Concerning Street Sweepers

When God wants to tell me something, He doesn’t gives me a little whisper. If I don’t get the lesson the first time it lands in my ear, it only takes a couple of days for it to show up again in another place, another way, until I’ve learned whatever it is that I’m supposed to. Recently, I’d been struggling with this quote from Martin Luther King Jr.:

If you are called to be a street sweeper, sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. Sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.

I first read it in Alex and Brett Harris’ book, Do Hard Things. The chapter was entitled “Small Hard Things.” Before I read the book, I had been complaining to my mom about how nothing EVER happens when I do little things. Until recently, I’ve been in charge of sorting, washing, drying, and delivering to the folders all the laundry in the house. Some days I would do nine loads, but the average was six or seven. Every time I went to an event or to work at the office, I would get home and the laundry would be piled high. I felt the same discouragement with dishes. Even if I try hard to wash all the dishes on time, it would only take one of my younger siblings to say, “Oh yeah, I forgot to clean off the table,” or for my mom to say, “I found all these dirty dishes in your room,” in order to back up my beautifully done job.

So when I saw the chapter heading “Small Hard Things,” I immediately flipped to that chapter and began to read. It amazed me that the authors could relate to exactly how I felt. They talked about why we hate small jobs:

1. They go unnoticed, and
2. They never seem to be complete.

Brett and Alex share stories about teens who have learned to rise above the same frustrations I was experiencing, but at the time they didn’t encourage me much. No matter what anyone says, there will always be dishes to wash. Then they quoted MLK. I found myself stuck on the idea of sweeping streets. Sweeping streets? For an ambitious teenager, that doesn’t exactly sound like a great and amazing way to spend your life. If your name is written in history, what difference does it make if your sentence goes: “She swept streets” as opposed to “She swept streets well”?

That’s what I thought, anyway, when I read the chapter from the book. But I obviously got it wrong, because God put another book in my lap just this last weekend. In Safely Home, Randy Alcorn tells the story of Li Quan, a man who had tons of opportunities heaped upon him. A talented learner, he was, even with a humble Chinese background, accepted to Harvard University after the miraculous blessing of a small fortune. When his old college roommate, Ben, comes to visit on a business trip, he expects Quan to be a well-known professor at a local university. But when Ben attends Quan’s workplace, he finds that Quan is nothing more than a locksmith. Quan explains that universities refused to hire him because he was a Christian, so he got a job that could at least feed his family. I was enjoying the novel quite well when Quan suddenly mentioned street sweepers, quoting Martin Luther King and telling Ben that his own father was a street sweeper. “Why?” I thought. “Why do people have to go through life doing such insignificant things?” I spent the day pondering the quote while I cleaned house for the hundredth time. I came up with two things about good street sweepers that are worth noting:

1. They realize that no job is worthless.
Even jobs that are never accomplished are important in God’s eyes. If you do a job begrudgingly, it tells everyone watching that you don’t care. Jesus said in Matthew 5:47, “…if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?” I’d say this applies to everything: If you do only great and noticeable work, what are you doing more than others? As Christians, we are to be set apart and different. I find that encouraging: that no matter what I’m doing, I’m different and worth noticing.

2. They take advantage of every opportunity.
What would change if we looked at everything as opportunity to glorify God? Whenever I think about little things, I’m reminded of the verse from Luke 16:10, “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.” The best example in my opinion is Joseph. I can relate: he had 12 siblings. Instead of waiting around for some dude to tell him he was talented and push him up a notch, he had to prove himself as a slave. Even the little jobs he was forced to do, he did well, and God blessed his work.

My problem is often seeing the opportunity. If I don’t recognize my chance to please my mom with a lightened work load or the time frame to build up a relationship with my quietest sister, then I’m not being much worth to anyone.

If you’re still wondering about people who are stuck sweeping streets until the day they die, look again at King’s quote: “If you are called to be a street sweeper…” This means if you’re called to it, that makes the job important. Besides, lots of jobs are looked down on. Many women will say that being a stay-at-home mother is comparable to sweeping streets, but my mom follows her calling with such joy and grace that all who see her are envious of her occupation. Perhaps your attitude will also be one that makes others stop to say, “Here lived one who did his job well.”

  • http://www.creatingtreasures.blogspot.com tereza crump aka MyTreasuredCreations

    WOW!! I am so glad you are sharing on your family’s website now. I so identify with you. God speaks to me much like He speaks to you. When I was traveling as a missionary in South America, I wanted to go to the countries known to be the “hardest” ones. I always wanted to do THE hard job. :) God has placed a desire in my heart to have 10 children (only He knows why!!!) LOL I have 3 and I stay home with them and homeschool. This is the HARDEST job I have ever done!!! The desire for more children is certainly not from my flesh, :) it is a supernatural one for sure. Anyway, I am encouraged by your post and I am so pleased to see a Godly young lady pursuing Him in all her ways. Praise be to Jesus! you are such a breath of fresh air in this polluted and self centered world we live in. :) Thanks again. Tereza

  • Autumn

    I’m the oldest teen of a family too. But, boy, I sure can relate to what you say! I do the dishes here at my house, and I finally realized how important that job was to do because of your post. Thank you, oh so much, for that excellent article. *Autumn*

  • Hailey

    Thank You so much for that message Cynthia! I am a 23 year old college student about to graduate in May. Although I will have a college degree in May, my goal and plan is to get married and be a stay at home mom having as many kids as the lord blesses my future husband and I with. When people find out I am graduating, the first thing they ask me is what I am going to do with my life. Unfortunatly when I tell them I want to be a stay-at-home homeschooling mom, they usually look at me like I am a little crazy. Reading this just makes me realize, I have to stick to my calling no matter what others think.
    Thank You so much!!

  • Jenny

    I am a stay at home homeschooling mom of three and have a great desire to do all that I have to do as unto the Lord. Of course that is easier said than done most of the time and I get in the way. I understand your struggle completely, thank you for encouraging all of us with your post.

    Ecclesiastes 9:10, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the grave, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom.”

    God Bless you,

  • http://beautifulgraceblog.wordpress.com Maria

    Thanks, Cynthia! I often get discouraged that God has given me so few opportunities to serve. Remembering that God has a reason for everything helps me be faithful in the little things. Sometimes, at least.


  • @lex

    “I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish small tasks as if they were great or noble.”
    Helen Keller
    I think this kind of fits into what your saying, Cunthia.(kind of) If we have little stuff that we need to do (laundry), we should do it not just to the best of our abbilities, but also as if it were great or noble. This is our duty. To complete the small tasks that God has set before us. By the way, great job on your blog. Love it.

  • Heather

    Cynthia, I can tell you that your story is easy to read and very relatable. Thank you for that, because very few people have this talent.
    I to am plagued with small tasks at my home with little or no thanks at all. Just take this into consideration, when these “insignificant” jobs are left too long or not done at all they become enormous tasks and EVERYONE talks about them. You know that you are doing a good job when they go unnoticed. :)
    Love you!

  • Kristi

    First of all, bravo! You have an excellent gift, my friend!

    Second, yes, yes, YES. The jobs that are never done. The callings that seem insignificant, but are such a blessing in the everyday workings of life. I very much identify with this. Thanks for the challenge to be the best street sweeper (and laundry doer and floor sweeper and diaper changer) that I can be! :-)

  • Joe & Judy C.

    Good Work! Keep it up and stay close to the Lord!! J&J CHA…

  • Jane from Fiji

    Kudos! You have discovered the joy of the secret, the silver lining in an otherwise ugly cloud. “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might” So aptly expressed in Alex & Brett’s book (a FANTASTIC book, I highly recommend it for everyone, not just teens!), and encouragingly applied in your well written ruminations. Thanks for sharing!

  • Cindy Leet & Matthew

    Hi Wendy & Cynthia,
    Thanks so much Cynthia. I am sure Matthew would have something to say to you. No, we are losing our children very fast and Matthew doesn’t have a lot of brothers and sister at home to help with. Yet, his brother,who is a senior in college 5 hours away wanted to take him to Galveston to work on houses over his Spring break with some Campus Crusade kids. We let him have this experience with an older brother who loves the Lord. He is getting to serve when all he feels is that his service at home is small. I will show him your email and encourage him in continuing in small things. He loved the book you mentioned and will want to read the second book you referred to. Thanks Cynthia Tell your Mom I just am in the process of reducing some strong drug by 1/3 and I am doing great. Ya!! Cindy Leet Yankton, SD

  • Christi

    Hi Cynthia, Mother Theresa said “In this life we cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love.” Thank you for reminding me. And reminding me to teach my kids this Truth!

  • Renee Larsen

    Hi Cynthia,
    I’ve thought of the street sweeper many times
    since I read your thoughts. Thanks for the reminder to do everything with zest and remembering
    that God is noticing even when nobody else does.
    Now you have a new brother, Zechariah, to help care for. I know your Mom appreciates all you do to help her so much!
    I think you should write the next Jeub book!
    Would be great to hear from you what it’s like to
    be a child in a family of 15 children.

  • Lange Family

    We love reading your blogs and thank you for sharing your experiences! We always learn so much from your stories. Thank you for sharing them. We encourage you to write more and share with others especially your faith! God is good! We will continue praying for your family as you all welcome a new little soul to your beloved family.
    Mary, Grace, and Miriam Lange

  • Nancy Schneider

    Hi Cynthia,
    My friend Renee Larsen introduced me to your blog.(I used to volunteer at the crisis center with her in Pine City.)Now, I have 9 children and understand much more about large families. You are so right that each job is important, especially when we do it our best. Lessons learned serving at home are not taught in the textbooks. Family life supplies us with plenty of opportunities to learn how to do the same things over and over faithfully. I would like to meet you all. Keep up the great writing!
    Love, in Christ,
    Nancy Schneider

  • Marcy

    I am 24 and currently pregnant with my first child and I am looking forward to being a stay at home mom! I’ve wanted nothing more than to be a mother, ever since I was a teenager, and unfortunately when I used to tell people my ambitions, they would give me a sort of disdainful look like “oh… that’s ALL you want to do with your life?” you don’t want to be a lawyer or an accountant or a CEO of some big company?” It made me feel like my goals in life were inadequate, and that somehow being a mother is “inferior” to having a fancy high paying corporate job. Over the years I’ve come to realize how flawed that kind of thinking it, and I’m glad there are people like your mom who exemplify just how valuable and rewarding a job it is to be a mother!

  • http://lauren-reavely.blogspot.com Lauren Reavely

    Wow, Cynthia! Wonderful post…so encouraging and pertaining directly to my place in life.

    Too often I get caught up in the idea that I need to be busy with doing big things for God, with big people, in big places. But then I read quotes like that MLK one and posts like yours and I’m reminded…God can be just as glorified in the little things as the big.
    And it’s actually when we’re faithful in the little things that He then finds fit to give us big hard things to do.

    My prayer is the the Lord would continue to make me (and you!) faithful servants or street sweepers in the little, dreary, daily tasks that one day we will hear heaven say, “Here lived a great dish cleaner, sister, diaper-changer, floor-scrubber, house cleaner, wife, mother, or washerwoman.”

    Thank you for your encouragement. I’m glad I stumbled across your blog!