Someone who could be a teacher now is taking me to school. She is fairly capable of doing some of what I do. But she is emptying my trash, and she accepts it as God’s plan for her life at the present time.
Her degrees are from a school in another country. The transfer of such content and the work to get equivalent credit is a challenge of paperwork and fees and bureaucracy and patience. Meanwhile, since there was nothing else, she had to care for her children and support her husband’s ministry in this new country. So she took this job working overnight in maintenance. I see her every morning, quietly coming through the halls and into our office suite, where she comes first to my office and empties the trash. Just last week I found out that she had these advanced degrees. My first thought was one of an educator – so why is she not using those degrees? I was unaware of the complicated process of gaining equivalent credit and degree standing.
As I ask the question, she cannot even look at me in her response. A combination of humility and frustration bound by obedience cause her to look away in her answer, as she painfully describes the process but then humbly accepts that this opportunity here doing this work is what God has for her right now. As I listen, I am touched by her faithfulness to the call on her husband’s life, and her unassuming efforts to do what needed to be done to serve her family.
But as I sit here and think through this discovery, what has changed? Have I pity for her status? So now I realize now that she could be doing something else much more “valued” in the culture, particularly ours. After all, I have people with her degrees teaching students in our program. Yet she is emptying my trash. Then I wonder if I would have treated her any differently, knowing what I know now, even though she has been emptying the trash for all this time. Would I have treated her differently, or should I treat her differently now? I hope and pray that I have always treated her the same, as a woman of quiet dignity who is doing a job to serve her husband and bless her family. I knew some of that before, and I hope that with her or with anyone else, that I would have treated them as if they were royalty – because she is. She is a daughter of the living God. I knew that early on, and I did honestly seek to treat her as a fellow follower of Christ.
Certainly our Bible tells us to treat each of those professing Christ as children of God (John 1:12; and Romans 8). I also know that as people of faith we strive to treat each person with the same dignity, as persons created in the image of God, whether they have come to this realization or not [For this I would reference Matthew 15 where Jesus speaks to the Syrophoenician Woman who suggests that she would accept the crumbs meant for the actual Children of God, meaning the Israelites; also the many passages about loving our neighbor as ourselves; see also Philippians 2:4].
I wonder how many people I pass each day who are sons and daughters of God, working in humble settings or in high-rise office buildings; fixing deals or fixing cars. How have I responded to them in the past? Our cleaning lady is living faithfully in a situation which she did not pursue but she did accept as an opportunity to learn humility, as she waits to see what the Lord has next in store for her. Eugene Peterson in “The Message” version of the Bible interpreted Proverbs 15:33 like this: “Fear-of-God is a school in skilled living— first you learn humility, then you experience glory.” Perhaps much wisdom in our culture is “knowledge puffed up” (1 Corinthians 8:1 KJV). James tells us that wisdom should teach us humility: “If you are wise and understand God’s ways, prove it by living an honorable life, doing good works with the humility that comes from wisdom” (James 3:13 NLT). Perhaps I’m not as wise as I thought. You knew that already! I need to learn more humility; and now I know the perfect instructor.