We were stuck on the roof. The rest of the crew had gone home for the day, leaving Steve to finish caulking the seam between the gutter and the rubber roofing. Steve was incredibly slow and not incredibly bright. For a variety of reasons, Steve wasn’t allowed to drive company trucks. So when the rest of the crew got tired of waiting and took one of the two trucks back to the shop, they left me—the college boy on the roofing crew for the summer—behind with Steve until he finished caulking. It would be a while.
As he worked his way around the roof’s edge, Steve came upon the ladder. It was leaning in his way as he caulked the seam, so he pushed it away. It crashed on the lawn—two stories below us! The ladder was our only way off the roof. The homeowner was on vacation. I couldn’t bring myself to yell at Steve; he was already distressed. He kept berating himself, “Why do I always make dumb mistakes?”
Steve was twenty-five years my senior. He had what was at least an over-developed love of alcoholic beverages and may have had a learning disability of some kind. Nobody on the crew liked him because he was unreliable, made costly mistakes, and was always looking for handouts. One time he knocked his cigarette ashes down through a knothole into the attic below. We were spared a fire by God’s grace alone.
The next hour (until a kind passerby replaced our ladder for us) gave me an opportunity to develop a compassionate heart for Steve. He needed a drink in a bad way, and he had already smoked his last cigarette. As he fiddled with a piece of rubber, we sat, waited, and talked. He was a lost soul, a hurting soul.
It dawned on me that Steve was as much a part of God’s creation as any of the rest of us. He was lonely, diseased and doomed to spend his life bringing up the rear, but God loved him. And tragically, he didn’t know about it. Even more tragically, he was a racist, and declined my invitation to the church picnic because it was a majority-black congregation.
This man was as unattractive a person as one could find, but God changed my heart that evening to compassion. It’s not that I couldn’t have discovered compassion elsewhere, but there is so much more involved in compassionate workplace relationships.
A summer job can be as formative as you want it to be. Of course there is the wages. And there is that ever-elusive “relevant job experience” with which to pad your resumé for after college. But more importantly, if you’re intentional about it, your summer job can help you become the person you want to be.
The ways you live your life this summer will help shape how you live life in general. Author Annie Dillard wrote, in The Writing Life, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” In other words, how you approach your summer job is how you live your summer, and how you live your summer is how you live your life.
Author Annie Dillard wrote, in The Writing Life, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” In other words, how you approach your summer job is how you live your summer, and how you live your summer is how you live your life.
That’s not to convey a sense of urgency. Our contemporary lives are far too important and rushed. A summer job can actually help us to break out of those patterns, and establish a healthier pace for the rest of life.
Without planning, a precious summer will pass you by. But the most important aspect of your summer job is not the five-year plan, not the money, not the resumé. It’s about the moment-by-moment living.
College life can become abstract and divorced from reality. Life in the academy is about the future. It’s about planning and preparing. The routine of work, on the other hand, can reconnect us with the meaning of life. Humans were made to be productive. When we work, when we contribute, serve, build and repair, we regain a bit of the humanity college extracts from us.
That’s not the best part. Summer jobs are about relationships. They allow us to meet entirely new kinds of people and learn brand new skills. Fifteen weeks on a crew can make you a tight group, and can allow you to learn from experienced folk, as well as enable you to be an agent of God’s mercy.
That day on the roof with Steve, I came to understand that God cared about my hard heart as much as Steve’s broken body. I had the fortune of being able to submit to God’s molding and shaping; Steve had spent his life resisting God. God had called me to that crew, to be a taste of heaven to a lost man.
As far as I know, Steve didn’t respond to Christ’s offer that summer. But by God’s grace, I did. I learned about the dignity of work, and the dignity of fellow humans. I learned to have a job, and to discharge my duties with a whistle. Not bad for a summer hauling shingles up a ladder.