Do you remember having to clean your room when you were 10?
Remember how you would fight it and then, when the threats escalated, you would do just enough to qualify for dinner? You did enough to get by, and most of that time was spent sulking – imagining how bad they’d feel if you went blind.
But do you also remember that time you got so mad you punished your parents by taking all day to clean it?
You were ridiculously thorough. You dusted everything, washed the baseboards, moved the furniture and vacuumed beneath. You used furniture polish, window cleaner and bleach. You folded all the clothes and organized the closet.
Do you recall that sometime during the afternoon you forgot you were doing what they told you to do? You did – you completely forgot.
You weren’t cleaning the room for them anymore. You were cleaning it for yourself and you wanted perfection. If they had come to say you’d done enough – you wouldn’t have stopped.
Every task we face today is the same as cleaning our room. We have a choice of which way to approach it: combatively or happily.
If you choose to fight, no one, including yourself, is going to be pleased with the outcome.
The happy way, where you work because you want to, the job is done well and actually seems easier.
There’s a name for the happy way, and it’s a couple thousand years old; and although it’s a religious story, it has little to do with God.
Jesus called it “going the extra mile.”
In those days the Romans ruled. Under the law of the day, a Roman soldier could make a civilian carry his pack – but only for a mile.
At the end of the mile, you were within your rights to drop his junk on the ground and go home.
I don’t know, but I’m guessing that being forced to lug your oppressor’s things down the street for half an hour pissed everyone off. It must have been a big issue because they went ahead and made a Bible story out of it.
Jesus knew that the only way to calm everyone down was to change the way they thought about it – an attitude adjustment of Biblical proportions.
Jesus told everyone that if they decide to carry his things not one mile but two, the chore has become a choice.
The choice is what gave them power over the Romans.
Who cares that the Roman also benefits, or that your parents benefitted? The fact is that if you choose to do something the sting of the order is gone.
Jesus knew, though, that you couldn’t choose to go just the one mile. It has to be two. The second mile gives the power.
Our jobs are the same way. Sometimes we’re compelled to do tasks we’d rather not do.
Maybe it’s your turn to clean the restroom, or to do sales calls in a bad part of town. Either way, the difficulty of the task is directly related to who decides your assignment.
If your boss orders you to do it and you resist, the minimum will be done and you’ll be angry for the rest of the day.
If, however, you decide to do it well and you clean that restroom like you entered a bathroom cleaning competition you want to win – you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment. You will take the power, from the Romans. Everyone wins.
If you choose to go and sell in the bad neighborhood you’ll find that you’ve learned to be a better salesperson, and you may actually sell some widgets. The best part is that it’s no longer a punishment. You chose to do it, remember? Everyone wins.
Every day we can help ourselves by going the extra mile, or hurt ourselves by wading in the self-pity pool and doing the minimum.
The choice is ours.
Work isn’t the only opportunity to go the extra mile, though.
What about our marriage? If we come home from work and give our wife a brief kiss, say hello and go about our routine, the minimum is done. The Romans have been obeyed and our marriage will be average.
Or we can come home, give a hug and a kiss, and ask about her day. We can go the second mile.
Five minutes of extra effort is all it takes to have an extraordinary marriage. The kiss is compulsory, but the hug and twirl is voluntary. The hug and twirl is what keeps a marriage strong and happy.
As parents, we can provide the minimum required care for our children: three hot’s and a cot. Or we can make an effort to be the best parent we can be and give them our time.
When a friend asks for our help, we can do only what they ask or do all we can.
Don’t think I’m suggesting that you can always go the extra mile. Sometimes we like being unhappy and we need a reason. The Romans are the perfect excuse, so by all means take advantage of them.
I’m saying that for the times you don’t want to be unhappy, this is the way to defeat the Romans. This is the way to turn the bad to good, the command to the choice.
When the spirit of the extra mile becomes second nature, you’ll find that your life has gone from drudgery to joy, from doing the minimum to doing our best.
Going the second mile does more than make us happy though. It makes us valuable.
We all have the Romans in our life, and for most of us it’s our job. Going the extra mile at work will make you worth more – a lot more – than your co-workers.
It seems odd, doesn’t it? Using a parable for personal gain? Let me tell you – that it is exactly what Jesus wanted us to do with it.