At 4:30 a.m. on a snowy December morning, all I had on my 13 year-old mind was getting each nearly-frozen newspaper off my sled and onto each customer’s porch. The faster I could unload papers, the sooner I could melt back into a toasty bed. But I stopped after ten houses, glancing back.
Four newspapers had missed their targets by a mile, each sticking out halfway in the snow. Hey, I was paid for delivering newspapers to the premise, not customized handling. And besides, my toes were cold.
I thought of the elderly couple who lived at one of those homes.
The next morning I returned to my usual route. This time every newspaper landed on a porch, and I placed a few, the ones I’d went back to the day before, just inside the storm doors. And for the elderly couple, whose storm door was locked, I deposited a plastic bag-wrapped newspaper in the mailbox adjacent the door, same as I’d done the day before. But when I opened their mailbox this time, I found a small package wrapped in Santa Claus gift wrap, with my name on it. Inside was a pair of wool gloves that fit perfectly, and a note shakily written to match the writer’s voice. Thank you for placing the newspaper in our mailbox. Sometimes it’s hard for us to pick it up.
And when I got my first real job on a payroll at 16, at the local hardware store, I pushed the shopping cart for a middle-aged woman and loaded paint cans and houseware items into her car. She couldn’t walk very well.
I was paid to work in the store, and to load heavier items like bags of sand and mulch and salt rock, and to only go out to the parking lot to retrieve empty shopping carts. I wasn’t paid to push a customer’s cart, but I did it anyway. She thanked me and offered a five for my trouble. I politely refused.
I think of the numerous times during my professional career, when I’ve stepped outside of my hired job role to fix a problem that was not my responsibility to fix, but I took a shot at it anyway, foregoing my own work for another. I didn’t always fix the problem, and I certainly didn’t get paid extra for the effort, but it was a chance to communicate something that always pays off, and in some cases can change another’s life. Somebody cares.
When a person says ‘no’ to something they are not paid to do, is that wrong? No, it is not. Then should we only say ‘yes’ to those things we are paid to do? After all, we need to make a living, and we’re all limited by time. We can’t be all things to all people.
But didn’t Jesus Himself say “…whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant…the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:26-28 NIV)? How do we know where to draw the line?
I think you’ll know.
I never hand-delivered every customer’s newspaper to their door or mailbox. I couldn’t finish my job if I did. I’d offer that 9 out of 10 newspapers flung 30 feet from the curb to the door every morning, most largely missing the doormat. But that 1 out of 10, the one I knew I should help, I gave extra for free.