It’s always been difficult explaining what I do for a living.
The majority of my friends have never really had any barriers hindering the way that they live. They have never had trouble completing simple, daily tasks such as bathing, eating, or sleeping. They get along with friends at school and colleagues in the workplace. They don’t experience what it’s like to live with a disability or chronic condition of any kind.
“Occupational Therapy? So, what do you do, exactly?”
“Well, to put it simply: we help people live meaningful lives.”
“Oh...what does that mean?”
It means different things for different people. We work with the elderly, the homeless, children with autism, veterans and amputees. There is not one population or category we serve. Our goal is to restore life in people. And that’s exactly what “occupation” refers to in our title. It’s the occupation of living that we’re concerned with. What is meaningful in your life? How can I help you accomplish your dreams, in spite of your “condition”? How can I instill this truth in you: that you are not defined by your disability or your diagnosis? You are seen, heard, and cared for. Your life matters.
And when I first heard about occupational therapy, it became abundantly clear why I need to pursue it: this is the work of Jesus.
Yes, it’s hard to explain what I do. But I love that I actually can’t explain what I do without talking about Jesus. I can’t separate my ministry from his because they are one in the same.
Jesus is the master of meaningful life. He cares deeply about each person’s soul. When we read about him performing a miracle of physical healing, he wasn’t just restoring function — he was rejuvenating hope and renewing the person’s spirit.
Jesus is a holistic, life-giving king. He cares about every part of our being: spiritual, physical, emotional and social.
I’m reminded of my time serving as an occupational therapy intern at an elementary school with students who were slightly behind. It may have looked as though I was simply doing exercises to help with fine motor function. But if you watched our time together closely, you would have seen that there was a much deeper purpose in my work. Many of these children were ostracized and made fun of at school. They felt discouraged, defeated, and absolutely hopeless when it came to schoolwork and making friends. I care about these things. So when I watched them progress in the classroom, I felt an overwhelming sense of joy because it means so much more than just better grades — it meant a whole new experience emotionally and socially, enhancing their life trajectory overall.
My second internship was at a mental health institute for homeless men and women. Although the work I did with them looked completely different from my work with the students, it’s core purpose was identical: love, serve, empower. On the outside, it looked as though I was merely helping them find housing and manage their finances. On the inside, I desperately wanted them to know how loved they are. These clients of mine had spent their lives feeling rejected, isolated, and completely unlovable. My desire was for them to know how extravagantly and wholly loved they are by our King. I was, once again, striving to be the hands and feet of God.
Jesus spent his ministry bringing the marginalized into the center. He took those who society called “outcasts” and claimed them as his own. He ate with them, conversed with them, and ultimately changed every aspect of their lives. His boundless love turned hopelessness into promise.
Jesus is a king, yet he is also a servant. He gives without expecting anything in return.
This is what he wants from us. I believe his call for occupational therapists is to continue investing in the people on the outside; continue serving the oppressed because that is where his heart lies. Holistic healing and empowerment of the marginalized is kingdom work. As I reflect on my time with the students, the disabled, and the homeless, I’m reminded that this is exactly where Jesus would be. He doesn’t just make life meaningful, he is the giver of life itself. And we can’t simply call ourselves occupational therapists. We are vessels through which Christ’s love shines. His ministry is being accomplished through us.
From a kingdom lens, my vocation then becomes easy to describe. I am simply pursuing the ministry and healing work of Jesus.