What Do You Do Besides What You Do?
Barbara Brown Taylor, an Episcopal priest, tells this story in her beautiful book, An Altar in the World. At one time she used to meet regularly with other Church ministers of various religious denominations. She describes a Baptist minister who was exceptionally busy. Besides preaching three sermons a week, he had to keep his medium-sized church going. When he was in his office, he was bombarded by people asking to see him. Taylor writes, “What saved this guy, as far as I could tell, was the clown outfit in his closet.” On his day off, he would don his clown outfit—complete with orange wig—and make people laugh in nursing homes, hospitals, and charity benefits.
One day as the Baptist minister was describing his latest clown gig, the Presbyterian minister interrupted saying, “I just figured out what I was missing… All of you do something else besides church.” Says Taylor, “He was absolutely right. The Methodist was a volunteer fireman. The Catholic taught Italian at a community college. I wrote books.” She concludes, beside their main ministry, they all had found something else they could do—and liked to do. My question for you today is: “What do you do besides what you do?” In other words, besides your main work in life, your vocation or avocation, what else do you do?”
I was thinking of some of the Sisters I live(d) with. Sister J. is an administrator at a high school, but she also loves to bake. Recently she made four apple pies for a meeting she was a part of. (Lucky attendees!) Sister D., a primary teacher, now directs our bell choir in addition to making the best jam in the world—especially strawberry! Sister R., also a primary teacher, adds beauty to our living space by creating lovely bulletin boards in our halls for every season. Sister MS, a high school English teacher, plays the flute for our special Masses and is an excellent photographer. Sister R., who taught high school religion and science, now mentors incarcerated teenage girls and also serves in the clowning ministry. Sister B., who has worked for years in finance offices in schools and in our congregational offices, also gives presentations on human trafficking. And then there was Sister K., who served in India for 40 years. In her final years as a resident in our health care center she tended an herb garden.
Here are a few other examples of people I know who do other things besides what they do: My Dad, a tool and die maker, was also an avid mushroom hunter and a lover of classical music. My brother John, owner of a welding and fabricating business, engaged in competitive trap shooting and also flew a biplane on weekends. I once knew a priest, the head of a religious congregation, who tinkered with the community cars on his day off. Then there’s an award winning writer who babysits her grandchildren regularly… and Sister J. the finance person at an elementary school who repairs old religious statues, giving them new life… and the computer professional who makes his own beer.
I’m suggesting that we think of our vocation within a larger context. The word vocation comes from the Latin vocare which means “to call.” As Christians, our fundamental call is to love God and our neighbor as ourselves. Taylor adds this thought: No matter what we consider our vocation to be (marriage, the single life, the consecrated life… father/mother, teacher, businessperson, lawyer, homemaker, IT professional, farmer, truck driver, clerk, cook, nurse, pastoral minister) we all have “the vocation of becoming fully human.“ She defines “fully human” as “learning to turn my gratitude for being alive into some concrete common good.” I like that! I also think turning our gratitude for being alive into some concrete common good is an excellent “practice” for Lent!
Here’s what those “Lenten practices” might look like for us: Meeting or zooming with a friend for lunch… learning to do something new—like play a musical instrument (I just heard about a 66-year-old grandfather who’s learning to play the accordion to pass on his Polish heritage to his grandchildren)… volunteering at the parish fish fry… listening to some good podcasts like Bishop Robert Barron’s “Word on Fire” or Krista Tippet’s “On Being”… watching just about any program on PBS—nature, science, history, the arts… playing games with friends or family… educating ourselves on a vital issue of our times.
What activities do you do to balance your main work?
Do they help you to do your “main work” in a more healthy and loving way?
How might you turn your “gratitude for being alive into some concrete common good” this Lent?
PS: On Ash Wednesday I was part of a Lenten retreat day at the Sisters of Notre Dame center in Covington, KY. I was surprised and edified that over 130 people came to this retreat day from 9:00 to 2:00. The day consisted of talks, prayer, reflection time, Mass, lunch, and time for confessions. I want to thank Sister Dennise for inviting me. I also want to thank all the workers who made the day run smoothly—plus all beautiful individuals who came!
Once again I offer you two videos…
The first is a powerful new song by Joy Zimmerman, a talented young woman from Kansas. It’s called “We’ll Hold the Light for You.” It’s Joy’s tribute to first responders of all kinds: EMT personnel, health care workers, police officers, fire fighters. The second is a prayer for world peace. One of my favorite hymns, “This Is My Song,” it is based on Sibelius’ “Finlandia.”
Joy Zimmerman’s “We’ll Hold the Light for You”… as we thank all first responders for their dedication to all of us….
Let us pray the words of “This Is My Song” especially for our brothers and sisters in Ukraine… The lovely photos here are from countries all over the world. See the lower right hand corner of each photo…
You are invited to write a comment below. My other readers and I enjoy hearing from you!
Good afternoon, Sr. Melannie…
Good afternoon, all…
Yes, first and foremost, peace in Ukraine!
I am a teacher, but in my spare time I like to write poems and make cards (and send them!). I also like to take long car rides to nowhere with my wife. We just jump in the car and go, sometimes we have music, sometimes a podcast, sometimes silence. Of course, with the gas prices so high…Sometimes we’ll stop if we happen upon a nice park or walking trail. We usually end up a restaurant somewhere. It’s always nice.
Just found out the other day that the sunflower is the flower of Ukraine. Again, long live Ukraine!
I could have written this post. My husband and I did not have a car the first two years of our marriage, so once we could afford one, off we went through the back roads of Vermont and later the flatter roads of Michigan. We would talk and talk and talk, or sit in silence, and yes, a restaurant figured big if we had the money.
He recently passed away after living with Lewy Body Dementia/Parkinson’s disease for five years. He was an avid bicyclist but eventually had to give that up when he lost his balance and often his way home. We fixed that by trading in our trusty little Toyota Corolla (Sure wish I had that these days!) for a RAV 4 as he could back into the seat and I could lift his legs into it. He was often confused and had limited language skills…but we would drive and drive and drive around his former biking roads here in SW Michigan. I was amazed by his sharp memory when we got on the roads: “Now when we go up here and turn left we’ll go about half a mile and come to a fruit stand.” Sure enough, we did. For a few minutes, all seemed “back to normal” and it was such a blessing when we had those moments.
Happy Trails to you and your wife.
(And I’m a teacher (retired) as well.
About that Lenten Retreat Day at the SND Center in Covington…Thank you sooooo much for leading the Retreat! It was one of the most enriching Retreats I have experienced! It was the kind of day that I wish everyone could experience on Ash Wednesday. What a wonderful way to begin Lent! Of course, your spiritual humor was the icing on the cake.
This is our United prayer for all peoples of our world. God bless our people and our world well.
Sister Melanie, this is a much needed message. I love my work, but I’m “working” to find an outlet for more joy and peace in my life. Thanks for sharing!
Beautiful song and much needed in this awful time for the Ukrainians.
You are so right about having that balance in our lives. I love anything creative; writing, music, painting, etc.
many prayers for the people of Ukraine
As I am now 81,and spent 50yrs of my life as a pet groomer and vet tech.My hobbies are these,I work at my Church as librarian,gift shop manager,ccd teacher also RCIA and bingo worker. Two days aweek I volunteer at our local hospital. I am on the Board of Meals on Wheels. So you see my time for hobbies is now. God is Good.
Thanks Sr Melanie again for these weekly reflections that are so meaningful. Today was especially touching for me.
Last night at mass my parish sang “A Tribute to All Nations”. Very moving and timely.
I’m an editor of law books but also a quilter, that’s where my creativity is displayed. I had for some years (before Covid) attended a quilt retreat each summer. This retreat was led by a woman who is a retired minister. She shared that An Altar in the World is her go to book every Lent.
Thank you again for your reflections for 10 years! 😊
Sometimes I think the things we do besides our work are more important than our work. Those things we do are where our dreams come to life. Mine are writing a children’s chapter book about animals and the vision of Isaiah’s peaceable kingdom, singing in choir and playing flute at Mass, sharing insights and plant-based recipes, and feeding little treats of apple cores and seeds to the wonderful woodland animals and birds here who share our space as a sign of God’s love and goodness for them. In heaven I hope to speak and understand their languages!
I find this topic very relevant, especially to those in religious life and priesthood.
I remember directing a seminarian years ago who was struggling with his vocation. And he asked me a very meaningful question. He asked me “Do you have a life?” I know what he meant was “Do you have a life besides this?”
At the time I was the Novice Director of the Jesuit Novitiate. Because I knew what he meant I could unequivocally assure him “yes.” And I knew it just didn’t mean having “hobbies,” and it certainly didn’t mean having a life incompatible with my particular commitment in life, but it meant having meaning in my life beyond my “role.”
You can’t give your life if you don’t have one. I know so many people who don’t seem to have a life beyond their “role” in life whose lives seem so constrained, limited and unimaginative! And yet this is clearly not what God would want for them! God’s will and desires for us go far beyond our wildest dreams! Far beyond!
Our greatest regret when we get to heaven is realizing how many opportunities for happiness we missed in this life!
Melannie your blog yesterday was right on, We all need something else in our lives besides work. I work with our Elder Sisters 2 times a week and love it. Besides work I love to read, work cross word puzzles, and do cross stitch . Thanks for your great words each week. God bless.
I’m a retired college level English instructor, so you have to know that reading figures big into my life. I’m not much of a housekeeper (books, papers, saved articles, etc. abound) but I make up for that in the kitchen where I enjoy making old family recipes and experimenting with new ones. But, my main hobby (and I don’t think of it as such, but more of a lifeline) is gardening. Over the thirty plus years we’ve lived in this house I have transformed (thanks to composting and earth worms) heavy clay soil into beautiful garden beds. I don’t think too much more makes me happier than having my hands in good old dirt while I listen to the birds sing and chatter. In recent years, as we began “decluttering” from raising two boys I found myself hiding Darth Vader, Skelator, Superman and other caped crusaders around the garden beds, and watching visiting children find them gives me much delight. Can’t wait for April!
Thank you again Sister for your wonderful blog. The songs were awesome!
First and foremost praying for Ukraine and all our military troops! May God Bless them!
Have a wonderful week.
Once again, Sr Melannie you are “right on” … I work 3 part time jobs – all very different from each other, yet I welcome the “break” from Job #1 as I go to Job #2 or Job #3. Perspectives I learn from one can often apply to the others.
Of late, I have Job #4, as my husband is campaigning for re-election. I ask for your prayers as he seeks to renew his commitment to government service.
What a beautiful reflection and to remember what really is important to do what we do–with love, compassion, understanding and hope. I love nature and take many pictures that I make into cards to give away to many people to lift up their spirits and to give thanks for the beauty of God’s creation. Let us continue to pray for peace throughout the world.
My condolences on the loss of your dear husband. It sounds like you had a wonderful life together touring the roads. God’s blessings to you.
Thanks Barb, Our little road trips in the last few years offered us some relief from his terrible disease. While I miss him, I’m also happy he has been released from his body which had become a prison for him.
I have tried many times to send a comment.
Each of your reflections is so inspirational and timely. Thank you S. Melannie
Dear Sr. Melannie,
I have been a church musician most of my life and am the mother of eight so guess those are my “jobs.” However, for the past 15 or 20 years I have corresponded with inmates – some of those on death row – and they have become dear friends. Also, for the past several years, my husband and I have raised Monarch Butterflies. It’s amazing how many hours you can spend watching a caterpillar spin it’s chrysalis or watching a butterfly emerge from it. I cannot think of a more productive way to “waste” time.
Thank you so much for both of the music videos today. We pray for Ukraine constantly.
Oh, if only we felt perfectly okay about “wasting time ” with whatever really recharges our spirits!
I have been extremely worried about the situation in Ukraine and really appreciated: A tribute to all nations! It is a prayer for me and I have shared it with others.
Being retired for 20 years I have an assortment of interests. Praying, reading, excercising, socializing and learning.I feel very blessed, also I have my dog Spirit who takes good care of me.
Thanks again for your inspiration.