This weekend I participated in a outdoor event about two-hundred-and-sixty miles from here, in between Columbia, Missouri, and St. Louis. There were hundreds, perhaps thousands of participants and spectators. It had rained, hard, for a couple of days just prior to the event. To say it was muddy would be a bit of an understatement; they had tractors on hand to pull out stuck vehicles on their way to and from the parking area. The surface varied from soft to mush. Whenever people tried to make a new path to avoid the mire, they quickly created new mire.
From the approaches to the registration area, throughout the eleven-mile course, I was struck over and over at the size of the support staff needed for such an event. From the less-than-romantic task of setting up and servicing portable toilets to ensuring a massive supply of drinking water, from registration to awarding headbands and tee shirts at the finish, from staffing booths for first aid and souvenirs, from safety supervision of the twenty-five obstacles, including in-the-water divers at the deep pool high jump, there was no part of the event that did not require an extensive group of support personnel, nearly all of whom were volunteers.
At each water station, at each place supplying food and supplements, I was careful to say “thank you” to the people who helped. It takes an incredible number of people and an immense effort on the part of all to successfully deploy an event like this. This is also true in virtually every other workplace as well.
Whether factory or farm, college or cottage, or any other place of collective employment, there are many people who provide the behind the scenes effort that makes the work possible and productive. Without them, the rest of us have no employment. Teachers, physicians, bricklayers, attorneys, production workers, and virtually everyone else relies on others in order to simply have a job, much less to be able to concentrate on that job so it can be done successfully. Most of those support workers don’t expect a lot of attention, don’t expect a lot of publicity, don’t demand a lot of recognition.
But the one thing that is almost debilitating to them is lack of appreciation. For the most part, they have accepted the fact that other positions get more notice. But there’s hardly a one of them that doesn’t like to have a little simple acknowledgement from time to time that what they are doing is an essential part of the process. It may be small, it may even be tedious, but it makes a contribution. Ironically, it is the fact that it is routinely performed in an effective manner that makes it easy to take for granted.
I think when Jesus told us that we must become servants if we desire to achieve greatness, he was talking not only about humility but also about accepting that our work will often pass without praise and honor. But that in no way implies that we should be oblivious to the work and contribution of other servants. Indeed, it should make us keenly appreciative. Those who intentionally notice, value and encourage the work of others will find greater meaning and satisfaction in their own work. And just might find themselves more valued than they can imagine. Sincere appreciation is one of the greatest gifts we can give one another.