I never got to meet Truett Cathy.
On Sunday night, my wife told me that Mr. Cathy wasn’t doing well.
On Monday morning, I got the news that he had died.
I felt like I had lost a life-long friend. In a way, I did.
My first job, as far as the IRS is concerned, was at the Chick-fil-a in the Southlake Mall on the south side of Atlanta, Georgia. I grew up eating at Chick-fil-a. When I started working there people told me that I’d never want to eat a Chick-fil-a sandwich again. They told me that having them for break everyday and seeing all of the dirt and grime back in the kitchen would bring a quick change to my dietary habits.
They were wrong.
I did eat Chick-fil-a everyday at work. It never got old.
And there was no dirt and grime in the whole store. You could eat off of the bathroom floor in that place.
That doesn’t just happen. The brand of excellence one consistently finds at Chick-fil-a is the result of the strong leadership of Truett Cathy. And it’s the result of a lot of hard work.
I didn’t really appreciate working at Chick-fil-a until I left. Some of the managers were tough. One always said, “If you’ve got time to lean, you’ve got time to clean.” I hated that. But I was learning something, indirectly, from a man I never met.
I was learning the value of hard work.
Years later, long after my working days at Chick-fil-a were done, I was having lunch with a man who was in charge of a ministry that provided housing for kids with no place else to go. He was telling me all about his passion and his mission. After lunch, he took me on a tour of his place. There were little houses everywhere. As we drove along, he would stop to tell me something about each one. One house was for unwed young mothers. Another one was for boys. Each house had something that set it apart from the rest.
But there was one constant.
“Truett gave us the washer and dryer for that house.”
“Truett paid for this one to be remodeled.”
I learned something else that day from the man that I never met.
Hard work and the rewards that come with it serve a greater purpose than simply having more stuff than the other guy. Followers of Christ use the fruit of their hard work to love God and their neighbor. Truett Cathy was a hard worker. And that hard work really paid off for him. But above any of that, Truett Cathy was a follower of Christ.
It’s easy to think that God’s two favorite jobs are pastor and missionary, as if people in those positions are the only ones who can be serious about following Jesus full-time. Truett showed us the truth. He showed us that, while they have their own place and function, a chicken sandwich can bring just as much glory to God as a sermon. Especially when that chicken sandwich is crafted with excellence and its fruit benefits “orphans and widows in their affliction” (James 1:27).
I’m sorry that I never got to meet Truett Cathy. And I’m sorry that my kids will only know him through second-hand stories. But at least they can still reap the benefits of his chicken sandwich.
And maybe even one day, like their dad, they too can learn valuable lessons from Mr. Cathy.
A man they’ll never meet.
Here on earth, at least.