I believe we all have a spiritual need to serve one another. In my work as an Employee Assistance Counselor I see it over and over again displayed on the faces of workers at all levels whose souls have been wounded in their efforts to serve.
My first job was as a waitress at the ripe old age of fifteen. As a late-life child my family was disintegrating at a rapid pace. The death of my father at thirteen, alcoholism and my siblings fleeing the scene left me with the impression that I was of little value to anyone. But it didn’t take long for me to discover the deep and rewarding satisfaction of serving others. People tipped me; they asked to sit in my section they said thank you. I was addicted. I added yet another job at a bridal salon, and finally a third making hotel reservations for Holiday Inns. I missed my share of football games and dances but I didn’t mind because I mattered, people needed me. I know some of you are thinking I would make a good poster child for codependency, but bear with me.
After working my way through college, I spent seven years in the mortgage industry and then went back to obtain a degree in counseling that qualifies me for my current position. I work with employees who are struggling in many aspects of their life, and they always seem amazed by the fact that their work has become so important to them. I believe we all have the need to serve and to do it well. When we feel we aren’t able or can’t find the right opportunities to use our gifts we suffer spiritually. And I am not talking about just counselors, nurses or waitresses. I think of the school janitor who sprinkles the pink sawdust when you throw-up in the hallway, the stay at home mom who grieves her empty nest, or the nursing home aide who sinks into a deep depression when her worker’s comp claim is denied because she feels the company she has worked 12 years for no longer values her service, or the engineer who is downsized and begins using alcohol and other drugs to numb his pain.
It is easy in these tough economic times to view our jobs as just a means to earn a paycheck but that kind of thinking so minimizes our worth. Our work is our way of participating in God’s act of creation. Martin Luther King Jr., said to the striking Memphis sanitation workers, “Everybody can be great… because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace and a soul generated by love.”
There is great dignity is every act of service to another. It is through our work paid or unpaid that we find dignity and spiritual meaning. This I believe.