I’ve always thought the story of Cinderella was awesome. It’s the kind of tale that connects with the human heart on the deepest, most transcendent of levels because it reflects the gift that God is offering us all through salvation. I find it dazzling that we vagabond sinners have the opportunity to be transformed into royalty and live, as they say, happily ever after in heaven with Jesus someday.
What makes for an interesting story, however, is when you take the classic and then reverse it from ending to beginning. In this instance, you’d start with a princess who “has it all” and then end the story with her living the life of a servant who has to do a lot of dirty work. This storyline communicates the heart of Gospel, too. And although the original version tends to be more palatable us, the latter version is just as relevant. It’s this story—the story of Cinderella-in-Reverse—that happens to be the glass slipper I find myself fitting in.
In comparison to the squalor in which most of the world lives, I grew up living the life of a modern-day princess. For starters, I was raised in America. On top of that, I am a rich doctor’s kid. I essentially lived in the upper crust of upper crusts. Along with many of my like-minded peers, I enrolled at a reputable college, joined the swim team, pledged a sorority, helped political candidates run for office, went to too many parties, participated in beauty pageants and traveled around the world in luxury. I probably don’t have to mention that I didn’t do a single one of these things because it served anyone else—I did them because they served me.
After I rediscovered my relationship with Jesus, I began realizing how very self-centered I was, and I started making serious attempts to live my life differently. I went on mission trips, signed up for community service events and eventually spent a summer in Cambodia working for a Christian non-profit organization that seeks to rehabilitate former child prostitutes. Shortly thereafter, I graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in political science and economics. In my mind, I had finally reached the stage where I could start impacting the world for Jesus through my career. I didn’t have a definite picture of what my calling was going to look like, but I was certain it was going to be fabulous.
When I look back, I realize now that I was still trying to build my own little kingdom as I always had before, only now I was glossing over this deeper ambition with spirituality. The quality of “fabulousness” in my life had to take a sharp turn for the worst before I could recognize this unfortunate reality.
I applied for hundreds of jobs. Over the course of four months, the only option that opened to me was to work for a rundown little motel in a rundown little town. I initially thought I was going into management (I was determined to turn that place around with my so-called brilliance), but my fate ended up going in the completely opposite direction. Somehow or another, I ended up being the property’s custodian. My job was to clean dumpsters, sweep parking lots, pick cigarette butts out of flowerbeds and scrub toilets. Needless to say, I hated my job.
I would have quit in an instant, but I did not feel that God was behind that choice. I was simply going to have to tough it out. I became increasingly depressed as I wondered why I, a college graduate, had to do tasks that seemed to be such a waste of resources, time, passion and talent. The hardest part of all was not knowing how long I’d be stuck doing it. I simply had no end date to comfort me.
As I processed all of this with God, He began to lovingly show me that my pride really stank more than those dreaded dumpsters did … even on the hottest of days. Moreover, Jesus revealed Himself as being the joyful and humble custodian of my rundown little heart, and I was relieved to discover that His attitude was quite different from mine when it came to taking out the garbage. He joyfully tackled even the worst of what would be found lurking in my attitudes and mindsets. This amazing grace changed me. I wanted to ditch feeling of being “above” doing dirty work, especially since the God of the universe doesn’t seem to be above it.
Furthermore, had it not been for that season in my life, I’d have never realized that all of my past mission experiences were actually quite superficial. Sure, I had to work hard and live in uncomfortable environments before, but I always knew in the back of my mind that it was only a matter of time before I’d be returning to a life of comfort and relative ease. As a result of this, I never really gave my heart away because I never really had to.
All of these former endeavors began seeming more like “drive-by blessings” rather than a committed lifestyle of service. I realized more that the Kingdom of God was actually about building authentic and lasting relationships, and I started to understand that good relationships always cost you something … if not everything. I would not have initially signed up for this job, but I am now very grateful that God gave me the chance to understand his story a little more. This is now the Cinderella I want to be, because this is the story of Jesus, the original hero of Cinderella-In-Reverse.