“Thank you for working today.” I look her in the eye and smile. Genuinely, I’m thankful for her service. We’re all off work and gallivanting around town with family and friends, while she is there, scanning items over the check stand.
Boop, boop, boop… go my items as she finds each label and places the items in a bag.
My comment stops her in her tracks. She looks up and smiles, and almost laughs.
“You’re the first person to thank me for working today. I’ve been here working since midnight.” I look at my watch. She started at that check stand 10 hours ago. She must have checked out hundreds of people in the course of the Black Friday rush; no one noticing her, or at least acknowledging that she gave a day that most Americans have off of work- to work, serving the rest of us.
I leave clutching my bag, great deals at the bottom, but with a sense of frustrating wonder.
Why was I the first person to thank her?
Has our society become so commoditized that we expect people who check us out at the store to do so with no acknowledgement on our part of their dignity, their worth, and the fact that their work can be service to the Lord as well?
And even if they don’t know or acknowledge their work as such, we who are called by the Lord have a different vantage point. Maybe they are common grace to us. But we often don’t see it that way; even when we’re greeted with a smile, and a genuine ask of “How’s your day going?”
I don’t think we see other’s service and work this way often. I certainly didn’t see it this way for so long. There remains a hierarchy of vocation in our society. We aspire for our children and ourselves to go into certain industries and not others. We except certain service from those we pay- a person to clean the house or car, our barista who makes the coffee, the man or woman who drives our garbage truck.
There are those jobs, those industries, that remain almost invisible- and yet, even without our acknowledgment, their work remains dignified by the Lord. The custodians, the woman who cleans the bathroom at the mall, the man who works in the factory, placing the same part on the same product for 8, 9, 10 hours a day. Their work matters deeply to the Lord.
We who work in the world of words, or rhetoric, or arguments for justice and those who may work to keep others alive as doctors or nurses; those who watch the markets to see where our dollars may end up at the end of a given day, and those who pass on knowledge to others as teachers, or artists who work in their minds manipulating imagination to bring ideas to reality- For we who are called to these types of vocations, it’s easy to see those in other industries as there for our service.
I hate even seeing those words written- because while it’s reality, it’s the antithesis of everything that God has called good in work. Work as an offering of service, rather than a demand of it. Work as an offering back of worship, rather than a place where our egos are stroked and our successes racked up on a scoreboard.
Maybe it ‘s the conundrum of privilege- we don’t see, we don’t acknowledge certain types of work, because we don’t have to. We don’t see, we don’t acknowledge what another has done for us because we expect it, and are too busy in our own worlds, working on our more intellectual jobs on our smart phones, as we wait for another to finish their job working for us- making our coffee, checking us out at the grocery store, driving the bus we ride on to get to our ‘more worthy’ job- or so we think…
But if God is the author of work, ALL WORK, which He is, then we need to rethink the ways in which we, often unknowingly, brush off another’s vocation. In God’s economy, everyone has a place at the table.
In God’s economy all work is valid. All work is important. Whether you’re a landscaper, or a chef; a mathematician or a pastor. Whether your work is technical or creative, whether you work with numbers or paint, with people or chemicals. Whether you work with nature or work to enforce the law. Whether you are selling something or cooking something- your job, your vocation, your work is valid.
And I would venture to say, not just YOUR work, but THEIR work as well. The ‘other.’ The one who is so diametrically apposed to you and your life, THEIR WORK MATTERS, too.
You see it’s not just that our work is our melting pot and conduit of worship, but that theirs is too. And when we dismiss them or think they are lower than us because of their given vocation at a certain time, or gloss over when they ask us how our day is, we devalue that which God has given to them to do to contribute to the flourishing of our city.
Your work is valid because it’s through your work, that the work of God is manifested. Your work is valid because it’s through your work that you can participate in the work God is already doing in the world. Your work is valid because it’s through your work that you can reflect and reveal God. Your work is valid because it’s through your ordinary work that the power of God can be ushered into your life and the lives of those around you.
And that is just as much true for you as it is for those in service industries, retail industries, and as it is for those of us who work differently than we do. In God’s economy there IS NO HIERARCHY OF VOCATION.
The irony that I, a white middle-upper class female is writing this piece, is not lost on me. I do realize that I don’t know the struggle much of our city and country and world have as they work two and three jobs just to put food on the table and keep the lights on. But maybe, it’s precisely from this particular milieu that I can be transformed by God to see things differently, and speak to those in my similar situation.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t know the first thing about driving a bus for twenty five years- day in and day out like my next door neighbor, or what it’s like to keep a marriage together when both husband and wife are working seven days a week, ten hours a day- three service jobs between the two of them- with two little boys to care for in the in between times, like a woman I met yesterday. I don’t get that. And maybe that’s why God is waking me up to the fact that I have much to learn about the depth and breadth of his common grace through hard working people and vocations that are so far away from my experience.
It’s almost like God is saying, “But, please, oh, please…don’t forget. You too are dust, and the work I’ve given you is not better or worse than the work I’ve given to the next guy or gal… but it’s YOUR work to do. So do it well, and to the best of your ability. And don’t forget the other, the ones who are doing THEIR work well and to the best of their abilities.”
When we first moved to Bellevue, our garbage woman stopped and got off of her truck. She walked around it, and put her hand out to introduce herself to us. She pulled out a lollipop from her vest pocket and handed it to my very wide-eyed one and half year old. It was a two-minute interchange, before she was off and back on the job. But its impact has remained now, almost two years later in my mind.
We had more than just trashcans for her to pick up. We were more than just ‘one more house’ on her route. We were people, with dignity and worth. Value enough to stop and learn a name, and smile at a little boy whose house she would visit the outside of once a week. To her, work was about more than just doing a job. It was about PEOPLE and serving the people whose trash she took, well.
God has used this instance to teach me, again and again: Our work is for the blessing of the nations; our work is for the flourishing of the city. And when we don’t give another the opportunity to bless, to speak kindness, to serve well- we handicap their ability to live out their vocations as well as they can.
You see, our lives become deeply richer when we reach across vocations and get to know people who do work very different than ours. Because all work holds dignity and the power to reveal God in the world. When I keep with the value of society holding hierarchy in vocation, I miss out completely on the ways in which God is revealing himself to the world through my garbage truck driver. When I stay with the hierarchy of society I miss out on the diversity of God revealed through the barista and the PhD.
I know it’s hard to break down the barriers of the hierarchy of vocation, because that’s just not how the world works, but God has always been above the social moray of society. I know it’s easy to stay within our comfort zones of economic and educational status. But, life in the kingdom of God has a deeply rich education in the use of the poor, in the use of the day laborer, in the nannies and stay at home mom or dad. Life in the kingdom of God can be revealed in a wider and deeper way through the doctor and the software developer.
Because we need you, you who work in intellectual terms. And we also need them, who care for children. We need you, you who work with chemicals and steel. We also need them, you who design and craft. We need you, you who drive and build. And we need them, who cook and clean. Your work is revealing to us, the world, who God is, and man oh, man do we so deeply need to know God through the ways you, and they, work.