This is a question that I ask myself all the time. I’m truly interested in knowing what kind of man I am and how others might answer that question. Perhaps it’s narcissistic of me to wonder such a thing. Maybe I ask myself such a question because I more frequently ask it of others. Often, I find answers in the most unexpected places.
Recently, I’ve been reading Norwegian Wood: Chopping, Stacking, and Drying Wood the Scandinavian Way by Lars Mytting. I am a fairly eclectic reader and can often be found reading books on many different subjects. I was hoping this book could give me some insight into preparing next year’s full wood supply for our mountain cabin. Imagine my surprise when this wonderful little book, concerned mostly with organizing one’s wood stack, turned and helped me answer my preeminent question: What kind of man are you?
Apparently, back when women in the United States actually wanted to be married and find husbands, those who lived in heavily wooded portions of our country, like Maine, used wood piles to help them discern what kind of man they were courting. Folksy wisdom from the time suggested that you can tell a lot about a man by the way he stacks his wood pile. For those women who were looking to get married, Lars Mytting provided the following list to serve as a sort of rule of thumb.
- Upright and solid pile:Upright and solid man
- Low pile:Cautious man, could be shy or weak
- Tall pile:Big ambitions, but watch out for staggering and collapse
- Unusual shape:Freethinking, open spirit, again, the construction may be weak
- Flamboyant pile, widely visible:Extroverted, but possibly a bluffer
- A lot of wood:A man of foresight, loyal
- Not much wood:A life lived from hand to mouth
- Logs from big trees:Has a big appetite for life, but can be rash and extravagant
- Pedantic pile:Perfectionist, may be introverted
- Collapsed pile:Weak will, poor judgement of priorities
- Unfinished pile, some logs lying on the ground:Unstable, lazy, prone to drunkenness
- Everything in a pile on the ground: Ignorance, decadence, laziness, drunkenness, possibly all of these
- Old and new wood together:Be suspicious, might be stolen wood added to his own
- Large and small logs piled together:Frugal, Kindling sneaked in among the logs suggests a considerate man
- Rough, gnarled logs, hard to chop:Persistent and strong willed, or else bowed down by his burdens
- No woodpile:No husband (Mytting, pg. 116)
It’s been so long since I needed a woodpile that I don’t remember who I am in relation to my wood pile (Our home in Nevada was heated with two pellet stoves, and of course one barely needs a heater in SoCal.). I’ll let you know this spring. But this did get me thinking. What does what we produce today say about what kind of men we are? The problem in answering this question is that, for the most part, we produce nothing. Well, let me correct that. Most of us, including me, produce banter of one type or another.
Blogs and social media provide the opportunity for all of us to “produce” something. We produce carefully crafted images of ourselves. Perhaps we are more aware than the wood stacker that what we produce tells the world about us. The wood-stacker’s job has a dual purpose: stack wood in a manner that will allow it to dry so that it can be easily burned in the stove during the winter and do so in a manner that reflects who they are. Whereas, more often than not, what we produce maintains only one purpose: to tell the world about me—my sense of humor, thoughts, wit, and wisdom, etc.
So, I return to the question. What does what I produce tell the world about what kind of man I am? This is not a question that I can answer for myself. Only you can do that. But it might be worth some self-reflection nonetheless. I often worry that we all have been acculturated to a world that despises true masculinity. That we have forgotten not only what it means to be a man but that we have also forgotten that how we stack our woodpile (or what we write or post) says a lot about what kind of man we are.
In Being Dad: Father as a Picture of God’s Grace, I tried to give a description of masculinity that could serve as sort of a “Woodpile Rule of Thumb.” I define masculinity as a male’s quiet confidence and strength of character that finds expression in graciousness. It is quiet, firm, strong, and forgivingly gracious and kind. Lastly, masculine men know that they need to be forgiven as often as they need to forgive.
So, what do we produce? Is what we produce upright and solid, or is it rough, gnarled, and falling down? Do we have much of value to say, or not much at all? Are we flamboyant or collapsed? Is our work unfinished and not well thought out? Are we mean, incredulous, and overly critical? Or do we, as Luther once said, try to put the best construction on everything?
It is very tempting to forget that we actually tell people about who we are by what we produce; even when it come to our woodpile. When we are strong, people can see that. When we are kind, they see that too. When we act on behalf of righteousness, they know that. When we are self-serving, they know that as well. If we are wrong, they can tell, just as they can tell when we are right. They respect when we seek forgiveness and cringe when we are overly arrogant. When condemnation is all we produce, they come to expect that we will eventually condemn them as well. Yet, when the forgiveness that we have received in Christ is foremost on our lips, they hear that most of all. When this is the case, all can see that our wood pile is upright and tall, because its foundation is solid and unshakable.
Just as our wood piles say a lot about what kind of man we are, the words and messages we produce do the same. We ought to measure our words in accordance with who we are as men—men standing in Christ alone. After all, you never know, there may be some fine, fine, lady out there examining your woodpile in order to evaluate whether or not you might make a good husband. What do you want them to see?