Stop Minding Your Own Business

My husband and I slept in one day last week. Bill likes to have a cup of coffee before our run, so we didn’t get out the door until after 9:00, much later than we usually go.

We had a nice run, then came home to hot showers and a leisurely brunch.

I couldn’t help thinking about all those years when I set my alarm for 4:40, rose, ran (or swam), and showered before daylight so I could get to school by 6:45.

Living on our own schedule now is a luxury.

The first year as a retiree, worried that I wouldn’t be able to occupy my time while Bill was still working, I tried my hand at several different volunteer positions. Some of them I still enjoy and some have fallen by the wayside. 

None of the volunteer jobs I tried were more unlikely than preparing and filing free income tax returns for filers who earn less than a specified income.

I had never even filled out my own tax return. That was a chore first performed for me by my father, then my husband, then a professional tax preparer.

Math was never my strong suit.

I went through intensive training, however, passed the test to receive my certification, and was officially accepted as a Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) preparer, under the auspices of the United Way.

I will never forget my first client, a mother with two little girls in tow.

This family had already been waiting for their turn for 30 minutes and, as you can imagine, that was not the preferred way for a two-year-old and her four-year-old sister to spend the afternoon. The natives were restless.

The mother, a single mom, was tired and frustrated, worn out from trying to control her charges in the income tax office and embarrassed by the noise and antics of her daughters.

I tried to project a reassuring air and promised her taxes would be done in no time. The older sister was placated when I gave her some scrap paper and pencils to draw with. The younger sat on her mother’s lap and fidgeted.

As I went through the tax preparation steps I was taught in training, I felt less than confident in my ability to quickly complete the task than I projected.

The minutes ticked by. The girls became more and more restless in direct proportion to the increase in the mother’s anxiety level. I was torn between finishing the tax forms as quickly as possible and making sure each T was crossed and I dotted.

Finally, the older girl wailed, “I’m hungry!

That was an issue I could do something about.

May I give them some food?” I asked the mother, pulling granola bars and little bags of pretzels out of my bag.

She looked at me as if I was offering her a sack of gold and agreed to allow me to dispense the snacks.

The two little girls happily sat on the floor of the office and had a picnic while I finished the taxes. I got the return checked by a veteran tax preparer, who determined they were correctly filled out, and secured a large refund for the young mother.

Giving out some treats was no big deal, but it does go against my first instinct, which is to mind my own business.

Here is the thing about minding one’s own business, though – it’s not a good way to live your life.

Minding your own business is safe, it’s convenient, but it numbs you to the discomfort and suffering of those around you.

Minding my own business may increase my own comfort level, but it does so at the expense of others.

When I decide to not mind my own business, I open my eyes to the injustice, sorrow, and despair that exists in the world. Then I have no choice but to attempt to affect change.

God, apparently, has entrusted the construction of His kingdom here on earth to, um, to us, as unsettling as that may be. As told to us by Luke, “behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.

Yes, for some inscrutable reason, God has charged you and me with fighting injustice, lifting up the poor, taking care of the sick, and just generally reflecting His love.

I don’t know about you, but I feel even less prepared to help build God’s kingdom than I did to prepare tax returns.

I am sometimes cynical, often impatient, I can be self-righteous, and I…well, let’s just say I have control issues as in, I like to be in control.

Of everything.

At all times.

We may think it would be more efficient if He would just do the whole project himself, but that is not the plan, and it never was.

The plan is for us to get off our phones, unhook from social media, and pay attention. To stop minding our own business and start getting involved in the project. To share God’s love and grace with an attitude of humility and service.

Even if it’s just one granola bar at a time.

 

You can find the places I link up here.

 

87 comments

  1. What a marvelous opportunity to help that young mother! I’ll bet she will remember that tax return event for the rest of her life.

    Getting up before 5:00 takes discipline! For a short period I got up at 4:45 to exercise my new knee, walk in the village, and get to work.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I love this. As much as I need to work, I do want to volunteer when I retire.

    I’ve done a lot of mentoring and that us so rewarding. And yes, you can’t mind your own business if you can help someone.

    Just in recent months I’ve started walking with a former coworker who is going through a divorce. I noticed that she was wearing old sneakers that gave her blisters. I explained about sneakers being a size bigger. But nothing happened on her part. So I brought her a bag of my old running shoes. She now happily wears a different pair each week. Small world is that I volunteer with her daughter. She said You’re the one who gave my mom the sneakers. Thanks!!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This is something I am trying to figure out – the line between staying in my own lane and offering help to others. I have always been one to offer help but sometimes it ends up more me doing it for them.
    Thanks for a chance to review my thoughts on this.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. A funny read because you sound so New Englandish. I’m from Seattle, but have lived in Maine, NY, Georgia and the Carolinas. In Maine or Seattle we generally keep to ourselves unless asked. In NY, words like ‘can you help me’ is taken to mean ‘I will rob you blind if given the chance’. But, here in South Carolina? Caring about what others do and think and if and where they go to church, is most people’s pastime. A good Southerner would have no trouble feeing those children and lecturing mom on the importance of nutrition.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. To share God’s love and grace with a attitude of humility and service.

    You shared a wonderful story that is an example of the above. Thank you.

    I agree with you. I walk a thin line between being helpful and being detached, trusting that I’ll be of use when I should be or allowing people to walk their own paths when that is in the best interest of all concerned. It’s a challenge sometimes to know which is which.

    Liked by 1 person

      • Laurie, this is great! Love the title and this new take on minding our own business is spot on and stirred my heart. We can’t just remain in our own bubble. We are called to love in action and you are so right, there are so many times that we shouldn’t mind our own business! Shared on my personal Facebook.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. well said…we must stop pretending we are all that matters and consider the common good.
    Have people stopped asking themselves would Jesus or other spiritual leaders would do? I said to dh last night, someone’s “right” to not wear a mask or keep distant, takes away my right to safety, don’t I count?

    Don’t we all count? You said, beyond that, we are all needed to contribute to well being of the whole and here to love each other. Does it all come down to greed, give me mine first and that’s all that matters? Or would life be enriched if we considered the needs of others when getting what we need?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I don’t see the WWJD bracelets like I used to. I guess that is not in fashion right now. I think all these no-maks people whining about their “rights” are selfish.

      You are exactly right – do unto others….

      Like

  7. Ah yes, VITA, some good times right there. I did it for my last semester of grad school. We definitely could have used some snacks. And I must say that being able to sleep in AND get my run done before work is one of my favorite parts of the 2020 WFH gig.

    While there are definitely times when minding my own business is warranted, you hit the nail on the head that it is a very numbing way to live.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Laurie, for those of us who were raised by parents who taught us to get involved, the notion has become less appealing in our overly litigious society. I have found that the best place to ‘not mind my own business’ is with volunteer organizations that provide parameters for acceptable behaviors involving clients. Sad, that I have to consider the consequences of getting involved and can’t rely on my own instincts, but that is the reality of today. There are lots of places to make a difference if we all just look around. Thanks for sharing another positive, uplifting message.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I had similar worries when I taught school. Our school had a rule – do NOT touch students. I get it. You never know who is comfortable being touched. When some of my (female) students asked for hugs at the end of the year, I broke that rule. Thank you for your very kind commnet.

      Like

  9. Great reminder to remember. I am guilty of staying in a comfort zone, and need to remember that someone won’t always say what is affecting them. I read not long ago, maybe it was your post, don’t remember, to ask more than how are you because usually people just say I’m okay. Ask maybe in a different way perhaps to see if they will open up if there is things on their mind that they need to talk about.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Ah, service is a hard one for me, I have to admit. I feel like it’s all I ever do — service to my mom, my husband, my animals. It’s not true, of course, and *sometimes* I’m happy to do it, but at other times it feels overwhelming. I admire those that devote their lives to service!

    I have done my own taxes, but that was so many years ago. Another control freak in my family does it these days. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  11. What a great way to turn “minding your own business” on it’s head, Laurie. I’m sure the mom at the tax office appreciated your care for her children just as much as she did your work on her taxes. Thanks for this reminder to be on the lookout for opportunities when I SHOULD be sticking my nose into someone else’s business. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I often carry snacks in my backpack. Most of the time, they are leftover from races. I think you sell yourself short, Michele – you give comfort to many through your words and I am sure in other ways.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. I’m currently unemployed and have been for a while. I have been doing some study so that was good as it gave me a sense of purpose and I made sure I was up and at my desk early each morning, as if ‘starting work’.

    I’m a little worried I’m going to be directionless if I don’t do further study and can’t find some work so starting to think about volunteer options locally. I had looked into it before but then got a contract for some work so deferred it.

    (And I had to laugh at the bonus snacks at the tax appointment!)

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Hi Laurie – I loved this post and could see a lot of myself in what you’ve written. I’ve always been taught to keep my nose out of other people’s business, to keep my head down, and to not get too close…..but you know what? The more time I spend getting to know people, the more I care, and the more I don’t mind my own business, that’s where the connections begin and friendships form and deepen. People love to be cared about – I’m not great at it, but I’m definitely doing my best to be interested and engaged in what other people are willing to share – and (like you) I have more time to do it these days.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. It is really nice to offer to help a young mum who is struggling under the pressure of restless children and stress. So many times as a single mother I would have dearly loved someone to take time to offer me some help or kind words. It would have made my burden lighter

    Liked by 1 person

  15. this is precious! and I love how your write, clear storytelling and inviting. I agree, I am also in need of paying better attention and getting involved…it is the harder thing but the” God is there thing” most often.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. I love this story! And I agree, there are times when we are not called to mind our own business but to look around us and see where there are ways we can help others. Even if it’s only in little ways, or we feel inadequate, God can use those small acts of kindness to make a difference.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Lesley. I often (usually?) feel inadequate to perform the tasks that God has called me to do, but I give it my best shot anyway. Somehow I muddle through and He uses my efforts for the benefit of others.

      Liked by 1 person

  17. What I love about your posts Laurie is the stories you tell to illustrate your theme. I’m notoriously bad at minding my own business. Where I’m worse though, is then feeling as though I need to control the outcome. As you say, once you know… Anyways, there’s a fine but important line.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much, Jo. I appreciate your kind comments. I am definitely not good at minding my own business. I am too nosy for my own good. We both have good hearts, though and that counts for a lot.

      Liked by 1 person

  18. I’ve been known not to mind my own business, Laurie. I remember when I first moved to Mumbai post marriage I was travelling by the local train with my husband, when I noticed a woman’s bracelet almost falling off. My first instinct was to tell her, but my husband told me that unlike the small town I came from, people mind their own business in Mumbai. But I couldn’t resist. She thanked me profusely and perhaps my husband learned that it’s okay not to mind your own business in these matters no matter which city you are in.
    Your story is such a sweet one. It’s the little things kindnesses that make such a difference to life! In these difficult times, we ought not to be minding our business at all! 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ha! I often don’t mind my own business, despite all of my mother’s pleas to the contrary. Good for you for saving the woman on the train grief by not minding your own business.

      Like

  19. To mind or not to mind that is the question 🙂 The answer is best left to a situation. I also think our conscience guides us well, if we listen to it. I am sure the single mom & her little girls will remember you in their own way & time. Have a happy & fruitful week ahead Laurie!

    Liked by 1 person

  20. A great reminder. Sometimes the smallest gesture or kindness can make all the difference. I have held and amused toddlers (for mother’s I didn’t know) on buses and planes and checkout lines and now I really miss talking to strangers because of masks and Covid. I guess I have a friendly grandma face (or maybe a funny one, it seems to calm children). But nowadays, such casual contact is to be avoided on all sides. We are kind of forced to mind our own business.

    Liked by 1 person

    • What a wonderful thing to do. It’s a win all around. The mothers, toddlers, and you all benefit from your kindness and generosity. We need more people like you in the world, Sallie!

      Like

  21. I can imagine you were a great teacher as you approach new projects with great gusto. Are you still delivering for Meals on Wheels Laurie? I am embarrassed to say I have never done my taxes … my parents took my tax info during my college years at the diner to their tax preparer. My father was a tool-and-diemaker and could take depreciation off for his tools, shop aprons and had someone do the taxes. I just continued going to that CPA – now he’s retired and his daughter and son-in-law have taken over the biz.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Linda. I had a great time teaching! I am still delivering for Meals on Wheels. I am now making up the schedule for all the drivers too. I still haven’t done OUR taxes, just other people’s taxes! 🙂

      Like

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