“And he said: ‘I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.’” –Matthew 18:3
Who is more dependent on the kindness, gentleness and goodness of another person other than a child? They cannot earn wages on their own and have no resources at their discretion. They are not capable of building their own shelter. They can’t transport themselves in any efficient fashion. They can’t grow or gather their own food. They can’t fully educate themselves. Without parents, family or a guardian, they have no hope of survival. Anything they have comes from the love and support of those parents, family or guardians.
The same goes for the mentally handicapped.
Many of them have the mental capacity of children. Many of them are dependent upon family, friends or the government for their well-being. Most of them are completely grateful for that assistance. Most importantly, they don’t have egos to impede receiving or appreciating that assistance. They proceed through life similar to the way God wishes all of us would go through life, completely depending upon him.
While I don’t wish mental impairments on any person, I am thankful to God that he gave me one month during the summer of 1992 to work with the mowing crew at the First Chance center in Paoli, Indiana. That crew was comprised of a handful of mentally handicapped gentlemen. Except for losing my job and not being able to get a new one on my own 15 years later, the greatest lesson in humility I ever learned was the one that mowing crew taught me.
I had just finished a relatively successful junior year in college that summer of 1992. My grades were okay. I had broken into the starting rotation on the baseball team. I had a girlfriend. I was going to have my own apartment when I returned for my senior year. I felt pretty cool!
The summer prior to working at the First Chance Center, I had a summer job working construction at union wages. I worked the entire summer of 1991 making $13 or more. Back then that was good money period, let alone for a college junior-to-be. Because I was on call with the union hall, I had to wait for a call to report to a work site. It took a month to get that call in the summer of 1992. In the meantime, I accepted a supervisory job on the mowing crew at the First Chance Center. I made minimum wage, plus 50 cents. I never said it was beneath me to work for that wage, but in the back of my mind I couldn’t see how that was going to fund my senior year of college (and the many “unnecessary” social events active students get into in college).
The spirit of the guys on the mowing crew captured my heart, though. They exited the shuttle that picked them up every morning and took them to work every afternoon with a cheerful smile. They were happy to get to the center every day ready for work. They lined up at the time clock to clock in at the exact time their shift began. They were the first ones in the truck and vans that transported us to the work sites. While I was many times happy to have a rain-out day, they were actually appeared angry to have to sit out a day. They were full of joy every single day. They didn’t have the easy jobs either. Because most of them were handicapped, they were not allowed to operate the large John Deere riding mowers. Please note, though, that I did turn down opportunities to ride in order, instead, operate a string trimmer. I wasn’t completely wrapped up in me!
I always admired their enthusiasm and dedication toward their work. I never understood how much pure pride factored into their work until one day during a lunch break. I was under the impression that they also made the Federal minimum wage, which was $4.25 at the time. A third of the humble pie wedges I ate that day was the result of learning they didn’t make minimum wage because of some kind of governmental regulation. The other two-thirds of that pie came as the result of a conversation they were having that taught me to truly appreciate what I have.
As we sat in the warm sunlight eating sandwiches, I heard them reveling in the amounts of their previous paychecks. They were talking about the fact that they had earned more in the past two weeks than was typical so they were discussing what they were going to purchase at the discount department store across the road from their apartment complex. They were going to buy new jeans, new socks, and maybe even some new shoes. They didn’t mention anything frivolous like I would have had I made the largest paycheck of my life. There was no mention of music CDs, a better television or a car stereo. They were not slaves to their belongings like so many of us. They didn’t even understand what it meant to live beyond their means.
Money was not their idol.
Now back to the humble pie part. Remember, I thought they made minimum wage like me. Because of their disabilities they never worked full 40 hours a week as I did. I did know, though, that they had put in more than the typical amount of hours the previous work week. As I calculated in my head that I was making about $380 per pay period (and comparing that to what I was missing at my $13-per-hour construction job), I simultaneously began to try and guess “what their biggest paycheck ever” was. As it turns out, I was way over-estimating. What I heard pierced me. One gentleman, who was age 48 as I remember, made this 21-year-old cool kid cry. He, more than twice my age, had grossed a whopping $120 the past week! And he was ecstatic.
I struggled a little bit to think of a very personal story to tell of how I’ve failed at not putting other idols above God. I do put emphasis on money and that’s an easy idol to single out. But, trying to think of a specific instance that related directly to me was a bit challenging until God recounted this story to me. It serves as a double-edged reminder to me not to idolize money and possessions. It also made me grateful for what I did have and put a huge hole in my ego that told me I deserved a better job than mowing lawns for homes and businesses all summer. While I don’t remember it as often as I need to, God brings me back to this often.
The guys on that mowing crew approached life as little children. They didn’t fully understand their disadvantage and they never complained about their lots in life. They used the talents God gave them to their fullest extent. They had joy in their lives. Their idol was happiness. I don’t know if any of them idolized God or not but they lived life as God wants us all to live. They were appreciative of the blessings of work and physical abilities. They approached their jobs as I should approach life and my ministry. They showed up every day with no idols and I’m afraid that I don’t approach my work or my life that way. I wake up with worries and fears that only God, my caring father, can handle and will if I just give them to him. If I would just come to God as a little child, or like one of those guys on the mowing crew, I would find all my idols being torn down!
Those guys lived out Psalm 40:4 that reads, “Oh, the joys of those who trust the Lord,
who have no confidence in the proud or in those who worship idols.” (NLT)
The examples those guys lived would rarely populate hell. I need to model my ministry like that!