When I was growing up, my mother would constantly tell me to mind my attitude. This most often occurred while I was doing household chores at her request. What she meant was for me to not only respect her but also be gracious and grateful, even while doing chores. I heard what she was saying but did not understand what she was asking, nor did my attitude approve — for years. How, I asked myself, could I be anything other than aggravated, peeved, irritated and upset? Wow, was I wrong. It was not until decades later that I understood what she meant.
While we cannot control our circumstances, including the chores of life and the friction created by our interaction with others, we can control how we think and what meaning we give to the actions and activities of others. This frames how we react to those actions and activities; our change in attitude then creates changes in those around us.
As a teenager, I sometimes cleaned the baseboards in our house, but I lived in a house that provided shelter. I sometimes washed and dried the dishes, but I had food to eat.
Decades later, I have come to realize that the way we approach life influences the way life unfolds before us. We each get to choose to be grateful for what we have or be frustrated by what we don’t have.
My first paying job was cleaning the bathrooms in the First Baptist Church in Carrollton, Georgia, which our family attended while I was growing up. It was a great job for me. My hours were flexible, as long I made sure the bathrooms were cleaned before Sunday and Wednesday. While some might have been embarrassed about such work, I took pride in making sure that the bathrooms were all clean and shiny for the parishioners. To me, my job mattered.
Raised Baptist, I spent time reading and memorizing Scripture. Colossians 3:23 reads, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.” This verse provides us with the recipe for success at work: to work as though your job is important, and to do it to the very best of your ability, as though you are working for the creator of the universe.
Today, many people look upon work as just a way to get paid. Clocks are watched; jobs are done to the minimum standard required, and sometimes not even to the minimum. Work is considered drudgery, a four-letter word, something to escape from or avoid if possible.
What would it mean if we were to shift our attitude, to truly believe that the work we engage in is sacred, even if it appears to be menial or trivial, to be carried out as though our boss is God? It would mean doing our best every day, which, frankly, can be exhausting, which is why we are often encouraged in the Bible to rely on God’s strength, not our own.
Why is a political columnist writing about sacred work? Politicians, too, have a call to view their work as sacred. If work is sacred, and if God calls on us to love one another as we love ourselves, then we can’t hate our political enemy. If this is true, we should not disparage, belittle or lash out in anger — easy to say but hard to do. How do we advance our ideas while respecting and loving those with whom we disagree?
This can be done only when we change our attitudes. We must start with the understanding that everyone has the freedom to believe whatever they want, even if we totally disagree with them. We still have to love them, which means we still have to engage with them along life’s way. We have to turn the other cheek when we are belittled, disparaged or yelled at in anger, even if it’s frustrating, tiring and occasionally exhausting.
We should strive to win people over, not by fighting against our political enemies but by loving them — with respect yet firm in our stance. The key to doing this is attitude. We should be grateful that we are part of the freest, most prosperous nation in the world, so free that anyone can articulate what they believe in, even if it does not seem to make sense to us. Our job is to love them, to attempt to communicate with them in terms they understand and, when we fail, to start all over again.