Steward, keeper, caretaker, custodian.
These are words that I may have taken for granted over the years growing up. I didn’t look up for their meanings in the dictionaries nor was I attracted to them the same way I was attracted to long and different words like serendipity, june, or mayflower.
They were simply just words I would come across in schools, books, or movies.
Flight attendants come to mind when I read the word steward. For keeper, I’d imagine a kind and warm woman, an innkeeper who gives and collects room keys for weary travelers. Meanwhile, a caretaker would be someone who does not own the house but lives in it already, making sure that it is still tidy and livable when the master returns. The word custodian would conjure images of a man in cleaning clothes, always keeping halls and floors clean and organizing his materials inside a small room.
Words conjure images, and the images give me meaning. Now that I am older, I have realized the virtuous duty tied to those who personify these words.
Upon consulting the dictionary, the steward is one who is employed to manage a property – basically, someone who looks after another’s possessions. The same way could be for the keeper, caretaker, and custodian. They are not the owners – they are someone trusted by the owner to take care of his belongings.
When we are to steward something, before we are ever given the object to protect or look after, we are given trust. We would not be called to serve as stewards without it.
I’ve started to be more conscious of this word’s meaning when I read this verse before from 1 Peter 4:10:
“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.”
The Lord trusts us with His gifts to serve others, and He requires us to be faithful stewards. Now what are these gifts? They could be talents, skills, opportunities, wealth, knowledge – anything that was gifted by God to us that He asks us to be faithful stewards of.
We are not to bury them like the third man in the parable of the talents, but we are to use and multiply them too, not in any careless manner but faithfully. The Lord gave us gifts that are purposed to bring His Kingdom close and to serve our neighbors and not ourselves alone.
When I finish a drawing, I tend to become proud, forgetting that I am merely a channel of the creative spark that came from God. It is the Holy Spirit that inspires me, that gives me the vision of what to illustrate, what to write.
So whenever my own pride comes rearing out, I say a silent prayer in my own words:
“If the gifts, talents, experiences, and knowledge that You gave me, Lord, will only make me conceited, proud, judgmental, cynical, mean, and selfish, then please take them away and give them to somebody else who can preach Your love better than I can.”
I still say this, but I have realized that maybe there is a better prayer.
“Lord, please help me be a faithful steward of Your gifts.”
Here, we acknowledge that we are only stewards, keepers, caretakers, and custodians, and we ask God’s guidance and help in using our gifts.
Currently, what are you entrusted with to take care of? It could be the talent of cooking, a spark in mathematics, a penchant for woodcutting or pottery, or a skill in speaking. It could be time, money, or resources. It could be a person like our younger sibling, a niece or nephew, a mother, a father, grandparents, or a stranger. It could be the whole Earth and her creatures – especially the parts of the Earth we happen to live in, drive by, climb at, or pass by – that we were originally told by God to cultivate and care for.
It could be the very life we are given as well – this borrowed life that we are to give in service to God and other people in any way that we can.
We are all stewards, we are all custodians.
When I was a child, a name was just a name. Until I got older and saw how important and meaningful a name was and the act of giving something a name as well. We name our children, and we name our parents special terms like how I would call my Mom ‘Mima’ and my Dad ‘Dida.’ We call our relatives and friends by their names, we give names to our pets, and we call the people for whom God calls us to be with beloved or dear.
Names create attachments, one heart to the other. Names have utmost importance. Names can help dissipate anger, indifference, and unfamiliarity.
Whenever there’s a circumstance like this – for example, a man would accidentally hit my shoulder while we went opposite ways – I would feel irritated if he didn’t say sorry to me. But I find that the irritation passes when I give a name to that man. In my head, I would have this monologue: “Tito (Uncle) Henry naman!” Now it is in a friendly tone.
Maybe his name wasn’t really Henry, but to someone else, he has a name, he is an uncle, he is part of a family who loves him, he is a fellow child of God.
I gave a name to a man I did not know, and it helped me try to understand his personality, his character, and our shared flawed humanity of making mistakes or shortcomings like not saying sorry. Maybe he was in an emergency. By naming him, love gave a connection albeit a small one just for me to try and put myself in his shoes or in the story he was currently in.
Names can be gifts too from God and from our parents and ancestors. Are we holding true to the meanings of our names and the grace from which we received them?
My middle name means ‘custodian.’
A synonym: guardian.
Truly, what a blessing it is to realize only recently the heavy responsibility I have to carry as someone who has guardian in her full name. I appreciated my name and duty more because of this.
I was led to this realization when I read an entry from a favorite writer, Hannah Brencher. Here is an excerpt from her blog:
You know what’s funny? I wrote that last line and I thought to myself, “I cannot write that. There is no way that I could refer to God as a custodian.” The only image in my mind of a custodian is a man in a blue jumpsuit rolling trash cans out of the lunch room. The closest thing I’ve ever known to a custodian is my own father– a man who wore a blue jumpsuit, drove a garbage truck his whole career, and brought food to the table by hauling away the unwanted things of people I grew up with.
Custodian is just one of those words that makes me want to belittle the role because I grew up surrounded by people who taunted me when they found out my dad was their garbage guy. It’s taken me 28 years to realize that my father never worked with junk, he worked with stuff that used to be valuable– used to be chosen– until someone decided they didn’t want it anymore. He’d pull stuff out, he’d shine it up, and it would be new again.
I looked up the word “custodian.” The definition that comes up first shocks me a little bit: one that guards and protects or maintains. I love that definition. I love the idea of God as a protector rather than God as the tyrant people talk him up to be.
Truly, I agree, and I love that word, and I’m thankful that one of my favorite writers helped me see it in a warmer light. I have take the meaning of our middle name for granted.
These words custodian, steward, protector, keeper, guardian that I once thought didn’t have a noble meaning to them, probably because of the plainness, have now a new significance to me. These aren’t just titles or positions of certain people; these are ours to take hold off as well.
We are to take care of one another. When disasters strike, we do not withhold our shelter or resources. When somebody is crying, we approach that person and ask him if he is okay. When we are driving, we are to be responsible for our lives, the lives of our passengers, our fellow motorists and their passengers, and passing animals in the road.
We are responsible for one another.
Besides skills, talents, and names, perhaps, the Lord also calls us to be faithful stewards of one another, to look after each other’s well-being.
Instead of giving away this tremendous and beautiful assignment, shouldn’t we embrace it? To be a steward, keeper, caretaker, or custodian is a noble duty, both in meaning and in an actual position. All assignments given by God are.
After all, without these gifts, we wouldn’t be custodians. Without the trust, we wouldn’t be called faithful.
Indeed, the custodian has many responsibilities; there are several things to look after. The gifts may not be ours, but we are called to take care of them like they did belong to us. Soon after, we are to return them to the Lord.
Maybe a person would call this a heavy and unnecessary burden to bear, but a custodian would call this a blessing:
To have something or someone to take care of.