The sun was still sleeping when we rounded the last curb. Our company run was coming to a close. As the battalion came into view, quiet moans were loosed: shin-splits, latrine needs, dehydration, etc. My breath contributed to a subtle cloud huffing above our heads – a steam locomotive rolling into station.
At this moment, I remember watching the Sergeant Major (SGM) bend down and pick up several pieces of trash, while keeping pace up front. This impacted me greatly, as I re-learned something about work. Good ole-fashion hard work.
You see, the SGM was the senior NCO of our battalion. The Airborne Ranger never smiled and was never sarcastic. He carried himself in a way that made everyone else cower – and he had the authority to back it up.
So on that cold morning run: why on earth was he the one picking up trash? Apparently this was a habit, because a couple of weeks later, I saw the SGM walk onto our company CTA, carrying a handful of trash. Around week 8 I ‘caught’ him picking up plastic while exiting the PT field. Even on graduation day – medals and ribbons adorning his Dress Blues – the SGM walked out of his way to pick up litter while he made his way to our pre-ceremony formation.
Clearly, the SGM did not think it beneath himself to pick up trash. In fact, he thought it important enough to utilize extra time and energy in order to see it done. He did not call on a SGT or a Private to pick the trash up. He did it himself.
“Work is work,” I remembered. I say “remembered” instead of “realized” because I had already been taught this lesson by my father – but Oh how prone I am to forget it! Surely my preaching is more valuable than my latrine-cleaning, right? Surely it’s more valuable to cook a $40 ribeye for a senator than it is to wash dirty laundry, yes? Surely the leader of 800 soldiers and 60 NCO’s has better things to do than pick up trash.
He doesn’t, because work is work.
The question I need to start asking myself is not, “What am I doing?” as much as it is, “Am I doing this unto the Lord?” (Gal 3:23) or, “Am I doing my best?” (Prov 12:11). How dare I think that any task is beneath me. I hope for the work ethic of my former SGM, who seemed to exemplify Ecclesiastes 9:10 well: “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it will all your might; for there is no activity or planning or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol where you are going.”
The difference for Christians is that when our work ceases in “Sheol,” fullness of joy shall begin – and so “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God,” (1 Co 10:31).
Lesson Two: Good work is collar blind.