An ode to the guy from the bathroom

I wish you would’ve met Charles.

I assumed it was going to be a normal airport bathroom stop, squeezing my carry-on into the stall during an hour-long layover. But that’s when I ran into Charles.

I’m not sure I’ve ever met a man like him.

“Welcome to the world’s busiest airport,” Charles announced to the businessmen crowded into the men’s room, “and to the world’s busiest bathrooms!” I busted up laughing along with Charles, whom I have a hunch had told the joke 73 times that day but still found it funny.

In a place where men avoid eye contact, stare at their phones, and get their business done (I’ve heard women talk to each other in public bathrooms—is that true?), Charles would not be deterred by his audience’s demeanor. He greeted every man who walked in. He smiled at every new arrival and waved goodbye to every departure. He rushed from one end of the grey tile to the other, dragging a limp foot behind his cart, to make sure every stall was a first-class experience.

“Let me check in there first, sir,” Charles said to me before using his good foot to drag out a single stray piece of unused toilet paper that had fallen to the ground. “All ready for you, sir!” he beamed, holding the stall door open with one hand, like a valet at one of those fancy Manhattan hotels.

As I later washed my hands at the sink, Charles was greeting a new round of luggage-wheeling men. “Excuse me,” I asked him, “what’s your secret? You’re the happiest guy I’ve seen in a long time.”

Charles tapped his index finger to his temple: “It’s all in the mind. I’m 64 and learned you gotta stay positive.” 

“I’m going to write a blog about you,” I told Charles.

So, Charles of the Atlanta airport, if you’re reading this, thanks for making my day that day. And thank you for making me think of my Savior, the one who came not to be served but to serve.

Paul’s words in Colossians come to mind as I thank Charles: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (3:23,24).

I’m not sure what Charles believes about the Lord Jesus, but I know he was working with all of his heart. I wasn’t his boss, but he worked with everything he had, like a man who was serving God himself. That little bathroom was his mission field, and his attitude was creating converts, converting drab moments into experiences worth writing home about.

Charles made me rethink the little things in life. The routine and mundane moments where the world would expect to see dreariness on our faces. The line at the post office. The third shift of low-paying employment. The grunt work that inspires teenagers to get a college education. The fourth load of laundry. The sixth diaper change of the day.

What might happen if we brought joy to such moments, remembering that we are working for the Lord himself, expressing our joy over his love, grace, and mercy? What if our customers and clients and curious kids were not interruptions and annoyances, but chances to delight, serve, and reveal the servant heart of Jesus?

I have a hunch that those around us might not be the only ones to end up blessed . . .

An odd thing happened the day I met Charles. After my stall door closed, I glanced to my left and saw a little rectangle that, when pressed, released a sweet scent into the bathroom. Curious, I pushed it and took a deep and refreshing breath in an otherwise not so refreshing place.

But, in Charles’s defense, I had already experienced something refreshing. “God . . . uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere” (2 Corinthians 2:14).

Charles, thank you for doing your work well. Thank you for inspiring me to work hard in my Savior’s name. And thank you for reminding me of Jesus, who brought a sweet aroma to unexpected places—our world and my heart.

Pastor Mike Novotny has served God’s people in full-time ministry since 2007 in Madison and, most recently, at The CORE in Appleton, Wisconsin. He will also serve as the new lead speaker for Time of Grace after Easter 2019, where he will share the good news about Jesus through television, print, and online platforms. Mike loves seeing people grasp the depth of God’s amazing grace and unstoppable mercy. His wife continues to love him (despite plenty of reasons not to), and his two daughters open his eyes to the love of God for every Christian. When not talking about Jesus or dating his wife/girls, Mike loves playing soccer, running, and reading.

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