The Unlikely Custodian

Do you remember the names of any of your school custodians? I couldn’t tell you the name of even one of mine, from elementary to high school. Some were definitely men, and some were women, but beyond that incredible generality, it’s all a blur. I took for granted the work our custodians did.

When I think of it today, I see custodians in two capacities: caretakers and mess-cleaner-uppers. Being a caretaker – changing lightbulbs, greasing squeaky hinges – doesn’t sound so bad, but when I think of the clean-up work that is so often associated with custodians, I cringe. The lunch room, the vomit in classrooms, the plugged toilet – no, not my ideal job at all (although as a mom, it does sound an awful lot like what I may do on any given day).

Custodians really are due more credit than they get. They are those behind-the-scenes people who make an organization functional and presentable. Many of you are custodians in some context: as moms and wives, and as ministry workers. You work tirelessly to make sure your organization or your family are running smoothly. As Christians, though, our work goes so much deeper than the labor and strong stomach needed for taking care of physical needs. We are called, as followers of our Master, to be custodians of the soul as well. But where does that kind of strength come from?

In a recent bout of sickness which knocked me off my feet for nearly two months, it seemed to me like my very identity was being stripped away. I felt reduced to my absolute ugliest. Acne flare-ups, greasy hair and all-day-pajama wearing were small concerns compared to what was happening emotionally and spiritually.

I was grumpy and self-centered, needy but unable to give anything back. I didn’t feel like a wife, a mom, and most certainly not a ministry worker. Laying in bed one night I was pouring these feelings out to God (oh yeah, I was most definitely not rejoicing in these “light and momentary afflictions”), when He reminded me again of the Gospel.

He doesn’t love me just when I think I’m at my best. He doesn’t love me only when I’m being a good wife or mom, or when I’m pouring out my life in service to others. He reminded me He loved me right then, when I was at my ugliest and most selfish, when I had nothing to give to Him.

As the agent of change in our life, the Holy Spirit is the custodian of our souls. He sees the mess in our lives, pushes up his sleeves, and gets to work. It might be that our souls need a structural re-working, or maybe there’s just a mess that needs cleaned up. Whatever it is, God knows how best to fix our broken souls, even if it’s not apparent to us. When we’re in the middle of a trial, it doesn’t usually feel like God is working for our good.

At times during the two months of my sickness I felt like I was barely clinging on to God with my fingertips. Time in the Bible and prayer were sporadic at best. I didn’t feel the nearness of God or sense Him speaking to me. What He has reminded me of, though, is that while I may have felt like I was just hanging on, He had a firm grip.

Not only was He near. He was working. Working on me, my husband, and my children.

So often I try to take my sanctification into my own hands – to make myself in God’s image.  I’m so caught up in being a custodian for others, that I forget I still need a custodian. Just as God has promised to be my justification, He has also promised to be my sanctification.

Sometimes sanctification is worked out in the situations we would least expect. And when you consider the story of Jesus, that shouldn’t surprise us. We serve a God of universal surprises and the King of an upside-down kingdom, where the greatest is least, and the least is greatest. The Gospel reminds me that not only have Jesus and the Holy Spirit given me an example to follow in how to be a custodian, but it also gives me the strength to do so because I have my own personal, beloved Custodian.

Nothing motivates as much as that.

Does seeing the Holy Spirit as the custodian of your soul change the way you see custodians?


  1. Jade October 19, 2017

    Thank you very much for this honest, God-centered article. It’s encouraging to see how you pushed through this season of sickness, holding on to God, even if just hanging by a thread. I myself just came out of a one month season of sickness, where I questioned my whole being. But oh so true: I am loved. Today I actually wrote into my journal: “What is so lovable about me? The only thing I can see that makes me beautiful is You in me.” And quite frankly, that’s all that is necessary for my well-being anyway. HE.

    1. Keri Burwell October 19, 2017

      I love when God shows up and ties things together – your quiet time this morning and my experience – to point to His glory and to remind us that we are His beloved. I was reading in Ephesians this morning and was blown away (again) by ‘the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us,’. You are loved and lovely, sister! Thank you so much for sharing.

  2. Stephanie October 22, 2017

    I do remember my custodian from grade school, a grandfatherly kind fellow named Ed. He was there all thru 1st to 6th grade, or at least I think he was. He was the guy who the teachers would call when locked out of the library or their rooms, or you’d see him changing the garbage bags or just the guy they’d all call for everything maintenance. I always found him to be kind and jolly and open. I was riding my bike to my first summer job, I think I no longer attended the school or had just moved up a grade, and it was newly summer and he was outside tending to some chore right after school had left out for the summer,, and I crashed my brand new black Schwinn that I had purchased with the money working at the dog kennel. I was not hurt, I thought, but my new bike sported a ripped seat and bent rim and scuffed handlebars, my pride hurt more than anything.. I was so upset over my bike, and I tried to straddle it again to see how it’d go when Ed said, “look at your knee!~ ” I looked down and became immediately woozy as my insides were out and it was not even bleeding yet because the cut was so deep that I think even it was stunned. He called for the nurse, or somebody, as the teachers were still around closing up shop? my mom must have came to get me, I don’t remember that part, just remember getting my tetnus shot and first stitches at the urgent care. So yeah– missed the main point of the message, but., “thanks Ed, for being my custodian and being a great one. Somehow your simple joyful presence made me remember you and all that you did to serve a bunch of messy kids.;)

    1. Keri Burwell October 23, 2017

      I loved your story and your memories of someone who served others so well. I hope people can say about me what you said about him: “Somehow your simple joyful presence made me remember you and all that you did to serve a bunch of messy kids.” Amen!

  3. karen October 22, 2017

    I don’t remember my school custodian, but I know the one who serves at my kids’ school. He’s called the caretaker, and to them, it’s a place of honor. Like a teacher, his job is to look after, tend to and serve the school. It makes me think that the title we grew up with in the states is a misnomer, or perhaps we don’t put the value in it we should. So appreciate you sharing this vulnerable story with us… love how God spoke to you, valued you, loved you in and through and for that particular time. xx

    1. Keri Burwell October 23, 2017

      It’s the same at the school my girls go to. They know their caretaker by his first name, as if he were a personal friend, but there’s a sense of respect too – they know things will be well taken care of while he’s around. It is such a great picture of servant leadership.

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