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What do you do for fun?

by Thomas W. Goodhue
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What do you do for fun?
Finding a vocation is not enough. Those without avocations may be devoted to their jobs or their children but their families, colleagues, or parishioners often find them dull—and they find retirement traumatic.

In Michiko Aoyama’s new novel What You Are Looking For Is In The Library, a character says that his office job gives him the means to enjoy a ‘parallel career’ running a bookshop. Without the store, his other work would be a burden. Without a steady income, he would worry more about balancing the books than stocking the shelves.

Most of us, I think, need to find both a vocation and an avocation: a career doing something useful in the world that pays the bills and an interest we pursue without depending upon it for our livelihood.

Clergy sometimes are asked how they knew they were called to ordained ministry, and certainly, it is essential to have a clear sense of vocation if you are going to survive in my odd line of work. Seldom, though, is a candidate for Holy Orders asked about their avocation.

Many a preacher has explained some complex theological principle only in terms of a favorite pastime. Many parishioners realize that their pastor really is a human being only when hearing about the woodworking or knitting, gardening or bowling their parson loves to do.

In our career-obsessed culture, the first question often asked by those we meet is, “What do you do?” (or after we retire, “What did you do?”), by which they mean “What is your occupation?” I have always been fascinated by what other people manage to get someone to pay them to do. But it is often more revealing to ask, “What do you do for fun?” When you encounter someone who replies, “I don’t really have any free time”, or “I don’t have time for any hobbies”, you invariably have found a working stiff who is sinfully underpaid or a professional who is working hard but not working smart.

Those without avocations may be devoted to their jobs or their children but their families, colleagues, or parishioners often find them dull—and they find retirement traumatic.

Yours truly heard the call to ordained ministry early in life but spent years sorting out what my precise calling was within the larger calling. I will be forever grateful to my wife, spiritual directors, and prayer partners who listened patiently as I wrestled with several roles—and to Clayton Miller, the colleague who finally said, “You should just accept the fact that you are always going to be juggling all three aspects of your calling.”

I eventually found ways to combine these varied parts of my vocation, both as a pastor and as an ecumenical bureaucrat, but I also tried out various hobbies, from woodworking to bodysurfing, before figuring out that writing is my avocation.

I learned by the time I was 18 that I probably would starve to death as a poet, but I learned from my father–a door-maker turned electronics technician–that one can make a lifelong hobby out of something that will not pay the bills. I probably would not enjoy writing full-time, but the time I devote to it now gives me immense satisfaction. And it is good for my soul, an important part of my spiritual journey.

Sometimes, our avocations make more lasting contributions to the world than our occupations. Gregor Mendel is remembered not for his day job as a Catholic monk but for the tinkering he did in the garden that launched the scientific study of genetics. William Daniel Conybeare was a perfectly good priest in the Church of England, but he also was a great amateur geologist whose careful scientific description of a prehistoric marine reptile (Mary Anning’s Plesiosaurus) launched the world’s first fossil-hunting craze.

Our amateur passions can be as important as our professional aspirations. As the historian of science Martina Koelbl-Ebert notes, amateur originally meant “a lover of”. Something that you do, simply for the joy of it, may enrich the lives of others.  

Photo courtesy: The Catholic Spirit

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