My band director friend told me of his conversation with the school janitor. The band director was working in his office one afternoon, long after all the children had gone home. He had plans for a great halftime show and was hard at work making the charts for the positions on the field. The door to the band hall opened and the hardworking janitor pushed his cart inside; beginning his preliminary canvass of the room by arranging the chairs into neat semi-circles. There was trash everywhere, even though there was a large receptacle a few feet away near the door. As the custodian worked, my friend could hear him muttering under his breath. Not all of the words could be repeated here, but suffice it to say that he was unhappy.
“What’s wrong, John?” asked the director. “Oh, these stupid kids! They’re so lazy, they can’t even get their trash to the can. How inconsiderate can you get? All it does is make my job harder!” The janitor unloaded on his questioner. I can just see my friend, as the thought struck him in the midst of the unhappy worker’s tirade. The corners of his mouth began to twitch and his eyes to twinkle. Before the man was finished with his outburst, the director was laughing. “What’s so funny? Day after day they do this! I’m tired of it!” The frustrated man had expected sympathy, but never laughter. The band director then said, as kindly as he could manage, “You don’t seem to understand, John. Your job depends on these kids behaving badly. If they start straightening out their chairs and disposing of their trash neatly, you won’t have any work to do and will have to find a different job.” The janitor sputtered for a moment as he ran his hands through his hair a time or two. “I suppose you’re right,” he said sheepishly. “Well, I can’t stand around gabbing all day. They do this in all the rooms, you know.”
I would guess that the janitor’s job is safe, but the words uttered by my friend were true nonetheless. They still ring in my head every time I find myself complaining about the load of work under which I find myself. If it weren’t for those pesky (and I use the term affectionately) customers who make demands on my time, I know that I wouldn’t have a business, wouldn’t have any income at all.
All the same, I do sometimes feel like that Greek demi-god I learned about many years ago as we studied Greek Mythology in high school literature. This particular fellow’s name was Sisyphus (pronounced “sissy-fuss”). He had angered Zeus by claiming to be more clever than the chief deity on Mount Olympus himself. As punishment, Zeus had doomed Sisyphus to an unending task for all of eternity in Hades. He had to roll a huge boulder up a hillside, whereupon it would tumble back down to the bottom and the poor creature would have to begin the task anew, with exactly the same result every single time. Encouraging job, huh?
I would guess that we are all burdened with what could be described as Sisyphean tasks for much of our lives. The advantage we have is that we can choose the manner in which we approach the task. I have known many factory workers who have performed the same task innumerable times a day for many years and continue to do so with pride and enjoyment. That’s also what I see when our cleaning service crew comes to work at the music store. Like the kids in the band hall, we are not neat, nor even considerate. Yet these folks come week after week and straighten up after us. While they are here, they sing and joke. If I happen to be working at my desk, they stop and talk about what’s going on in my life, laughing with me about the amusing moments, and sympathizing with me about the sad events. Before they leave, they make sure to leave one or two pieces of candy on the counter for us to enjoy when we come back in the next day. They come in with joy and leave it behind them when they are gone. Never mind the horrendous mess they have to contend with in between.
No, I don’t think that either the factory workers or the custodians enjoy the interminable repetition of the single task they do day in and day out. But, they are able to look beyond that, to realize that their work serves a purpose in a bigger scheme. They are able to enjoy the company around them as they work. They are able to see the benefit their work is to their employers, their family, and to their community. In short, they don’t focus on the task, but on the reward. I’m not just thinking about the paycheck when I use the word “reward”, either. There is more to life than what we realize in a monetary way from our work. If all we work for is a paycheck, I’m thinking that the task becomes once more, a Sisyphean one. We have pushed the rock up the hill, achieving the goal of a salary, only to need it again tomorrow, and next week, and next year. There is no end in sight to the colossal monotony.
How do you view your work? Do you hate what you do? Try focusing instead, on who you are doing the work for. The Apostle suggests that we work for God. I’m pretty sure that as we work for Him, we will lose sight of the hardship and the boredom and can focus on the service. In the end, we are always happier when we serve those around us than when we are self-serving and completely focused on our own comfort (or lack thereof).
Sure, you pushed the rock to the top of the hill today and when you come in tomorrow, it will be at the bottom again. That’s a good thing. You’ve got another day to learn, and to serve, and to grow. You might even be able to enjoy and encourage the people around you, all of them pushing their own rocks up the hill too. I’m pretty sure that we’re all better off as we find ways to help make the tasks and the days pass joyfully instead of in drudgery.
And now, I’m beginning to think that possibly my rock has reached the apex of its path for today. I’m headed for home and bed. Somewhere out there, some kid has broken a key on his clarinet…again. That and any number of tasks will be mine for tomorrow.
Around here, we call that job security.
“Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.”
“To generous souls, every task is noble”
(Euripides~Ancient Greek playwright~480-406 BC)
© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2012. All Rights Reserved.