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How Do You Answer When Asked “What do you Do?”

As far as I am concerned, what pegs the “faithful and discreet slave” as faithful and discreet and effective is that they have redefined how most Witnesses view their own vocation. This came up in recent discussion of the daily text about Jesus being “the carpenter, the son of Mary.” He may have been “the carpenter,” but when he “began his work” (Luke 3:23), it is not carpentry that the verse speaks of. It is preaching and teaching the Word.

So it is that under the direction of the Governing Body, few if any of Jehovah’s people regard themselves first according to their occupations. They regard themselves as preachers of the good news first, who just happen to be doing this or that in order to pay the bills.

This is a huge accomplishment—to motivate people to redefine themselves.

They did it by steadfastly persuading the many who would say—I have said it myself—“Why can’t we be Jehovah’s Witnesses and just live normal lives?” Their answer would be: “How can you live a normal life in an abnormal world?” 

They have won that battle. It is an abnormal world. How can you live a normal life in it? Secular work occupies its place with our people, of course, but seldom do they define themselves by it. At the drop of a pin, they will chuck “career” aside totally for the sake of part-time work if they can figure a way to make it work.

Just about the time of the Proclaimers book, I thought there was a shift to speaking of the Witness way of life in terms of a “theocratic career”—is that my imagination? That way when our young people encountered classmates ecstatic at the careers they were going to have—being pushed that way by guidance counselors—they could come back with a career concept of their own. They wouldn’t have to answer, “Well, I’m just going to get a job somewhere, maybe in a tool shop,” much less, “Well, I think I’ll just be a janitor so I can have more time for door to door preaching.”

Now, as it turns out, I was a janitor for many years. And when my newly married wife was asked by a set of well-to-do non-Witness relatives what her husband did for a living, she said “He’s a janitor.” This occasioned a disappointed “Oh.” She added that “He owns his own company.” The same syllable followed, this time with opposite impressed inflection! It’s all a facade! It’s all a joke! It doesn’t mean a thing. While I was a janitor, I checked out just about every Books on Tape there was in the library that wasn’t contemporary fiction, I listened while working, and I find myself better “read” than almost anybody.

If there is one thing I regret in my past (actually, there are quite a few), it is that when I was asked—it is the 2nd line at any introduction—“And what do you do?” I would answer as to my secular work. This might lead to a discussion of how, with brilliantly shined floor, people’s spirits lift, yet they can’t put their finger on just why—or how when the floor is dingy by the baseboards, it is the fault of the janitor for slopping it there with his mop as he goes back and forth—how else could it possibly get there? But why in the world would I care about that? If you answered the question “What do you do?” according to what people expect, then you had to change the subject into one more interesting or suffer through one that you barely care about yourself.

Don’t play that game. Answer according to what you are and what interests you most. In time, I got so I would do that, but it took long enough. “Well, I do various things to pay the bills,” I would say, “but what gives me the most satisfaction is....” I should have done it years before I did.

Fay said how in Ireland (she had been there recently) when people ask that question, they really do want to know about you, and not just what you do for a living. I like it that the faithful and discreet slave (Matthew 24:45-47) has taken membership and persuaded them to define themselves and think of themselves as an army of preachers, diverse though their backgrounds might be. Can’t get more faithful than that.

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