It happens to me just about every time and this week was no exception. I can’t watch Steve Hartman’s “On the Road” segment of the CBS Evening News without getting teary eyed. This week he told the story of Charles Clark who is a custodian at a High School in Texas. It was the end of the story that really got me as Charles looked into the camera and said “This custodian thing is working great for me. I got a great life”. Having to clean toilets and wipe tables for twenty five years did not seem like the typical road to success nor something that most people would aspire to. Despite this, Charles was genuinely content and fulfilled in what he was doing.
As you watch the video, you can tell that Charles takes great pride in his work and does it with excellence. You should hear him describe how clean his toilets are. Somehow though, I suspect it is his other job at the High School that makes his work so meaningful. He has taken time to counsel “at risk” students informally for all of the years that he has been the custodian. Many of these are young men who truly need a positive father figure in their lives. Apparently, his interest in their lives and persistence in mentoring them has paid off as many of these young people have gone on to college and to lead successful adult lives.
This week I spent some time at my church evaluating the core values of our community and how we can make a greater impact on the people that live around us. One thing became abundantly clear as we talked. Success is a primary core value of those that live and work in the suburbs. This can be defined in many ways, but often it means a good job, a great education, a big house and lots of money to spend on vacations and creature comforts. As we talked further it also became apparent that many people, including those in the church, are becoming exhausted as they aspire toward these goals. Success as we define it comes with a heavy price to pay.
Very often as people achieve success as defined above, they actually become more and more isolated from the neighbors and increasingly dissatisfied with their lives. Who has time to develop relationships when you are so busy checking off the boxes on the “to do” list of a getting that next job, that next degree or that next home. Before I sound too harsh in critiquing those outside the church, I have to confess that I see some of these same tendencies in my own life and in those that I interact with. All too often my own check list includes things like “ministry success”, completed projects, and events that need to be planned and implemented in the future. It is amazing how quickly my calendar fills up with these types of activities. If I am not careful, I can get just as exhausted and just as dissatisfied with my own life.
As I was thinking about goals for this year, it struck me that maybe I needed a new paradigm. Instead of pursuing a “just do it” mentality and working harder to accomplish my action points, maybe it was time to – Give Up and Give In. Instead of creating resolutions and making promises to myself, why not give up at the beginning. Not giving up on being successful, but giving up on doing it my way. Instead, I am pursuing a new goal, giving in to what God has in store for me. This has been a scary proposition, but also pretty exhilarating. I am learning to start each new day by asking God what He would have me do and it is interesting how often the answer involves getting involved in someone else’s life. It is amazing how pouring into others has the residual effect of making our lives more meaningful. Now if I can only embrace the other critical reality of this new approach to success – God not only wants to set the agenda, He is the only one who can give me the strength to accomplish it.