My boss has often told me that she considers my job to be one of the most thankless jobs in the zoo. In particular, the cleaning that I do. Out in the wild, no one cleans up after the penguins, of course. In fact, many penguin nests are literally dug into layers of dried bird poo called guano. Anyone who lives in an area with a large population of seagulls knows what sea bird poo is like: it is basically organic paint. And when it dries in layers, it is like building up layer after layer of “White Out” until you’re left with something like pasted on chalk. In the wild, this build up actually functions as part of the ecosystem. In the zoo, where the penguins don’t spend months of the year traveling around the ocean, keepers have to clean up the mess.
When I try to explain the level of mess to people who haven’t seen it before, I usually refer them to the type of mess they have seen – the one they find when they park their car under a tree that is very popular with the local song birds. Now imagine those song birds are the size of a house cat… and there are 26 of them… sitting above your car… all night. Yeah, that is the mess I find in my work area every single morning. The largest part of my day is spent hosing the floor with a garden hose and scrubbing with a deck brush and soap. When I’m done, I can see the difference, but someone who hadn’t seen the way the floor looked when I started would see the stains and scuffs and wonder when we are going to replace that nasty flooring. I get some satisfaction out of seeing the floor clean, but generally I’m the only one who sees it that way. The penguin den is completely off exhibit. And the penguins certainly don’t care! In fact, they would prefer that I stop pulling their “perfectly arranged” nests out of their kennels every day. Still, I do that cleaning every day because it is necessary.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught His followers many essentials of Christian life. Matthew chapter 6, verses 1-8 record His instructions for how to give and how to pray. Verse 1 says, “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of people, to be seen by them. Otherwise, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.” Both sections include admonitions to do things in secret “And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (verses 4 and 6) Now my cleaning is not deliberately done in secret. It is only hidden because the penguin den is located in an area that visitors can’t access. But it did make me think about the many things we do for the Lord “behind the scenes.” Some entire church ministries are behind the scenes. For those of us who aren’t part of those ministries, we should do the things Jesus specifically spoke about – giving and praying – in secret. This doesn’t mean that you should slip your tithe and offerings into the church office when no one is looking. It also doesn’t mean you shouldn’t participate in public, corporate prayer. What it does mean, is that you shouldn’t brag about it or do it seeking approval. The giving and praying – and anything else you do – is about your relationship with God and not your status with other people. In this way, the Christian life may seem “thankless” but remember, “Your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”