When we think of the intersection of work and calling, many of us think immediately of our long-term career aspirations. Despite most of us beginning our careers in some sort of menial labor, these are not the types of services or stations our culture deems significant or inspired.
Yet for the Christian, economic transformation begins where creator and producer meets neighbor, no matter the product or service. Our fundamental calling is to love our neighbor, and that begins the moment we get our hands dirty. God is glorified in all of our labor, and that includes the work of the fast-food cook or the late-night cleaning crew.
“Loving your neighbor is not just taking them soup when they’re sick,” says Pastor Tom Nelson, author of Gospel Shaped Work. “It’s making a good hamburger.”
As Nelson explains:
I not only love God, but I love my neighbor by making them a good hamburger and serving them. That is transformational at whatever level we do, but particularly in jobs that are menial.
One of the things I love to do when I’m traveling is I often go into a bathroom, and I make a habit of finding people who are cleaning bathrooms, like in an airport. And I just look them in the eye, and I’ll say “thank you for what you do.” Sometimes they’re really surprised, but I’ll look at them, and say, “your work really makes a difference.” And you would not believe the smile I often get on their face. Nobody ever tells them. They’re almost invisible.
And if they’re Christians, again, how important that would be: that they would see their work, even cleaning a bathroom, as something that loves their neighbor and worships God.
The nature of our work is much clearer and more certain than we think. Let’s not forget to remember the importance of all of our work, regardless of the public or cultural (non)recognition it enjoys.
As Lester DeKoster puts it: “Up-front types make news, but only workers create civilized life. The mosaic of culture, like all mosaics, derives its beauty from the contribution of each tiny bit.”