Wednesday, July 18, 2007

267. two quotes

Update on the work situation, Harold has inexplicably been doing better. He's been getting more work done and with fewer errors which is a relief to me because a nuclear bomb of a project just got dumped on our section and we both need to be operating at full capacity to get it all done on time.

Maybe this sounds bizarre but even though my job doesn't involve much personal interaction (most of my day is spent with boxes and files), I've come to believe that doing my job with excellence is just as valid a way of spreading the Kingdom of God as any. Here's what I mean.

Being an agent for the Kingdom (aka being a Christian) means making the world around you a bit more ordered and beautiful than when you found it and doing this as often as you can in whatever way you can. I used to think that doing Kingdom work only counted when you were working with people (preferably widows, orphans, and/or the poor). This thought always troubled me because I'm a pretty introverted person - meeting new people stresses me out and I hate making small talk. As an introvert, I used to think that I was useless as a Christian since I don't like talking to people on planes or while waiting in line at the bank or at the grocery store.

I'm not sure how I came to see things differently but I've come to the conclusion that spreading the Kingdom of God involves ANY activity that makes the world look or feel more like it would if the Fall had never happened. For me at my workplace, this means that when I take a few extra seconds (and that's usually all it takes) to straighten up files in a box (instead of leaving them cluttered), I'm doing a bit of Kingdom work. When I tape up a box that's about to fall apart instead of just throwing it back up on the shelf they way everyone else would, that's Kingdom work.

Some might question how doing this very impersonal work counts as fulfilling The Great Commission and while the results aren't as tangible as, say, a Billy Graham crusade, it's the bit of the world where God has placed me and I will tend to it as best as I know how. That is what it is to be a Christian. That is how God's will gets done on earth as it is in heaven.

But, some might object, it's just a box of files.

Yeah, it's just a box of files but you know what? When I initially opened that box of files and saw how messy it was, I felt shat upon because the person who had been at that box last didn't care enough about the next person to leave it in an orderly fashion. I like to think that when I take that little bit of extra time to straighten up the files before putting the box back, that when the next person pulls that box out they will be surprised by how nice it is inside and how easy it is to flip through the contents to find the file they need.

Now our warehouse holds millions of boxes and tens of millions of files so it sounds stupid of me to say that my tidying up the hundred or so boxes per day that I deal with makes any discernible difference. And it's not like people can tell who straightened up a box or even that the box was straightened up at all - for all they know, the box just arrived from the client and so it had never been messy or out of order before they got to it.

True enough but take a look at Matthew 6:1-15 - a portion of the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus outlines the agenda of his Kingdom. There's a lot of talk about not doing things for show but doing things in such a way that only God sees the good that you do. I don't think this doing-things-in-secret only applies to giving alms and praying. I think it applies to each and every area of our lives. Sure, I might never get credit for all the tidying up I do, but it's not about getting credit. It's about doing the right thing even if (especially when) God is the only one watching.

Now before you get the wrong idea, let me confess that I'm not always up to the task. Sometimes because of a looming deadline, sometimes because I'm just too lazy, sometimes because I'm just not in the mood, I do leave a box as messy as when I found it. My bad.

Two quotes that help me work the way that I do:

First, Mahatma Ghandi said, "You must be the change you want to see in the world."

I think of what an amazing place work would be if everyone treated boxes and files the way I do when I am at my best. That would kick ass but I'm not holding my breath.

That's where the other quote keeps me going.

In her book, Plan B: Further Thoughts On Faith, Anne Lamott writes about the nonviolent social activist, A.J. Muste and how during the Vietnam War, he stood outside the White House holding a candle night after night. On one of these nights a reporter asked Muste if he really thought his vigil would change the policies of the United States.

Muste replied, "Oh, I don't do it to change the country, I do it so the country won't change me."

In my previous post, I talked a bit about how I felt like work was changing me into someone I wasn't. Muste's quote is a bulwark against that tide. Maybe no one will ever notice the work I do to keep boxes neat and tidy. That doesn't matter because I'm not doing it to get noticed. I'm doing it so that this relentless, impersonal job doesn't change me. And that's far more important than recognition.


SweetlyDemure said...

Your post encourages me, as I am also not in an ideal job situation and it is a struggle for me to always remember for Whom I am working.

Oh, but the work He is accomplishing in you as you are obedient to Him in your job is unfathomable! I hope this isn’t weird for me to share, as I do not even know you (I’m a friend of Mitchell’s), but I am so excited for you! What you are doing, your attitude and perceptions; they may not make sense in the world’s eyes, but then, I do not think they are supposed to. Keep fighting the good fight!

rjgintrepid said...

Your post reminds me of a story I have heard a few times about the boy and the starfish. The boy is walking along the beach picking up starfish that have been washed ashore. There are hundreds of starfish, dying on the beach, and a man is watching the boy pick up one at a time and toss each one back. The man asks the boy why he is bothering to do this-"don't you know there are hundreds of these starfish? You're not making any difference." The boy picked up a starfish, tossed it back into the ocean, and replied: "it made a difference to that one."

Here's to being faithful.