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Day 25 of Lent: Who does the ‘dirty’ work? Who gets respect?

March 11, 2013

Verse for reflection: There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.1 Corinthians 12: 4-6 Today’s New International Version

Cleaning or janitorial work has to be one of the most under-appreciated jobs in an organization—or even at home. No one notices your work unless you don’t wipe down all the cobwebs.

I became aware of this when our church janitor was gone for several weeks. Persons from church were asked to volunteer. Somehow the lofty idea of “service” we hold in high esteem on Sunday morning takes on new meaning when you’re down on your hands and knees cleaning up someone’s drips in the toilet stall.

Being a janitor or cleaning woman is difficult not just because of distasteful tasks, but because it is such a low status job. Too many of us somehow look down on the janitor, which is strange, because “clean” is something most of us value.


By Daquella Manera, Flickr, Creative Commons License.

I cleaned houses one summer during college while living in the deep South. At one house, I felt like a maid. I had to clean the whole house including changing bed sheets twice a week, and do all the laundry. The woman, sort of like the wives and mothers in the book/movie “The Help,” would disappear all day to a full calendar of social events—clubs, bridge, teas, shopping—while I worked.

At the other house, I felt like the woman’s friend coming in to help out. On days when she had big jobs for me to do like washing windows or cupboards, she helped with the task to make the job go faster. She always asked about my family, and would fix coffee or soda for me, like a friend.

The jobs were much the same, but my feelings about them were different because each woman had a different way of relating to me.

I’d guess that many people who clean for a living take pleasure in their work.  My mother enjoyed cleaning homes for many years a few days a week after we were grown. Your mind can do many things while you sweep, dust and scrub. You can leave your work at the end of the day and not “take it home.” There’s an immediate result to show for your work. But I’d also guess there isn’t a cleaning person alive who at some point has felt unappreciated or stigmatized.

The scripture from Corinthians reminds us that all parts of the body are important, just like the jobs we do in a church, home or organization are important. One time after hurting my palm, I realized how important even that small body part was to many tasks—such as slamming the trunk of a car. Our palms are like feet in that they do most of their work without our ever noticing how important they are.

During this season when we try to live more purposefully, take time to notice and thank those who empty the wastebaskets at the office, clean the coffee mugs, mop the floors at church. If you are one who does these tasks, allow yourself to feel pride and joy in a job well done.

And go to the deeper level with today’s scripture by reflecting on roles in the church. Is cleaning, painting, mowing or taking care of the nursery really just as important as preaching and teaching in your church’s hierarchy? What about denominational moderator, stated clerk, executive director, pope? 

Action: Take time to write a note, email or verbally thank someone who does a job that is under-appreciated.


For a review of The Help, check Third Way Cafe’s Media Matters review.


From → Faith, Family Life

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