It’s an innocent question, probably asked a million times a day in some form. “What do you do?” It’s meant to elicit a response from the recipient, in order to establish their vocation. Mostly it’s an innocent question that we sort of pretend to care about. It’s a kin to asking “how are you?” in order to appear polite. For some people, however, this question is dreadful. What do you say if you don’t have a vocation? or if you’re disabled? Or what if your job isn’t easy to explain in a glib 2 or 3 word response. Or what if your vocation is not at all who you are?
So, I’m a psychiatrist by vocation. It just so happens to be a part of my calling as well. I’m not ashamed of being a psychiatrist, but when people ask me what I do, I find myself trying to think of creative answers to avoid blurting out what I do for a living. It’s not that there is anything wrong with being a psychiatrist, but more that it allows the person I’m speaking with to form an instant opinion about me, one that is shaded from every bad TV show or movie that has informed them of what a psychiatrist is. Worse yet, they may have had a family member who had a bad experience with a psychiatrist, or they themselves have. Many people have hard and fast opinions about mental health in general, which immediately puts me in a position of having to defend an entire field of medicine, and I haven’t even had the chance to settle into my seat.
So, “what do you do?” . . . It’s a loaded question disguised as an icebreaker.
I’m not going to suggest that every time someone asks you this, that you make it super awkward by launching into your life’s true passion; but I am going to suggest that it is a worthwhile exercise to know the answer. What do you do? Do you love other people all the time. Do make art that expresses more than words could ever describe. Do you pray for people who may never know you intercede for them. Do you wake up every day heart broken, and heavy, making the daily decision to forgive a person who hurt you so both of you can be free? Do you live with an emptiness because you don’t know what it is you do yet?
Let me suggest that what you do, doesn’t equal your destiny. It’s possible that it’s your identity, but identity can change. Gender politics aside, I’d like to make an illustration if I could. My wife had a different last name before we married. Many reading this can relate, as your Facebook profile name includes your maiden name and your married name. This makes it easier for long lost friends to locate you no doubt, and there is certainly nothing wrong with that, but it illustrates the concept that you have a new identity, but at times can choose to be identified by your old identity. In Christ, you have a new identity, a new “name”. You have the righteousness of Christ (2 Cor 5:21), which means you have all the same qualities and benefits He has, and they are always available to you.
What you do, does not define who you are; but who you are should define what you do.
So, who are you? and what should you be doing?
43 “For a good tree does not bear bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit.44 For every tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they gather grapes from a bramble bush. 45 A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart[a] brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.
We all have times we don’t act in agreement with who we are. We cut some one off in traffic, or yell at the kids, or curse when we spill our coffee . . . maybe do all three simultaneously. Acting inconsistently isn’t an indictment, unless we do it consistently. Being consistently inconsistent means we need to look at what is abundant in our heart. If you’re not sure about your fruit, ask your kids . . . they’ll tell you.
The fruit of the Spirit are: love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal 5:22-23)
- Commit to Kindness
I’m not asking you to be fake, just observe the golden rule. It’s amazing what can happen. Even when you don’t feel like being kind, it can make a huge difference. I’ll admit I’m not the most gracious and welcoming all the time. I tend to be a thinker, so at times, when I’m working through something in my head, my face projects something I don’t intend; namely, “leave me alone”. I’m always impressed by people who just seem to engage everyone they meet with a big smile and never tire of being warm and inviting. Often times, I felt ashamed that I was not as outgoing and kind as them.
I do, however, have strong desire to impact people’s lives positively. One night, while I was in residency, I was on call. It was late, and I was paged to the ER. When the pager went off, I felt a strong impression that I was to make an impact of life changing proportions with this page. I marched full of purpose through the bowels of the hospital to the ER and strode confidently into the exam room. Seated in the bed was a patient who had presented to the ER with thoughts of suicide. I was here to instill hope and point them in a new direction!
I was summarily dismissed upon beginning my introduction. I was called every vile word in the book, and the more I urged the person to hear me out because I was there to help, the angrier they got. Eventually I slinked out, wrote my note in the chart and made my way out of the ER feeling deflated. As I trudged through the same hallway I had so confidently navigated not long before, I was angry with God. I asked Him why He had set me up for failure. Why hadn’t He touched that person’s heart so that they could hear me. As I was grumbling in my heart, I saw an old couple staring at a sign on the wall. It was a sign pointing to different departments in the hospital, and they were having clear difficulty deciphering it.
“Can I help you?” I asked with all the enthusiasm of a DMV clerk.
“Yes! We are trying to get out of the hospital and to our car, but we are lost!”
“I’m headed to my car, I’ll show you the way out”. I told them. I was not feeling very kind. In fact, I was annoyed. It was late, and I had precious few moments between pages to try to sleep. The old couple walked slowly, and I had to consciously slow my stride so as not to lose them. As soon as we hit the lobby, I was anxious to shed them, so I could rush to my car and get to the call room for some shut eye.
“This is it, you should be able to find your car from here.” I said, as I turned to walk away.
The old woman caught my sleeve, and with tears in her eyes said, “You must be an angel. We never would have found our way out of there if you hadn’t walked by. You are an answer to prayer!” There was not an ounce of sarcasm in her voice. Her husband’s eyes were equally full of tears. It was 3 am, and I have no idea how long they must have been shuffling around down there. Not another soul was about to guide them through the maze.
God did want me to answer that page. Not for the person in the ER, but as an answer to a simple but ernest prayer. I’m certainly not an angel, and neither are you, but by being open to kindness, you might be the answer to someone else’s prayer.
- Move your treasure
For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
We’ve already established that out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks, so we have to think about what is abundant in our heart. Fitting in with a particular crowd, devoting yourself to your career or seeking the next fun adventure, aren’t bad in and of themselves. But, if this is where your treasure is, it’s where your heart will be. Your intentional actions will propel you towards them, and your unintentional actions will shape you to be someone you aren’t meant to be. “Seek first the Kingdom, and all these things will be added to you”, in other words, move your treasure, and your actions will follow.
Next time someone asks you “what do you do?” You can tell them: I produce good fruit, I’m open to what God is doing by committing to kindness, and I seek the kingdom first, because that’s where my treasure is. You can also tell them you are in information services for a contractor to several large retailers, focusing on end user interface . . . whichever is easier.