandez-Gibbs, Macomb and Greaves say they’ve ever had is God Himself.
Cheri Daniels Lewis, freelance writer