Beginning about a month ago, I started working 2-hour morning shifts in the custodial department. From 6:00am to 8:00am each week-day, I'm either vacuuming, wiping windows, vacuuming, emptying trash, or vacuuming in various buildings and dorms on campus. It's a good job because I'm done by 8:00 in the morning, I get some exercise, I work with some great people when the vacuum isn't running, and I get paid! But outside learning how to most effectively clean buildings, I've gleaned a few other important lessons as well.
At the start, the job wasn't easy. I was sore from repetitive movements I wasn't accustomed to. I was exhausted from the 4-5 hours of sleep I managed to get. I was less than cheerful after walking through the dark and cold and rain before 6:00am. But most of all, I was surprised and disappointed by how I was treated. People would often act like I wasn't even there, not bothering to say "Good morning" as they passed me on their way into the cafeteria. I could come into a dorm, vacuum, and leave without the person on the couch even looking up to see who I was. I told myself that maybe I was just being ridiculous... but sometimes I wished someone would say "Thank you" or ask how my week was going. Instead I felt like I was intruding on their life, that I didn't really matter to them.
After several mornings of these dreary thoughts, I was walking back into my own dorm after work and saw a young guy cleaning the doors of the building. I thought, Has he always been there? How long has he been cleaning my building? He didn't look up as I approached, and I knew he fully expected me to walk by him without acknowledging his presence. I could do that, and I would be acting completely normal. In fact, I'd probably already done that dozens of times. But now I knew how it felt to be on the other end. And as he glanced up when I opened the door, I smiled. He smiled. I said, "Good morning." He said, "Good morning." I went off to my room. That was it. But if it had been me, I would have been grateful just to know I was seen and valued by someone.
In my attempts to fight off the judgmental, depressing thoughts when people treated me as invisible or inferior, I was reminded of Jesus. I remembered that Jesus actually came to demonstrate what it means to be a servant. When He served, He wasn't just ignored, He was hated. He wasn't just taken for granted, He was taken to a trial. And yet He served. That was the reason He came. Like He told His disciples as He washed their betraying feet, "The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many."
I wanted to learn how to serve like Jesus did. In my quest to be more like Him, I realized there were a few things that needed to change in me. First, I need to stop judging people. That's a long-term struggle that God and I are still working on, but I can already see how He's using this job to help me get past judgment. I realized just how many people I "ignore" like I hated being ignored myself. The cafeteria workers, bookstore clerks, janitors, security officers, and so many others. Sure, maybe not all these people feel as lonely and unimportant as I can, but maybe they do. Maybe my speaking to them won't mean much, but maybe it will. Better safe than sorry. No regrets.
Furthermore, I've come to admire what true service really looks like. I thought with all my years of "servant leadership" training, that I was somehow a great servant, that I'd arrived. Now, I realize just how little those position were actually serving like a servant would. In most of those volunteer jobs or opportunities I've had, I was getting the recognition of an "American teacher," the "traveling intern," the "church worship team member," or something else. Being in this custodial job is completely different, and completely necessary for me to understand more of true servanthood.
I've come away with this, and I hope it will encourage you as well:
- See those "invisible" people, and acknowledge their presence.
- Seek the positions of service that receive no recognition in order to understand what Jesus meant.
- Remember that we've never "arrived" at a place of complacent accomplishment. Our Father is always ready to walk further with us and grow us more.