“This is not what I thought I’d be doing at twenty-seven.”
So says Stephen Williams, who, while enjoying and appreciating much of his daily work at his local Chick-fil-A, continues to feel the various pressures of status, mobility, and vocational aspiration.
“I love the company, and I am grateful for the environment here and for the paycheck,” he writes in a series of stirring reflections. “But it’s humbling to tell many of my accomplished, high-flying friends that I am not currently doing something more ‘impressive’ with my life.”
As Williams goes on to demonstrate, there is meaning and beauty to be found in our daily work, no matter what our service or station.
Throughout his day, he not only feeds hungry mouths and maintains the bricks and mortar, he engages in a range of relationships. He welcomes an elderly homeless man, offering him a drink of water and a place to get warm. He shakes hands with day-to-day “regulars,” exchanging the typical banter. He assists an exhausted mother, praying for her and her kids under his breath. He plays “Knight Stephen” with young “Sir Wyatt,” a regular patron of kids’ meals.
As all of this aptly shows, our work is service to others and thus to God, and not in some merely transactional sense. God uses the work of our hands, no matter how simple, no matter how mundane, to connect with hearts and minds.
Williams concludes by revisiting the recurring refrain:
This is not what I thought I’d be doing at twenty-seven…
The thought hits me again, but with a far different force than before. It is humbling to work here, but not in the way that implies shame. Who am I to so readily dismiss a job where I witness the entire spectrum of human emotion during the course of a single shift? Who am I to think ill of this chance to observe – over and over again – the miracle of childhood and the poignancy of prayer? Who am I to think that the transcendent things that happen every night in a southern Virginia fast food joint are in any way of lesser importance than those that happen elsewhere?
Who am I? I am just a fellow traveler, seeking a Homeland along with each of the souls I met tonight. And that is enough.
As Lester DeKoster writes: “The meaning we seek has to be in work itself.”
Or, as Williams prefers to put it: “The beauty you seek is not elsewhere, bro…Keep your eyes open. It’s often right in front of you.”
We don’t have to force it. We don’t have to stretch it or endow our work with beauty and meaning. If we are serving and loving and opening our eyes, the meaning is already there.
Where do we find the core of life's meaning? Right on the job! At whatever work we do -- with head or hand, from kitchen to executive suite, from your house to the White House. New Foreword by Stephen J. Grabill and Afterword by Greg Forster