VIEW VIDEO Our granddaughter Madeline, who’s in the second grade, has a schoolmate who wears an Apple watch, which his parents use to track his whereabouts. When I was a kid, your parents tracked you the old-fashioned way, mothers calling one another to rat you out. People were always poking their noses into your business, which is why I moved away as soon as I could, to a town where no one knew me. Then I met Joan and fell in love, and she would go home and visit her mother and I would call her to whisper sweet nothings in her ear. This was before everyone had their own phones, when entire families would share one phone that hung on the kitchen wall and had a 20-foot coiled, tangled cord that stretched into the living room when unraveled.
Except Joan’s family had a party line they shared with two neighbors, one an upright Quaker who minded his own business, and the other her nosy Aunt Edna, who didn’t mind her own business, and would pick up the phone to listen to our conversation. We could hear her sneaky, rat-like breathing. I would make up stories. I would say to Joan, “Well, I guess we’re just going to have to get married then.” We’d hear a little gasp, then her aunt would hang up the phone, and we’d see her the next weekend at a family dinner, and she would glare at us, but couldn’t say a thing, because she had obtained the information under dubious circumstances. That’s the worst thing about not minding your own business, you forfeit the right to comment.
Nevertheless, I always want to know what other people are doing. We were talking with our son Sam and his wife Kelsea the other night and when we hung up, I said to Joan, “I hope they’re going to have more children. I think I’ll ask them if they’re planning on having more.”
“That,” she said, “is their business, not yours.”
“Of course it’s my business,” I told her. “Those are my potential grandchildren we’re talking about.”
But I haven’t asked them because I think Joan might be right. I’ve always just assumed that anything that interests me is my business, which isn’t true. Just because we’re curious about something, doesn’t make it our business.
We’ve been reflecting on the things we want to do before we croak, and I want to add to that list the following goal: In my geezer years, I will endeavor to learn what is my business, and what is not. There was an early Christian community in Thessalonica, a port city in the region of Macedonia. Paul visited them, even lived there awhile, then followed up his visit with a letter, today preserved as 1 Thessalonians, telling them the day of the Lord was near, that they were living in the last days so pay attention and be ready. Incidentally, Quakers did the same thing, and it didn’t end well. A word of advice: Never predict the end of the world. You’re almost certain to be wrong, and if you’re right, no one will be around to congratulate you.
Besides, when people believe the end is near, they fling good sense out the window. That’s apparently what happened in the church in Thessalonica. So Paul wrote them again telling them the day of the Lord might not arrive as quickly as he’d thought, so here’s how you behave while you’re waiting: Don’t be idle, don’t be lazy, and don’t be busybodies. Mind your own business.
Around the same time Paul was writing, a Greek mystic named Epictetus was born into slavery. Eventually gaining his freedom, he taught philosophy in Rome before returning to Greece to begin a school of philosophy. After his death, his students collected his sayings, one of which was this: “Keep your attention focused entirely on what is truly your own concern and be clear that what belongs to others is their business and none of yours.”
Minding our own business cuts two ways. To mind our own business means we do not involve ourselves in the private matters of others. There are many people who’ve not gotten this memo, including many people who believe God has called them to mind everyone’s business but their own. Let’s reflect for a moment about what is our business and what is not.
Have you spent your entire life not feeling comfortable in the gender assigned to you at birth, or feeling attracted to someone of the same gender? That is not my business, so I will not condemn you nor prevent you from living your real self. I will mind my own business.
Have you gotten a divorce or are you living with someone to whom you’re not married? That is not my business, so I will not condemn you nor will I prevent your happiness. I will mind my own business.
Have you had to terminate a pregnancy for any reason? That is not my business, so I will not condemn you nor will I prevent you from seeking the medical care you need. I will mind my own business.
Oh, now here’s a tough one. Based on your life experience, family tradition, and personal philosophy, have you voted for someone with whom I disagree? That is not my business, so I will not condemn you, nor will I hinder your freedom to vote for whomever you wish. I will mind my own business.
Do you pray to Allah, believe in reincarnation, or not believe in God at all? That is not my business, so I will not condemn you, nor will I demand my religious beliefs prevail over yours. I will mind my own business.
As I said, minding our own business cuts two ways. Minding our own business means we do not concern ourselves with the private matters of someone else, it also means we mind our own business. Because if we don’t mind our business, who will? Who will assume responsibility for our lives if we don’t? Who will make decisions for our lives if we don’t? Who will secure our happiness if we don’t? In fact, we should be so busy and focused on minding our own business, we have neither the time nor inclination to mind someone else’s business. That’s what Paul was telling the Christians at Thessalonica. Don’t be idle, don’t be lazy, don’t be busybodies. Mind your own business.
Good stuff. I’ll be honest, I’ve not always cared for Paul, but I like him this morning, and now can’t help but wonder if maybe he was a little wiser than I thought. There’s good stuff here.
In my geezer years, I’m going to mind no one’s business but my own. I will not mind your business. That is your job. Now bear in mind, if your business, if your decisions, if your patterns of conduct, harm others, I will feel free to point that out. And if my business, if my decisions, if my patterns of conduct harm others, you should tell me so without hesitation. Minding our own business and letting others mind theirs does not give one free rein to act with impunity.
In our geezer years, indeed in all our years, we must walk this fine line of minding our own business and letting others mind theirs, while still urging one another to be the best people we can be. Therefore, I will not ask my son and daughter-in-law how many grandchildren they will give me, which isn’t my business. But I will do all I can to make sure the grandchildren they do give me are loved and cherished, which is my business.
So together we pray, “God, help us mind our own business, and remind us daily that it is always our business to love.”