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Doing the boring stuff

So there’s this guy who works at a camp and feels called to doing the sort of maintenance-type stuff which isn’t very glamorous or exciting but it is essential so that other people can enjoy what they are there to enjoy – a bit like housework at home, or admin in an office, there are things that just need to be done quietly behind the scenes and for not much thanks or fame or glory.

One of the things I do is proofreading, and it is a bit like that – it’s stuff that most people most of the time are blissfully unaware of, and the likelihood of getting praise for it is pretty low. Though I must say I have a lovely client who really does keep expressing his appreciation for my work. That’s because he still remembers what his newsletter looked like before I took on this job… But most of the time, proofreading just happens quietly behind the scenes, and what people notice is when it hasn’t been done, or when it’s been done badly. Which is just what my mum used to say about housework – people only notice if you missed a bit.

That post I linked to got me thinking, because it brought out an interesting distinction: there are things we might be good at doing; there are things we might really love and enjoy doing; and there are things we might feel we’re called to do – and these three elements don’t always go together. It is wonderful when they do, but sometimes we’re called to do something that we are good at but we don’t take huge joy in doing – in my case, proofreading is an example of that. I have gifts and skills that enable me to do it really well – that’s why I decided to train as a proofreader, because I have the natural inclination to spot people’s mistakes and I thought, instead of just being that annoying person who pesters people about their stray apostrophes, why not put this to good use… (and yes, I know I’m using the ellipsis incorrectly here – when I sit down to blog I shut my Inner Pedant away in the cupboard under the stairs.)

Writing is also something I have a gift for, but it’s not like proofreading (not unless someone were, say, to hire me to write instruction manuals or something) – writing is a passion, a fire in my belly, a creative force within me that demands to be let loose. Now, there are situations where God uses this, situations he has called me into so I can blog for him, and that’s fantastic – the intersection between gifts, passion and calling. But the danger is that I just let this passion take over and neglect the more boring stuff. Left to my own devices I’d happily write most of the day, pausing here and there to do some reading, and now and again eat something. To get the proofreading done – that requires self-discipline.

I had to exercise that self-discipline when I had read that post and realised what it means in my own situation – I was dying to sit down and blog about it there and then, but the message I had heard loud and clear was about the need to be willing to put the blogging to the side and get on with the proofreading. That’s why this post is only being written today.

So, what have I learned from this? That there are things we might be called to do which we are not passionate about and we don’t particularly enjoy doing, but if I take seriously my commitment to Jesus as the Lord of my life then I’ve got to be prepared to do the boring stuff too when that’s what he’s telling me to do. Proofreading, ironing, maintenance, housework – all these things need to be done and they are actually important, even though we humans tend to assign less prestige to people doing them.

And yes, sometimes God does call us to use our gifts in an area which also happens to be a passion of ours, he gives us something to do which we’re not only good at but we actually really love doing – but that comes with the price of having to hold onto it lightly, having to be willing to keep letting go of it, not to let the passion rule us. If Jesus is Lord of my life, then I must be willing to lay aside my desire to write – oh, how it hurts just to say this! – if he wants me to do something less exciting/creative/fun.

I also mentioned the issue of prestige, and that is another factor that gets in the way – we humans tend to regard some roles as more important than others, more praise-worthy than others, more special than others. So there is the human desire to do something that will earn us kudos from others. And there is sometimes the feeling that you’re “too good” for a particular task – my mum has spent her whole life since getting married feeling resentful that someone with a university degree had to spend her days doing menial housework tasks. Oh, and then there’s the kind of reverse kudos thing – people watching you to see if you are willing to get your hands dirty or if you’re too hoity-toity to do your share of the washing up. But this prestige/kudos thing is a bit complex – it’s probably worth another post sometime.

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2 responses to “Doing the boring stuff

  1. P.S. Of course there are also things we’re good at which we are neither passionate about nor do we have a particular calling to them – we just have to do them because it’s our job, for instance. I used to be a typist, and a very good typist, but I had zero job satisfaction and certainly didn’t feel it was what I was meant to be doing – it was just a job, something I did in order to earn money so that I’d have somewhere to live and food to eat etc, and so that in my spare time I could do stuff that was more meaningful.

  2. Amen!

    It’s a hard lesson to learn… and even harder to be obedient to. I wrestle with that all the time – and it’s usually over washing the dishes.

    I just read a biography of CS Lewis (Seeking the Secret Place by Lyle Dorsett) and in it Lewis wrestled with replying to fan mail – he felt that God had called him to respond to each and every letter he received! And in his later years he realized that that was keeping him from writing books, and he mourned over it. Yet he was faithful to what he felt God had called him to. I suspect that that is part of what made him ABLE to write as he did – his simple, against-all-logic obedience to a God who has a higher purpose for our lives than we can figure out.

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