A few weeks ago, I was at my weekend retail job silently cursing to myself. I was upset, feeling over it, and feeling pretty embarrassed.
But let’s jump back a decade real quick.
Jersey City was my home during college. I interned at MTV, helped plan large scale university events, did service in Honduras (while surviving an earthquake), and got a degree.
A few years later I got another degree. Married the love of my life who birthed the world’s most precious baby, and took on several master’s level positions in the higher ed field. The resume was on lock.
Then disaster struck. My brain was hijacked. Our life and finances in shambles. My situation dire.
2019 crawled forward and the world kept moving as it does. I eventually picked up weekend work in the fall while continuing to be a stay at home dad during the week.
And let me tell you, though I am over the moon about getting to raise my daughter so closely and for so many hours a day, I felt a great sense of pride when I was cleared to work again.
My therapist and psychiatrist told me I was “stable”. Stable enough to get a retail job and finally help a little with the bills.
I went from having back to back to back jobs with free housing, an excellent credit score (yeah, I was in the 800+ club), and money in tha bank, to spiraling to a really low place with lots of debt, tears, and pretty much the opposite of everything I worked with my family to build.
So off to work I was. I told myself my number one goal was to create an amazing experience for every guest that came to my lane. I’d bag their items with a smile, take genuine interest in them, and give them the service I’d expect.
October 2019 was me as the comeback kid and a busy Christmas season later, I’m still here. I’m still smiling – except for the other day when I stood silently cursing to myself while shuffling in carts from the parking lot and emptying trash.
“I have a master’s degree. What am I doing emptying people’s trash. How did I end up back in this stigmatized class of unskilled workers. I didn’t sign up for this! I worked so hard NOT to be here!”
And I didn’t, but God spoke to me in the gentle way He does when I’m feeling weak, broken, triflin’. He said, “Fam, what’s up? Have you forgotten what this all really means? Have you forgotten who you are and whose you are? I love you but you are no better than anyone.”
I’ve struggled with the idea of humility for a long time. I’ve been resistant to the idea that we’re all on the same page. Surely having more money, more degrees, better credit scores, more accolades, better character and morals, better better, surely all that put you further along and higher than others who weren’t working as hard.
Surely I could work to be better than those who gave up easily, committed crimes, held petty grudges, gossiped, lied, did their worst on purpose, pierced their upper ears and got lower back tattoos. Right?
Once, I even debated a close friend on this. I was high up on a horse that hadn’t even left the stable. I was judgmental with a capital J and indignant to a fault. I’d earned the right to be this self-absorbed and myopic – to be better.
Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t think it took having a world shattering manic episode to humble me, but I’ve certainly learned a new – more compassionate – version of humility amidst the ashes, the hurt, the pain, and the loss. So much loss.
So as I tied that trash bag and hauled it to the back of the store, I realized – just a little more – how it’s important for us to resist thinking too highly of ourselves. Especially when much of the world lives without clean access to clean water or clean air.
Especially when all of us are broken in some way and in need of reconciliation.
Especially when none of us could do any good for anyone else by dying on a cross.
Especially when the richest of the richest still struggle with skeletons, mental illness, and grief.
And definitely when the person you secretly compare yourself to every time they pop up on your timeline still experiences hurt, loneliness, and insecurity.
All of this is a reminder of how short we fall, how messed up we are, and how we need to really actually die to ourselves daily so we don’t forget how to love and show up fully to the people who need us most.
I believe humility is an understanding that we can’t effectively serve others until we get out of our own way. I don’t wanna take advice or guidance from anyone who’s condescending.
And, I’m betting you don’t want handouts or pity from anyone either.
What we want is for someone to say, “I see me in you. Neither one of us is perfect. And still we get to do life together and give all that we can while we’re here.”
My hope and invitation today is for you to reflect on the small ways in which you puff yourself up, distance yourself from people you’ve judged, or have been hard on yourself because you’re not where you should be in life (I’m talking to the unemployed person, the person on medical leave, the person who just got out of jail, the person back in a rehab situation, the person who just fell off their diet again – the imperfect person).
My hope for you is just to get in touch with the whole, failure prone, probably-undeserving-but-still-worthy person that you are. That I am. That all of us are. Imperfect. Beautiful. Messy. And, though sometimes unnoticeable, loved.
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