Fill in the Blank: What is Your Occupation?

June 25, 2020 by

This blog post amused and delighted me when I read it last Mother’s Day. As a mother, I could identify with and endorse the emotions that triggered the answer to the “Occupation” question.

It also caused me to ruminate on the standard answer I give to the clerk across the desk when asked what my occupation is. “Member of Religious Order” is the correct thing to say, so I say it. The indifferent flick of the eye, the swift, disinterested glance and lack of comment as she moves on to the next question, however, makes me think, “if only she knew what that means. . .”

To her, it probably sounds like I’m a pious, hymn-singing convent-dweller fettered in some sort of a narrow, predictably ordered existence. And I wonder how I could tell her that in actuality my life is far from ordinary, that I’ve signed up for an incredible adventure, and that I wish – oh, how I wish! – that she and countless others would join me in it.

In the first place, this formal-sounding “Member of Religious Order” is just the name that most nearly fills in the blank on forms, since a square peg will never really fit a round hole. The “member” part refers to the lifelong commitment I’ve made to Christ and my brothers and sisters here in this Christian community, the Bruderhof.

people talking Photo credit: Danny Burrows

How did I come to make this covenant? When I was in my teens and early twenties, my social conscience was easily and strongly stirred by a multitude of needs. To which cause should I devote my life? To fight nuclear rearmament? To oppose abortion? To oppose the death penalty? To help underprivileged children? Gradually it dawned on me that I could spend my whole lifetime on any one of those causes, and the needs would still exist.

In the end I came to the conclusion that the only person I could change was myself, the only life I had to offer was my own, and the Bruderhof community I’d grown up in most nearly matched the description of community that I feel the world so sorely needs. So, I committed my life.

“Commitment” and “surrender” are words so many fear, yet amazingly, making the binding commitment in total surrender to God proved to be exactly what freed me. Gone were the questions – “How do I know I’m really called?” “Do I believe?” “What about the future?” – nagging me. God took them in his hands, leaving me light as air, free to serve wherever and however. Suddenly Matthew 19:29 – “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life” – came alive. And with it, the answer to the manifold needs of this world.

It is a wonderful life! And as one of my mentors, Merrill Mow, once wrote when describing it, “I emphatically would recommend it to anyone who could stand it.” As idyllic as it looks when you see the happy photographs on our website, read the thought-provoking articles, or even visit one of our beautiful communities, it all comes at a cost: complete surrender to God. It does not work if I withhold a part of myself, keep a loophole open “in case it doesn’t work out.” It’s all or nothing.

people talking
Photo credit: Danny Burrows

Yes, I have no money, no assets, no vacation rights, no retirement plan, but guess what – my husband and I have nine children, have lived in the United States, England, and Germany, and have enjoyed the land, people, and culture everywhere. I learned one profession in college (bookkeeping), but it has been one of ten or more fields I’ve worked in through my years in the Bruderhof. Many jobs I would never have chosen yet have found enjoyment and fulfillment in doing. It’s sort of like when you are assigned books to read in English class; half the time you wouldn’t have chosen certain titles yourself, but later you admit that one or the other was a really good one.

It hasn’t been all roses, though. When we are born, it is to a family we don’t choose. When we are called, it is similar. I can’t choose my friends in community, nor my neighbors. I have to accept whomever else God calls to this way of life. I really used to struggle with that, because of course there are some people I “click with” immediately, and some I manage to annoy just by walking into the room. That bothered me a lot when I was contemplating joining. It was important for me to realize that by myself I could not overcome these human feelings; I needed God’s love to overcome them. In later years my husband gave me some practical advice: “If you feel like you don’t love someone, show them love anyways. After a while you’ll find that you do.” It sounds almost hypocritical, but try it. I have, and it works!

This life has been an adventure all right, but I’ve never regretted my decision for a moment. You can read about it or look at pictures online, but in the end you’ll have to come see for yourself. We’re looking forward to welcoming you – no matter your occupation!


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