September 16, 2016
Over the course of my career it has not been uncommon for someone to come and tell me they lost something important. Usually, the lost item is found on a desk, in a locker, or a bag. Every once in a while the item was thought to have been accidentally thrown away. After the initial panic and a little bit of looking, even a lost item in the garbage is usually recovered among the paper refuse that accumulates in the classroom, no worse for the wear.
This week something important was thought to be lost in the garbage. And not just the classroom garbage or a small trash can such as the one where I practice three-pointers in my office.
To rewind a little bit, a school produces a large quantity of garbage: scraps of writing paper, piles of pencil shavings, mounds of paper towels, and, worst of all, leavings of breakfasts and lunches. And while garbage in the city gets picked up twice a week, the Wednesday morning garbage collection includes trash from as far back as Friday afternoon.
In searching for this lost item, it was determined that we would have to go out check the bags of garbage that were put out for collection. So, with two of my determined colleagues, I walked to the curb to check each of the thirty-something bags filled with the putrefied artifacts of the week previous in search of our lost treasure.
We began to pick through the bags, one by one, to no avail. It was around the sixth bag when our hearts dropped to see the garbage truck turn the corner and begin down the street. At this point it was clear we had two choices: we could leave the trash to fester for another three days or we could give up the search; neither seemed like the correct choice.
As the truck pulled up, our dejected faces stained clothes surely gave us away. I explained the situation to the Sanitation Workers, prepared to give up the search. Instead of telling me they were on a schedule, or that the GPS in their truck would notify their boss that their truck was taking too long, or any other reasonable explanation why they just couldn't stay, they came up with a plan for us to continue to look for our lost item. Just as I was ready to admit defeat, the Sanitation Workers, who had no reason to stay and offer us a solution, offered us compassion.
I am humbled.
I am encouraged.
I am reminded of Philippians 2:1-2: "So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind."
This folks, is servant leadership.
This is the encouragement we have in Christ.
A dirty job that requires a tight schedule to serve millions of people each and every day, sanitation workers keep our city moving and clean, taking away what we don't want. A job that doesn't receive as much respect as it deserves. This is their job, what they do every day. Going above-and-beyond for a small school in Maspeth is not part of their job description.
In that 15 extra minutes that these men spent with us they demonstrated that affection and sympathy, even when we didn't find our lost item after all. They showed us Christ-like love and comfort when we ourselves were feeling lost and dejected, elbows-deep in day-old pizza.
Christ does not forget about us, even when we feel like the the trash and not the treasure.
Humbly serving Him,
P.S. Ultimately, our lost item was found, thank goodness, not in the garbage.