Can a person find beauty working at a retail Superstore? A few weeks ago I came across a new sitcom on NBC, called Superstore. It was created by the producer of The Office and is described as “revolving around a group of employees at a big-box store, it examines love, friendship and the beauty of everyday moments.”
That last line intrigued me, and after watching the first few episodes I was reminded of none other than St. Thérèse of Lisieux and her “little way.” While the show is not without its many defects (such as the occasional sexual innuendo or acceptance of premarital sex), it brings out a certain awareness of the “little things” in life and teaches us to find joy and beauty in the mundane.
The first episode introduces us to Jonah, a young man who doesn’t “belong” working at a retail store. He is quite apologetic to everyone he meets and is embarrassed to be working there. After meeting fellow coworker Amy, Jonah is confronted with the choice between despair and hope. Amy has fallen into a trap of despair and she has not seen any beauty in her job for the past 10 years. She advises Jonah that there is no joy to be found at the superstore.
Going against her advice, Jonah decides to do the opposite and seeks out ways to be joyful in the midst of the mundane. Many hilarious scenes follow, but the episode ends on a note of beauty, where Jonah shows Amy a spectacular display in the store. At the end, Amy begins to change and looks at her job much differently.
This all reminded me of St. Thérèse of Lisieux and her “little way.” St. Thérèse knew nothing of big-box retail stores, but she was able to find joy and meaning in the littlest of things in the convent.
She wrote, “Above all I endeavored to practice little hidden acts of virtue; thus I took pleasure in folding the mantles forgotten by the Sisters, and I sought for every possible occasion of helping them.”
At one point, St. Thérèse had to take care of an elderly sister who gave her much trouble. At first, Thérèse was discouraged and could not see any joy in her service. God soon gave her the grace she needed, which helped Thérèse escort the sister as if she were Our Lord himself.
On a separate occasion, Thérèse was working in the laundry and was starting to get annoyed by the splash of dirty water by a fellow sister. However, instead of making a show of disgust, Thérèse offered up the moment to God as a little sacrifice. After that day Thérèse looked forward to working in the laundry and eagerly awaited more sacrifices to give to God.
Thérèse realized that our life should not only consist in great deeds in faraway places or severe penances that no one can sustain. Instead, it is in the “little things” in life that God works the greatest of miracles.
She wrote, “Far from resembling those beautiful saints who practiced all sorts of austerities from childhood, my penance consisted in breaking my self-will, in keeping back a sharp reply, in doing little kindnesses to those about me, but considering these deeds as nothing.”
What Jonah and Thérèse have in common is a positive approach to the rather boring and uneventful parts of our day. It is easy for us to look at folding the laundry or changing diapers as tasks that are to be done, but have no value. They bring no beauty or joy to our life and so we groan when we have to fold four kids worth of laundry.
Or we may be working at a major retail store and the thought of checking-out hundreds of customers each day can seem tedious and tiresome. Thankfully, by God’s grace, we can change that. We can elevate the mundane into a work of beauty. We can see the people we work with and the customers who come in as “little Christs” that God has sent into our lives.
Is it easy? No, not one bit. That is why we must rely on God’s grace and ask him for help. He knows all about the mundane. He worked for 30 years in a workshop, unknown to the world. By his incarnation, Christ sanctified the ordinary and made it into something extraordinary.
Let us remember each day that our life has meaning beyond the simple things we do. We are part of a much bigger story that concerns the salvation of the whole world.
Even working at a Superstore can be a moment of beauty.
Philip Kosloski is a writer and blogger. His blog can be found at philipkosloski.com.