Like a lot of people in this economy, my former student Stephen Williams is “underemployed” right now. But he understands the doctrine of vocation. Read his account of how working in a fast food joint is charged with spiritual significance and gives him occasion to love and serve his neighbors.
From Stephen Williams, Ambushed by Beauty and Chicken Nuggets – Humane Pursuits:
I pull my car into an empty spot in the K-Mart parking lot that lies just behind our store. Glancing at the clock, I say to myself, You’re pushing it, bro. Regardless, I stop to take a deep breath before heading inside. A thought begins to cross my mind. I attempt to rebuke it, but instead I think it anyway.
This is not what I thought I’d be doing at twenty-seven…
It’s the same observation I make at the beginning of every shift at Chick-fil-A, regardless of how many times my arrogance in entertaining it has been reprimanded over the past two months. I love the company, and I am grateful for the environment here and for the paycheck, 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. I know this thought is patently wrong on so many levels, yet I still have a hard time pushing it away as I walk through the front door.
Nora, one of our cashiers who effectively functions as the store grandmother, greets me with her thick North Carolina accent and reminds me that it is Family Night – easily the best night of any week at the store. She follows up, “You get to see your babies tonight!” I can’t help but grin at the prospect of the dozens of laughing kids who will arrive in a few hours. Why are you complaining again?
For now, I concentrate on prepping the dining room for the evening rush. I restock the condiment bar, make sure the bathrooms are functional and well-supplied, and search for renegade nuggets hiding beneath the booths. It’s golden hour outside, and, as usual, my heart picks up a little to see the light stream into the mostly empty restaurant. Thank God for my “window on the west” that allows me to track the sun through each moment of its happy farewell.
As I’m washing the entrance windows, however, I open the door for a haggard older man who steps into the vestibule but doesn’t enter the dining room. He’s still there five minutes later when I pop the door open and tell him he’s welcome to come in take a load off his feet. He murmurs something about wanting to get in from the cold as he shuffles inside and sits down. His left hand is holding a black plastic bag that appears to be clinging to a glass bottle. I fight back a tear, and my chest starts to ache a little.
I move on to the windows on the other side, scrubbing furiously as I struggle to know how to respond to the gentleman. I can’t do NOTHING! “I was hungry and you gave me food to eat…” But what if he’s not homeless? I don’t want to insult his dignity…
I decide to get him a glass of water, if for no other reason than to attempt to console my conscience. He smiles gratefully. It is only after I am walking way that I remember the rest of the verse. “I was thirsty and you gave me water to drink…” It is too much. I walk quickly to the bathroom and shut the stall door and attempt to compose myself. He’s gone when I come back out.
There’s not much time to ponder the man apart from breathing a quick prayer for him as the dinner rush comes in. In a matter of fifteen minutes, the store goes from near total silence to utter chaos with the presence of children. I can’t help but grin as I watch the once-spotless dining room transform into a laughter-filled disaster zone. It is a beautiful chaos.
One thing vocation teaches us is not to despise any kind of work, no matter how “lowly” it appears to be.
Some of us have jobs that we enjoy, are fulfilling, and that we love to do. That’s fine. But others have jobs that are not that way. But they need to be done. Typically, those jobs–hard, exhausting physical labor, monotonous factory work, cleaning up after other people on a garbage crew or hotel housekeeping staff, or, yes, working in a fast food restaurant–are MORE directly of service to the neighbor than softer jobs, even though they pay less and the public is so ungrateful as to look down their noses at the people who perform them.
Furthermore, as I know from my own experience working on a construction crew, those of us bred for and preparing for “higher” professions can learn a great deal and grow a lot by doing those kinds of jobs for awhile.
So let us thank those folks whom God has called to those tougher and more sacrificial tasks and thank God for them.