When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, â??Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.â? Luke 19:5
A driving rain pelted me as I ran to the front of the building, only to hear that maddening clatter you get when you pull on locked glass doors. Mercifully, an elderly woman moved towards the doors from inside, and in short order had me comfortably settled in the lobby. Like an elegant hostess, she sat with me there---dust rag in hand---and chatted as I waited for a senior manager in the firm to show up for our meeting.
"I clean this office," she said in what I later learned was an East European accent, moving her arm in a sweeping motion to show me the lobby. "What do you do", she asked me. I told her a little about my work as a chaplain, and she perked right up. "I, too, am a Christian." She said it with a certainty and a satisfaction that must surely have pleased God. I waited for her to tell me more, but only silence followed.
"Am I keeping you from your work?" I asked, not wanting to get her in trouble. She shook her head to indicate I wasn't, and then explained that she always finished early, and added, "I like to come down here and watch the people come to work." There was a hint of loneliness to this last statement, so I asked her more questions about her story.
At first her answers were brief. It was obvious she was used to short attention spans, people asking questions to be polite but with little interest in the answers. When she realized I was interested, though, she settled into the role of storyteller with alacrity. I was treated to delicious tidbits of her personal history that had us both smiling.
All the people who were important to her were no longer around. I wasn't made privy to the details of their absence, and my hostess-turned-storyteller had too much dignity to complain. Whether they died or moved away or simply neglected her wasn't part of the tale I had permission to know. Only once, when she was telling me a part of someone else's woes, did I get a glimpse of her own thoughts. Describing that person's loneliness, she said quietly that "...they only want to matter to someone."
It's a phrase I hear repeated about as often in my work as any other, though people seldom say it directly. In a work world that values efficiency and action, that places great emphasis on busyness and productivity, that wrestles to squeeze the most out of every action, one of the byproducts is often loneliness. It's a disease as prevalent in the senior reaches of a firm as it is in the bowels of the operation. It stretches outside the workplace to our families, leaving children feeling this same gnawing emptiness that haunts adults. Always, the sentiment emerges: "I only want to matter to someone."
For most people I meet, telling them they matter to God is not enough. God seems distant and surreal to people who have little or no tangible connections to other human beings. But the reality of a loving God literally leaps out to those whose loneliness and isolation is ended by mattering to someone here on earth.
It struck me as I listened to my hostess on that early gray morning that one of the most important ways workplace Christians can serve God is by caring about the people they work with every day, especially those who usually fall below our radar screens.
Among the many majestic things about Jesus during His time on earth was His wonderful ability to notice the lonely, and to reach out to them in warm and intimate ways. "Zaccheus," Jesus said, "I must stay at your house today." How important that must have made Zaccheus feel! How easy it is for us to love others simply by taking note of them. If we truly wish to honor God at work today, then we do that best by honoring those He created who work in the next cubicle or the next office, whether they're wielding dust rags or the power to hire and fire us.
When my friend the senior manager arrived for our appointment, he greeted my hostess by name and thanked her for taking care of me while I waited. She nodded shyly and smiled, then looked at me and answered, "I didn't want him to be lonely in this big place."
I wasn't, thanks to her.