“Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.” (Psalm 139:7-10)
Can I tell you a secret? I hate my job. After years of writing, english and art classes, public speaking, and a liberal arts education—through several (at the time sensible) decisions I ended up as the little receptionist of a rather big political consulting firm.
I expected such a position would give me ample opportunity to do what I love best: connect with people. Between phone calls, guests, and scheduling, surely countless people would cross my daily routine, and I, like I had in jobs before, would have the opportunity to shine my cheerful smile and the light of Christ across their path.
What has instead come to pass is perhaps the most humbling process I have ever voluntarily submitted myself to.
I sit alone in a front lobby almost as large as my apartment—complete with industrial flooring, glass doors and walls, and a flat screen TV which runs the muted news all day. Four chairs, their bottoms larger than their backs, lounge like minimalist art statues around a magazined table, flanked by the aforementioned tv and two dying plants. At different points in the day the office is so quiet you could hear a pin drop, at others the muffled reverberations of laughter drift from the sections of coworkers down the hall.
Most days the phone rings less than four times, (I inevitably forward the call or take a message). Most days we have under four guests—whom I escort to the appropriate place (properly watered and coffeed).
Sometimes, of course, things get interesting. A package arrives and I must sign my last name. One time I wrote training material. Four precious months of my life were spent doing thousands of pages of data-entry. On a particularly memorable day, somebody called the front desk and let off half a dozen F-bombs.
But most days I buzz people through the locked front doors, clean up the kitchen and conference rooms, stock the fridge, and try to pass my nine-hour work day as productively as I can.
The loneliness is the worst part. For a variety of reasons (which have given my psychologist streak ample material for hyper-analysis), people simply don’t stop and talk to receptionists. It’s sorta like I’m furniture. Even my boss has only given me about three five minute conversations since August.
Once, (and I mean once), a visiting woman turned and looked me right in the face and said “Thank you!” for the drink I’d brought her. Its sincerity was so out of the ordinary it went through my heart and buried itself deep inside. I nearly cried later.
I’m like the contractor they’ve hired to sit desk and wipe up their coffee spills. Not a proper coworker at all. On a team of one.
My usual optimism and runaway imagination have not aided me. After seven full months, the only part which has improved is that I no longer have emotional breakdowns on my husband twice a week. I hate it as much as the week I began.
But that is not to say that I am not learning and growing a great deal.
I have daily fights with resentment and bitterness. Furthermore, I have had to struggle against the basic instinct to put my identity and worth in my work, accomplishments, and reputation. Because I think I have my whole life. I think we all do. “I’m a teacher.” “I’m a mother.” “I’m a programmer.” What we do matters and too often defines us.
But what I do every day does not matter. And I don’t want it to define me.
I feel an unwelcome comradery with the cleaning lady I see every few hours, the five or six UPS, FedEx, and delivery men I see every week, and the bus and metro drivers who take me to work every day. I don’t want my job to define me.
My instinctive reaction in the face of such monotonous drudgery is to smile brighter—to work even harder to connect and witness. Maybe those precious seconds with guests—maybe they will matter! But even at a job like mine, such thinking can only take you so far. You can’t make people stop and talk to somebody they don’t even fully realize is there.
And without words, my smiles are office flowers—sometimes droopy.
So I’ve been thrown back—again—to square one. If I, like so many people in our society, shudder to put my identity in being a cog in a machine—what do I put it in?
“You make known to me the path of life; in your presence is fullness of joy.” (Psalm 16:11)
Christ. Christ. Christ. He of all people had reason to boast. Son of God, Ruler of Angels, Miracle Worker, King of Kings, Lord of Lords.
And sometimes, on good days, I can wrap my head around Him coming to earth: He had a divine plan, and He submitted Himself to a Divine Will. Even the nativity story can grow stable-ordinary.
But I am struck of late with His washing His disciple’s feet. Most of all Judas’. It says in John that “he knew who was going to betray him” (John 13:11). Yet He washed every single disciple’s feet.
I wonder how He felt when He got to Judas—when He lifted those dusty, sweaty feet—the kind that had worn the same pair of sandals every day for years. Imagine the smell. Dirt under the nails. Hair kinda slimy. Did Jesus look in Judas’ eyes as He wiped the grime away? The same hands that had turned water into wine washed the traitor’s feet. And He did it with a thousand times more love, forgiveness, and humility in His hands and eyes than when I (too often begrudgingly) wash counters and fill fridges with water.
If Jesus can wash His friend’s feet—and His enemy’s too—I can do today’s equivalent of mundane and thankless tasks with a humble spirit.
Now mind, I don’t say this to recommend taking a job like mine—if you can find meaningful work I think you are by far better off. But I am saying that it has taken being in a job like this to even glimpse how much in the way of humility I need to grow.
Humility. I used to think it was an attitude, as in “not boasting”, not feeling the need to air your accomplishments. Sure. Okay. But I’m learning it’s also a way of living. Living humbly. Being ok with not being noticed, not doing anything note-worthy, and serving gladly anyway.
I am learning to give my reputation over into the hands of the Lord, for I have no control over what anyone thinks of me (good, bad, indifferent). I can’t change that being a married Christian woman in a male and single dominated office makes me a bit of an anomaly. (Drink and party on the weekends? How about cooking and cuddling with the husband?)
I am learning to hide away my identity in Christ, to give it to Him for the safest of keeping. For in my own hands I have found it to crumble quickly.
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy, but I come that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)
Sometimes it feels like my coworkers are the thieves in that verse—stealing my joy with belittling comments and passive demeanors. But they aren’t. They are not so powerful—let alone so purposeful. The only thief capable of stealing my joy is fear. “The fear of humility … / The fear of being lonely … “ (Audrey Assad)
And I am not alone. My lobby is in the very court of my King. My heart is in His presence. And there is fullness of joy.
And I suppose when it comes to it that is the best witness I can give—trusting that even a faltering testament that goes unnoticed somehow glorifies God.
And I would rather be a doorkeeper in Your house than live my life anywhere else.