The Benefits of Menial Tasks

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Hand of woman in blue glove cleaning toilet bowl

I suppose most of us have tasks we have to do each week that we consider menial, boring, tedious. We can also have a feeling that these tasks are “beneath” us, that they aren’t really in line with how we can best use our talents.

I heard a sermon recently about the need for menial work in our lives. The pastor’s point was that it serves as a needed check against hubris, against undue pride.

I think the pastor was on to something important. At least, in my own life, I can see how menial tasks are opportunities either to complain about how they are beneath me, or to reflect on how I need these constant reminders that the Christian life is supposed to be one of service and that the physical ability to do any task is an incredible gift from God. (After all, the sick, paralyzed, and frail would love to be able to do any of the menial tasks I’m tempted to complain about.)

I’m not talking here about the need to find vocations that match the gifts and talents God has given us. I agree that we should seek out work that we may be uniquely capable of doing. And we shouldn’t fail to develop our skills. And we shouldn’t defer to the human voices that may try to keep us from reaching the heights of which we’re capable.

But wherever we find ourselves each week, there will always be menial tasks that need doing. Whether or not we’re fulfilled in our present jobs, whether or not we think we’re properly recognized, for all of us there will be menial tasks each week that we just need to do.

John Wesley encouraged his fellow Christians to fast regularly. He saw it as a check against gluttony, among other things. Wesley also insisted that Christians interact weekly with the poor. Again, this was a check against developing certain vices and unhealthy attitudes.

I’m sure that menial tasks are also a check against spiritual pitfalls. I’m not entirely sure which ones. For me, that pastor’s remarks about undue pride ring true. Perhaps for other people, menial tasks provide the opportunity for other areas of growth.

But I’m convinced that menial tasks are necessary in some way for our development. They’re unavoidable in our world. And like everything else in our world, they are intended to serve as opportunities for us to grow in Christ. I suppose the question for each of us then becomes: when I’m doing menial tasks each week, how should I think of them as opportunities?

Image attribution: ratmaner / Thinkstock

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Kevin Kinghorn serves as editor of the Faith and Work Collective blog. He is Professor of Philosophy and Religion at Asbury Theological Seminary. His undergraduate work (Emory) was in economics and political science. His graduate work (Asbury; Yale; Oxford) and current teaching has focused on topics within philosophy of religion and moral philosophy. He lives in Mt. Sterling, KY, where he and his wife Barbara work toward community transformation, providing music and art opportunities for children.

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