Lately, I’ve been working part-time at a natural foods store — the better to support my book writing and jewelry design projects. The store is part of a relatively small chain with great values that tends to hold onto people tenaciously. I keep meeting people in their early 40s who have been with the company for their entire career. If that doesn’t say something about the generation we have accused of failing to commit, I don’t know what does. Give them a task that matters — like providing quality food to the community — and the opportunity to continually grow professionally, and they’ll stick with it as readily as anyone with common sense would.
But I digress.
The question is of calling.
One Sunday morning, which is a day I generally am assigned to work, I overheard one of those career 40-somethings ask a skinny new hire who wears gigantic gauges and rides the gas range in our kitchen, “What’s your calling?”
And the new hire answered, without hesitation, “Protecting animal rights. What’s yours?”
My calling? ‘Right here.’
The 40-something, an African-American guy with dreads to his shoulders and one gold tooth, looked up from the pizza crust he was spinning, smiled gently, and said, “Right here.”
The first thing you should know is that for this particular fellow, “right here” is just about anywhere in our company, because he is our assistant director of operations. If you ever want to see servant-leadership in action, visit our store and watch managers from the corporate offices buffing the concrete floors or piling produce in artful displays.
But more important for me, that exchange gave me a chance to reflect on my own sense of calling.
During the last three years, I’ve collected various certifications for “21st century careers” that, combined, would allow me to insure you against the risk of having a web site design that could become contaminated with food-borne pathogens … or something of that sort. It’s been a wild ride into this new economy.
Called to the deli case?
So now I’m working at a deli counter so large and elaborate that a gal from Long Island paused in front of it for several minutes of stunned, breathless silence this weekend before announcing:
“This is a beautiful deli case!”
And I love my work.
- I love it when a mom is just trying to pick up a side for tonight’s supper and her baby won’t stop crying and I can give her a sample cup of noodles from a pasta salad that the baby chews on contentedly during the rest of their time in the store.
- I love it when the guy who runs the anti-virus division of a major international company is tickled that I remember him.
- I love it when a widow who has pretty much stopped cooking buys two “meal deals” (a protein and two sides, just $6 each on Sunday) so she has balanced dinners for at least two nights this week.
- I love being able to provide nutritious, high quality food to the cops and security guards who show up just after the store has opened but at the end of their shifts, when they are already looking for “lunch” or “dinner.”
Over my professional life, I’ve worked for truth as a newspaper reporter and copy editor; served ministry organizations as a communicator and fundraiser; held a corporate marketing communications job that allowed me to be a generous giver beyond my wildest dreams. Now I’m serving up chicken that’s free of antibiotics and hormones, salads made from non-GMO veggies — stuff that we call “natural” food and most of the world just calls “food.”
Called to show God, wherever
Where do you find “calling” in such diverse jobs as I’ve had? I think my job is finally simple enough that I can finally begin to understand. I never had a more complicated “calling” than this: To glorify God and enjoy God forever. And that can happen in any job. It can even happen behind the deli counter. It happens when I pray for a coworker with family in Nepal or for a coworker who has yet to learn contentment in all his many career changes. It can happen when I simply obey the commands God has given those who work in jobs like mine:
“Do not use dishonest standards when measuring weight, length, or quantity. Use honest scales and honest weights … I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt.” (Lev. 19:35-36)
Every time I weigh out a quarter pound of chicken salad, a pound of broccoli salad, a third of a pound of sliced ham, I am doing what God has commanded me to do in memory of God’s own great deeds on my behalf. God rescued me out of God’s kindness; it is my job to treat others with some measure of the same kindness. And God has been kind enough to teach me some of the measures of kindness I may use. Integrity is among those. I will use it today and every day.