I’ve experienced life as a full time employee, but after the birth of our second child, I entered the world of part time work and discovered the merriment of choosing a job for extra funds more than for basic needs. It was sort of like entering the Land of Oz.
My favorite job was at a gym, a workplace so delightful I stayed for 7 years, until our move to Arizona snatched me away. I eagerly and confidently applied to every fitness facility near our new home, but got no response. I broadened my search, sending out at least 50 resumes, and wouldn’t you know it, the job I landed was that of a ‘child nutrition worker’ – also known as a lunch lady.
I knew this one thing as I reported for duty the first day: this would surely be my worst job ever. And with that kind of attitude, I quickly self-fulfilled my assumptions.
During these months, I wrestled with my broken dreams and my damaged ego. I hated lunch lady land. My overall demeanor was dreadful. No one could ask me about work, in fact, a lot of people didn’t know I had a job. It wasn’t really information I was happy to broadcast. I was contributing to the family income while still keeping the household running, but I was doing it all with much discontent. My husband begged me to hang up my hairnet for good, suggesting we could learn to live with less – a suggestion I wasn’t open to hearing, because I’m not a quitter. But who was I fooling? My paycheck – our fun money – allowed us to buy and do the extra stuff we wanted and I liked it that way. This wasn’t about quitting or enduring, I just didn’t want to live on a tight budget.
My working woes were even more complex than that. Serving up instant mashed potatoes in the school cafeteria had exposed another truth about me: my little part time job at the gym had become my big identity. It made me feel important and more interesting. I wasn’t ‘just a mom’ – a fun job title made me a ‘somebody’. Being a lunch lady made me a failure. My bad attitude didn’t stem from work aversion; it was the symptom of an overlooked identity crisis.
One week, I was moved to the kitchen managed by the most unpleasant lady in the school district. I was ‘chief bun-stuffer’, responsible for shoving sodium patties into nutrient-free buns. This was my task all day, every day. The salad maker’s station was next to mine and in camaraderie, she told me of her hopes and dreams. She shared that she had been making salads at the same school for 10 years, a stretch she had never planned, and if I had any hopes for myself, I should get out as quickly as I could. I’m not even kidding when I tell you I left that day and immediately called in my resignation. From the parking lot.
The Bible speaks of perseverance and endurance – noble qualities we would expect to read about – but when is it time to quit? Is there a time? The wise words of Solomon say there is. During His life on earth, Jesus called some people to quit what they were doing and follow Him into a brand new life. He asked others to stay where they were and simply live brand new.
Being a Christ follower means God’s Spirit lives in us as our Counselor and our Guide. He knows us individually and He is completely capable of directing us into the places where He will use us most effectively. Other times He directs us out. Trusting His quiet guidance takes courage and faith. And a lot of letting go.
I had envisioned my brand new surroundings as a perfect backdrop for recreating my old life into a better, updated version, but God had planned to give me a brand new identity. We had other work to do. It would pay big dividends, but there would be no paycheck. And no days off…