Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Dangers of Doing

I have a few daughters who aren’t married, which licenses everyone who knows them to play matchmaker and make suggestions. The suggestions aren't helpful because the girls are never going to take the initiative in a relationship with a guy, being traditional like that despite going to college and stuff like modern women.

I find it so interesting that the girls' #1 reason for swiping left, in dating-app terms, is not because the suggested guy is too old, not old enough, too smart, not smart enough, not spiritual enough, not rich enough, not handsome enough, or anything like that. 

It’s an emphatic, “He doesn’t DO anything!”

If you ask them to elaborate: He stays in his home community, he’s not involved in anything unselfish, he spends his money on things like pickup trucks and golf, and, again, “He’s just not DOING anything!”

I sometimes say, “But he’s NICE.  Nice ought to count for something!” because I am all about guys who will stick with you and change diapers and dump barf buckets and tell you your post-baby shape is beautiful.

I don’t change their minds.

All right, so DOING is important.

But I would like to say that there is another side to DOING, a side that I see from my end of the universe, where I’d say Paul and I do plenty of doing.

Doing is dangerous.

Not the fun sort of doing or dangerous like hanging your toes over the edge of a cliff in the Andes while the mists gather in the valley far below and then posting a great shot of this on Instagram.

I know young women who are all enraptured with this sort of dangerous doing, like this has to be a REAL MAN, out there hiking the Andes and taking the rickety puffing train through the peasant villages to Antofagasta and taking more Instagram shots, of the burro with the little girl in the long skirt on its back.

I’m talking the sort of danger where you make a decision and do something that seems best at the moment, because that is your calling as a mom or teacher or nurse or mayor, and it needs to be done, and the crowd turns to you to make it happen.  And then afterwards everyone else looking on gets to analyze and criticize and discuss.

It would be so much safer to not do anything. You would fly below the radar.  They would all be out there, not noticing you, and talking about someone else.

I write, now and then.  I hear in roundabout ways that certain people just don’t GET why someone would do such a thing.

Well, sometimes I don't know either.  Certainly not for the money, I hope they know that.

If they asked me, I’d say that if you feel that thumb in your back, gently or sharply nudging, you eventually write.  If you try to be silent and the words start to  ricochet around your skull like a gallon of unshelled walnuts in the dryer, then you start writing again. That’s just how it works, and those who don’t Get It most likely never will.

But it’s so dreadfully dangerous.  I mean, putting the printed word out there for the world to see and freely criticize if they choose.  Insane.

Most of the time I don't hear from readers, but if I do it’s nice words like, "Enjoyed your column."

Except when it's not.

Recently I got a letter from someone in what must be a very conservative Mennonite church.  They had found my book in the church library, and had some concerns, including the fact that I no longer dress as Plain as I once did, and also I said on the cover that I’m a minister’s wife, but there was nothing in the book about my husband’s ministry.

Worst, the book had caused such Concern that someone had gone through it and crossed out all the offensive passages before they put it in the church library.

[Deep breath, Mrs. Smucker.  Let it go.]

I wrote back and said I don’t want to cause any offense or lead your children astray so please Please PLEASE take the book out of your church library and I will buy it back!

[How to tell if a Mennonite is serious about making amends: they are willing to lose money.]

Emily said I should tell this person that maybe the librarian had Sharpied out the passages about Paul’s ministry and that’s why they couldn’t find them.

I had some words with myself and with the Lord, then, about this calling of writing and publishing, which I seem to have been led to, by natural bents and circumstances, but which is just the most exposed, public, ridiculous, and perilous calling, far worse than Andean cliff-climbing.

It doesn’t seem fair [whined Mrs. Smucker] that the ones who aren’t taking any risks get to do all the criticizing and judging and grading and analyzing.

I had been thinking a lot about this and then Asher Witmer posted about it on his blog, specifically about leadership and its call to do what you feel called to do. You can go read it here.

His words resonated with me, because if I face the dangers of Doing as a writer, Paul faces astronomically more as a principal, employer, and pastor.

It would be a whole lot easier for both of us to withdraw, retreat, and be silent.  To stay home and make quilts and watch Beaver games and take up woodworking and have quiet discussions about whether or not to remodel the bathroom next year.

It sounds tempting.  We wouldn’t get concerned letters or phone calls, our decisions wouldn't affect others, and our mistakes would all be private and contained.

Sometimes Doing just doesn’t seem to be worth the risks.

Unless you’re a young man trying to pursue our daughters.


  1. Thanks! I also wrote about the thought Asher's post brought to me... regret of not taking more risks... Blessings and love to you!

  2. I could soooo empathize with you. We are on a mission compound. Folks here don't like confrontation, but because I am a "doer" I get to reprimand kids for stealing fruit, cutting down the fence to steal fruit, etc. Also, speaking up about some of the nonsense so called choirs are getting up to! Doers aren't popular! Both our beautiful, talented, strong belief daughters held out into their early thirties. They married wonderful believers who are doers!

  3. You are not only funny, but know how to express yourself. Hang in there, and don't quit writing. P.S. and I mean "funny" in a good way! I surely understand what you said. I prefer doing, myself! tc

  4. Sometimes they are doing in invisible ways. I learned, years after the fact, that one of my former classmates personally made it possible for me to remain in a mission field. He's never been anywhere or done anything visible to this day.

  5. Dorcas, this is stellar. Having had some background with the Sharpie Mennonites, you should count it an honor that the black ink was applied to your writings. You see, anything which falls outside the boundaries of their self-contained world is considered dangerous. If nothing in your book had been inked, it would mean you have no humor, no thinking outside the box, and no respect for expanded knowledge. By all means, consider the inking an honor!

    1. The"Sharpie Mennonites" made me laugh out loud. I totally agree with this comment. You have more grace than I would, offering to buy back a damaged book!

  6. I Get It. Thank you for this, Dorcas!

    The man who steals the heart of one of your daughters will be a lucky one! They will have such fun Doing together.

  7. Oh my, Dorcas! I so needed the amazing shot you posted here on Longstawrite of your daring Do. Thank you!!

  8. I would rather risk than come to the end of my life wishing I had. Sometimes I wish for a 9-5 job where I answer phones, and come home and forget all the crazy while I sew a quilt. But what's the fun in that? And sometimes people's protests actually say more about THEM than it is about you. Write on, Dorcas. Your writings have been delightfully refreshing in the most respectable way! I remember back in Minnesota having some borrowed Laura Ingalls books where someone had taken a sharpie and crossed out questionable sentences, lol!!!

  9. Good words! I can think of some people who should do a little less and reflect a little more. But I can also think of a lot of people who have been burned so many times by mid-life that they lose all courage for risk. Oh to be someone who never stops learning, while never stopping doing!

    Ultimately, the only person who knows you perfectly and who will thus judge your "doing" rightly is God. You can rest in him and keep on "doing" with humility and confidence. Here is a poem I wrote while wrestling through similar thoughts late last year:

  10. Yes, and yes, and ever yes!

  11. Dear Dorcas, I read your blog and your writings...with total "I get it" ooohs and aaahs. I know what you mean about words and the need to express them and the very vulnerable feelings that come knowing there are those who read them and decide whether or not you are right or wrong or maybe even crazy. I often wonder why they can't read my words remembering I too am human and that if I spent time explaining to them my human flaws as a way to help them through theirs...Well, then they should tell me thank you kindly and be done with it. Ha! Anyway, keep doing what God has given you to do...writing and praying for your daughters and being the minister's wife...God has used you to encourage me more than once. Shilah

  12. Your daughters are wise to recognize that many young men would eventually feel overshadowed by a "doing" wife, despite perhaps being initially attracted to such a person--and that could generate its own difficulties. I say the young ladies are on the right track by letting young men demonstrate the doing early on. This doesn't mean it has to be "out-front, everyone-get-in-line-behind-me" doing. Quiet strength and behind the scenes "doing" can be ever-so-powerful too.

    Thanks for being open about your discouragements. It's easy for me to see the criticisms for what they are in your case--petty matters you shouldn't have to deal with. If only I could be so lucid about my own discouragements.

  13. Thanks to all for the insights, humor, and encouragement.
    Rhoda--thanks for the perspective on the Sharpie Mennonites. I will try hard to feel honored.
    Miriam, as you may have guessed, the Sharpie example is one that I could talk about. There are so many other criticisms that can't be shared.

  14. Do you think the 'Sharpie Mennonite' took a risk when she 'did' something and wrote to you about her concerns? Do you suppose she feels much the same as you did: 'criticized and judged and graded and analyzed'; that 'It would be a whole lot easier... to withdraw, retreat, and be silent. To stay home and make quilts and... and take up woodworking and have quiet discussions about whether or not to remodel the bathroom next year.'; because then SHE 'wouldn’t get...' publicly ridiculed; that 'Doing just doesn’t seem to be worth the risks.'?
    Just a thought....

  15. To Anonymous--Yes, he/she took a risk.
    However, if they are staying offline as they are supposed to, they will never see this or be identified.
    Which made it seem like a safe and anonymous example, unlike 50 others I could have used.

    1. Why do we as Mennonites criticize each other so much? We criticize each other for being to plain, to liberal, to open and honest, to stuffy, and the list goes on. We like to think of ourselves as close to God but how can we be when we are constantly tearing each other apart? How proud we are to think that if someone isn't doing things as we are they are wrong. I would like to read an honest post on this. -erica

  16. When I was teaching school, I used to say preachers and teachers don't make more mistakes than others, but more people notice them. That list should definitely include authors, as well as anyone in leadership positions. LRM

  17. I have never met a child who wasn't way more curious after the black marks than "harmed" by what they would have read. You can be assured that they will be watching for that book elsewhere so they can look up and read every blacked out line. I remember hiding books when I was a child only to have them discovered and being reprimanded only to later finding that person reading the book cover to cover. Go figure!

  18. I don't guess that a word of encouragement from a non-Mennonite really counts for much here...but I hope you know that you bless a much wider audience with your writing than you disappoint. We count on you to listen to the voice that bids you to keep on.

  19. As a thin skinned person,I understand why the criticism went deep. But please know that my eyes always light up when I see an article of yours in my inbox. So many times you put into words what I can not. I'm one of those people who does not write more than is absolutely necessary. And I do not ever feel that thumb in my back. But I am SO GLAD that you do feel it, and that you write. Blessings on your work!

  20. I am encouraged and inspired every time I read what you write. If for no other reason, then simply because you had the courage to do the "dangerous thing" and write.

  21. Ding! And life would be desperately boring. I'm a Mennonite also, and the "sharpie mennonite" description is priceless. I agree with Erma who said a child is way more curious after the black marks. Totally. I was too. I love how you use humour in this post too!
    Erica asks "why do Mennonites criticize each other so much?" I think it has to do, in part at least, with our extensive social life. We do so much together and know so much about each other it's immediately easier to criticize. But there's 2 sides to every piece of paper. I was born Menno and don't know much about the cultural aspects of another way of life. Great discussion.

  22. There will always be those who censor and claim to be offended. The world - and the church - has far too many naysayers. But you, Dorcas, are an excellent writer with a great balance of wit and wisdom. Follow your own advice and let it go. Keep on writing. I know I'm not the only one who would miss it.

  23. I have the privilege to be able to say I'm not Mennonite even though I dress like one. a man called me mennonite I strongly said with a strong look I'm not a Mennonite he ask so what are you I said a Christian . then I explained why he shouldn't just assume I was Mennonite I said ukranians dress like me and they get mistaken for mennonite and number one I'm not from Mennonite back ground non of my family are Mennonite just my husband and what I practice is biblical. The bible teaches that a woman is only to answer to her husband when she is accused of and put down next time give that to him lol. Mennonites teach that the bible is their sword it's slipping away I use to keep a bible in my purse maybe I should start again it would stop a lot of nonsense and get in the word. How would it have ended if you pulled a bible out lol?