coronavirus

Real-Life Superheroes: An Ode to Essential Workers

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By Benjamin Quinn and Nathaniel Williams

COVID-19 has taught us a lot—about ourselves, our eating habits, how often we touch our faces, how little we actually cook and more. But perhaps the most important lesson we’ve learned during COVID is a new definition of superheroes. 

Before COVID, our day-to-day superheroes included celebrities — athletes, musicians, actors and actresses, social media influencers and so on. But when the global pandemic hit and priorities shifted, our beloved celebrities were quarantined like most of us. No ballgames, concerts or rallies. Why? Because when push comes to shove, we can do without our entertainment. 

The real superheroes emerged during COVID. We can do without the concert, but we need the truck drivers to deliver so the grocery shelves are stocked. 

We can watch reruns of NBA playoffs, but we pray the garbage truck still runs as scheduled. 

We can cook our own meal tonight, but we beg the doctors and nurses to care for our friends and family.

While many of us stayed at home, working remotely or binging our favorite shows, medical professionals put their lives on the line to treat patients. Grocery store clerks manned their registers and stocked shelves. Truckers delivered supplies across the country. Postal service workers and delivery drivers brought us our mail and online purchases. First responders were always on call, ready to serve at a moment’s notice. And the list goes on and on.

These men and women left their homes, braved the pandemic and kept working. In the process, these essential workers proved themselves to be real-life superheroes.

Essential workers proved themselves to be real-life superheroes.

What COVID-19 Teaches Us About Work

As we reflect on their work and example, we can learn a couple of important lessons about essential work.

1. The value of your work doesn’t depend on its glamour.

These essential workers’ jobs are not among the most glamorous. Neither the janitor who cleans the hospital rooms, nor the grocery store clerk stocking shelves with toilet paper, nor the trucker driving through the night to drop off his shipment will make the cover of Forbes. Few children aspire to these kinds of jobs. These people often toil behind the scenes, doing the tasks the rest of us rarely think about.

But from their example we learn that the value of your work doesn’t depend on how glamorous it is. In fact, these decidedly unglamorous jobs have been among the most essential. The Apostle Paul said something similar in his letter to the Corinthian church:

The parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor…. God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it. (1 Corinthians 12:22-24)

For so long, these workers have lacked the honor they deserve. But their work truly is indispensable.

2. The value of your work doesn’t depend on its wages.

Think about the workers who braved the pandemic — nurses, truckers, janitors, grocery store clerks, delivery drivers, postal service workers. We don’t think of these jobs as lucrative, high-salaried positions. Instead, most of these jobs are decidedly blue-collar, with employees who live paycheck to paycheck. But these workers kept our communities and country afloat.

From this example, we learn that the value of your work doesn’t depend on the size of your paycheck. In fact, more often than not, the opposite is true. While athletes, actors and other high salaried workers sat on their couches, these essential employees went to work.

For so long, we have equated a job’s importance with the size of the paycheck. But your work is valuable — regardless of your wages. 

Before Jesus was performing miracles, He was building cabinets.

3. The value of your work depends on God.

If our work isn’t valuable because of its glamour or wages, where then do we derive the significance of our work? Thankfully, the Bible helps us answer this question. When we first meet God, he’s at work, “[creating] the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). Later, God creates the first human beings “in his own image” (Genesis 1:27). And God charges them to work like him since they are beings made in his image. “Fill the earth and subdue it,” God told them (Genesis 1:28b). “Work [the garden] and keep it,” he said (Genesis 2:15b). Our God is a worker, and he created us to work, too.

Later in Scripture, it’s as if God goes to great lengths to show us that certain kinds of work are no more valuable than others. Before Jesus was performing miracles, He was building cabinets. The disciples Peter, Andrew, James and John were fisherman. The Apostle Paul was a tentmaker.

Perhaps these truths reveal to us that God doesn’t rank jobs like we do. Indeed, he gave us all the responsibility to do something with the gifts, skills and talents he has given us. Our work is valuable because God made us to work. And when we do our work to the glory of God, he is magnified.

Most of the time, those with glamorous and high-wage jobs garner the most attention. But recent months have shined a light on those “essential workers” — those humble, hardworking men and women who have worked, kept us going and as a result, become our superheroes.

Essential workers, your scrubs and hardhat are your cape and cowl. When you go to work, you serve your community in a way envied even by Avengers. Let not your paycheck determine your value, but your faithfulness to God and neighbor.  

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  • coronavirus
  • current events
  • vocation
  • work
Benjamin Quinn

Associate Professor of Theology and History of Ideas

Dr. Quinn is an Assistant Professor of Theology and History of Ideas. He also serves as the Associate Dean of Institutional Effectiveness for the College at Southeastern. He is the co-author of Every Waking Hour.

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