Popping the Question
I’m not talking about a marriage proposal. It’s a question that’s asked so often, by so many, in so many circumstances. After the usual Hi/How are you/Nice to meet you, it’s almost inevitable in any situation where people first meet:
What do you do?
Unless you are a child, you know that the words for a job/career are implied. The question isn’t really about what you and I do; it’s about what we do to earn money, and the answers we give to this question have immense social weight and interpersonal consequences. Wonderful conversations or awkward silence and quick departures? For better or for worse, it’s all too often about our answers to this question. Our working life defines who we are, sometimes just as much for ourselves as for others.
How do we answer such a question? How do we react to the answers we get when we ask it? For many of us, working keeps us busy for so many hours, days, months, years, and decades. How could it not be important?
For all the times we ask and answer this working question, we don’t seem to meditate on its importance very often, especially in light of our spiritual lives. So let’s explore this daily activity, this life basic. To begin, pick a time when asking or answering this question affected you in an unexpected way. If you are feeling bold, share it with me or someone else. Who knows where such a sharing could lead…
Here is mine:
I must have been asked this question a dozen times the day I arrived on campus to begin my theological studies: people playing Frisbee on the quad, the housing assistant who gave me my dorm keys, a few people who lived on my floor, several seminarians who stopped me while I was unpacking my car (none offered to help me with my boxes, either before or after asking what I did). Since I had two different work situations at the time, I had two answers: teacher/site director for a test prep company and bartender. The teacher answer usually got a positive if disinterested reaction; the bartending answer sent many scurrying away quickly, left others without a clue how to respond, and brought an appreciative smile to the face of a few adventurous souls.
Lord, bless the work of my hands.