When You Have a Thankless Job

“I can’t wait to go home already,” groaned my coworker.

She and I had just spent a hectic two hours taking orders from waves of difficult customers. We were working in the drive-through at a local fast-food restaurant and were sizzling in the heat like the filets in the kitchen. One of our assigned tasks was directing the drive-through traffic so it flowed in a safe and orderly way, similar to a shepherd herding a flock of sheep (which gives me a rather amusing picture of how the Lord must feel when he deals with us).

The driver of the last car, who blamed us personally for running out of Sprite, had just driven around to the window, spewing expletives out behind him.

Serving in the Service Industry

This experience isn’t unique. I’ve worked in the service industry for almost five years—since I was 15—with previous employers including a sandwich shop and a minor league ballpark.

In the service industry, the people are both the best and worst part of the job.

There have been days where the second I walk into work, I want to leave too. My colleagues and I are yelled at, disrespected, and treated merely as vessels to obtain desires. Not many people look at us at all, let alone in our eyes. You would be amazed at how few interact with us as if we’re human beings—I always like to say that the people are both the best and worst part of the job.

It’s monotonous, exhausting, and not for the faint of heart. People who work here often fall into two categories: they’re here as a last resort or are hovering here until “something better” pops up and tempts them away.

Content in All Circumstances

However, I’m content to work in the service industry for the rest of my life.

“Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God,” says 1 Corinthians 10:31. I don’t see the service industry as drudgery but as a singular opportunity to serve countless people. If I scorn the job God has handed me, I’m thumbing my nose at him, telling him I’m too good for it. This is pure arrogance.

I don’t see the service industry as drudgery but as a singular opportunity to serve countless people.

Every task I have is a God-given opportunity to glorify him by serving the people who walk through the door, and that’s an honor—just as it would be to preach the gospel in the jungle. It’s an honor to clean tables so the next occupants can enjoy a meal without wallowing in the mess of the previous customers. It’s an honor to carry an overwhelmed mom’s order to her table so she can corral her kids. It’s an honor to reconcile complaints with empathy, realizing we’ve erred and have just added an extra hassle to someone’s day.

Sometimes I must grit my teeth and remind myself of all this. Other times, I completely forget. Yet the truth remains: God doesn’t divide our work into categories of mostly glorifying, kind of glorifying, and not at all glorifying. We are the ones who use those categories, contrary to his Word. Every vocational purpose he gives to his people is important to him—including the service industry.

Faithful Work

It’s still so easy to fall into despair. How are these small actions at an insignificant restaurant even making a dent in the darkness that gathers in every corner of the world, especially when no one seems to either notice or appreciate your efforts?

Paul has an answer for us: “In the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:58). Notice he doesn’t promise we’ll feel this fact, nor even that we’ll see the fruits of our labor. Tim Keller paraphrases this verse well: “If the God of the Bible exists . . . then every good endeavor, even the simplest ones, pursued in response to God’s calling, can matter forever.”

It isn’t our job to tell the Lord which industry will produce the most fruit and then direct him to place us there immediately—in fact, as 1 Corinthians 10:31 also tells us, if the object of our work is to achieve results, then we’ve missed the point entirely. No, let’s not be like Thomas, who needed visible proof to believe (John 20:24–25). The Lord has said our work done in response to God’s calling will be fruitful, and we must trust in that regardless of whether we see it come to pass on this side of eternity.

“I can’t wait to go home already,” groaned my coworker. She and I looked at the new line forming, full of people who were grumpy and hungry after completing their workday. My coworker looked annoyed. I understood her exhaustion, yet at the same time, a wave of compassion for the customers swept over me. This was probably the worst possible time to go home. We had work to do.

Emily Ellis

Published by Intentional Faith

Devoted to a Faith that Thinks

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