I graduated college in 2008 with a lot of high hopes for myself. Armed with good grades from a fancy private school, I thought employers would surely fight over me. Yet I didn’t want just any job: I wanted to serve. I had a passion to do something that felt truly meaningful to me, to help improve the world in some way. I was confident God would give me a job where I could really help the world.
Well, for the last three and a half years, I have had a service job. But customer service, in a cubicle, in a huge, gray, windowless building, wasn’t what I originally had in mind. Doesn’t God have a great sense of humor?
Actually, I have learned a lot from my current job about how to serve. For one thing, I’ve learned I’m not God’s gift to the world just because I have a fancy education. Here are some other things I’ve gotten the chance to work on at my boring, boring office job. (By the way, yes, my nine categories correspond to the nine fruits of the spirit, because I’m nerdy like that. And it’s true.)
Mother Theresa said, “We cannot do great things, only small things with great love.” I graduated wanting to do something big, something world-changing, something that felt important. But even the road to our most important goals is paved with mundane details. If we can’t do every tiny step with love, or at least the intention to love, we’re sacrificing the means to get to the end. I’m grateful for the practice my job has given me in doing small, everyday tasks like answering the phone and taking notes at meetings with love and attention, focusing on the people I have the opportunity to help in a small way rather than my own boredom or discomfort. And believe me, in my case, I need all the practice I can get.
Reporting for work in a gray, windowless building and sitting in a cubicle for eight hours a day may not sound like reason for joy. But in fact, it’s helped me focus on the true source of my joy. Hint: it’s not a corner office with a view. Through the gray in the gloom, through the repetitive tasks, I can still give thanks for God’s grace and for his many wonderful gifts to me, including the ability to make money to satisfy my needs and share with my loved ones. (Full disclosure: my office building is also located right behind a park, which is a great joy to visit on a sunny day!)
So I graduated in 2008, right? When I entered the job market for the first time, the recession was in full swing, and no one I knew, no matter their age or experience, was feeling peaceful surrounding jobs or money. People were losing the jobs they had worked at for thirty years. People were losing their homes and their retirement funds, and I myself, despite my college degree, took months to get a steady job. It was an extremely painful time, but guess what? I will never forget that no job is perfectly secure. The “peace that the world gives” is an extremely fragile thing, dependent on many things outside my control, but love never fails. That is where true peace can be found.
When you work in customer service, it is sometimes your job to serve a customer who is, shall we say, less than grateful for the help. Sometimes you are on the receiving end of unreasonable demands, rudely delivered, and unless it reaches truly horrific levels you are expected to remain “happy to help them today.” Objectively speaking, it sucks. However, in my experience, the fact that you are serving a person you’ll probably never see or speak to again makes practicing patience a little easier. This is excellent practice for maintaining a loving attitude toward those annoying people you do see and speak to every day, maybe even yourself.
Most of my coworkers (at least the ones I work with most directly) don’t make a lot of money, but over the past few years they have modeled generosity for me in so many ways. As a group, we have helped people in the office who are undergoing hard times pay their medical bills, give their kids Christmas gifts, even save a beloved pet’s life. Though the great majority of my coworkers have families of their own to support and they work very hard for their money, their outright eagerness to help others going through a crisis floors me every time. I hope they’ll continue to rub off on me.
The office environment is a great place to practice small acts of kindness. Crammed together as we are in our cubicles, it’s pretty easy to know what’s going on in my coworkers’ lives, whether they’re having a bad day, whether they feel chronically unappreciated. If I take this knowledge to heart, it creates countless opportunities for little gestures of support and care. Sharing cupcakes on someone’s birthday, bringing a cup of tea when they’re clearly sick, or leaving their favorite treat on their desk anonymously can help brighten someone’s day, but even more importantly, it helps form a habit of kindness.
Sometimes the appeal of world-changing jobs is that they seem so glamorous, so sexy, so full of potential photo ops. However, for every glossy photo, there are hundreds of hours of thoroughly unglamorous, unglorious hard work behind it. And lucky me, my job (like most jobs) is just absolutely packed with unglamorous, unglorious work. Thus, I can practice faithfully doing the mundane little things, following through on promises others may never know about, supporting superiors in their more visible jobs, and maybe paving the way to greater things. As Jesus said, if you’re not faithful with a little, who will trust you with a lot?
Trying day after day to do something I don’t love in a loving way is a great way to follow in my Teacher’s footsteps. If there was anyone, ever, who had the right to say, “I’m too good for this job,” it was Jesus. I mean, really? A carpenter, working every day with his hands? Surely this is no job for a King. And yet not only did Jesus work a common job, we know he also gently washed his disciples’ feet, taking a job only the lowest servant would do without a hint of pride. His humility, his gentleness, is one of the things I love best about him, and my job gives me a chance to practice it myself.
I’ll admit this is one of the areas I struggle with the most, particularly showing up on time and sticking to my assigned tasks even when I’ve been doing them for hours and it’s just so boring. But showing up on time and working hard isn’t just an arbitrary facet of office life. Self-control is needed for everything we do. Whether it’s band practice, volunteering, or a big family dinner, showing up on time and actually focusing shows that you care. The more self-control I have, the less I have to struggle with bad habits, and the more energy I have left over for loving and serving with excellence.
So as you can see, my wish to serve others was granted, and I’ve probably learned a lot more from this than I would have from getting the kind of job I wanted. I could go on, but I should get back to work.