My friend Aaron recently introduced me to a website that has shattered my world. No, it’s not a site spouting a new theology. No, it is not even a site promoting a new worldview or philosophy that has got my head spinning. Rather, it is a site dedicated to tools. Yes, tools. The site is John Neeman tools, and they have a rather simple philosophy. All of their tools are made in their small, traditional workshops (in Latvia) using equally traditional methods and techniques. Their focus is on uniqueness and quality, not quantity. They say that they want to help people remember how to use their hands, to relate their own human energy to their tools and achieve the true joy of creating something from humble beginnings.
The part of the site that really got to me was a simple twenty-minute video called, rather simply, The Wooden House Project. Again, the stated goal seemed rather simple. Jacob, the carpenter, says that he wanted to build a simple home using local materials such as wood, stone, old and new clay bricks, moss, linen fiber, clay, water, lime, wheat flour, salt, and wood shavings. And that he did. The timbers were hand cut from logs felled by hand in January because trees sleep during winter and the juice and moisture content is very low in them. As time passes, timber felled in winter becomes light and strong.
The video was simply amazing. I myself had had a fairly manly weekend, hauling cabinets and supplies to our cabin using snowshoes because the road was not passable, being covered in over four feet of snow. But this video made every accomplishment in my life seem small. I felt like less of a man. When I shared the video with my buddy Dave Rufner, his words sort of summed up my emotions when he replied: “That home building video could make a man weep. Literally.” That it did.
All of a sudden, I felt as though I had led a wasted life. Why hadn’t I done something like this? Why hadn’t I learned to work with my hands more proficiently, proficiently enough to live sustainably in the woods somewhere with my wife and kids? Why hadn’t I followed my heart and my dreams and set out to the great unknown and made a living making things with my own two hands?
And then, lying in my bed at 4:00 am this morning while contemplating my missed opportunities, it hit me. Life is just life, no matter where you are or what you’re doing. Jacob had obviously left out many scenes. I never saw him hit his fingers with a hammer, but he must have. There were almost constant pictures of his kids running around, but I never saw them get in trouble for messing up his tools or being where they were told not to be. I never saw his wife get inordinately pissed off that he was spending too much time with the other woman: The Wooden House. In fact, I never saw one negative thing cross my eyes, just sunshine and rainbows—literally.
Again, I had another realization. I had done something I liked with my life. In fact, I have followed my heart on many of an occasion. First, I married my beautiful wife, Joy. Together, we have raised three wonderful kids. In order to make a living for my family, I have worked with my hands and with my mind, sometimes at the same time. And unlike The Wooden House Project video, the video of my life that I play in my head shows not only sunshine and rainbows, but, at times, depression and despair. My life has been a mix of joy and happiness and repentance and forgiveness. Praise be to God!
My life has been and will continue to be what God has intended it to be. He has called me out of darkness into His marvelous light. By my baptism and by the proclaimed Word in my ears, He has made me his own. He has declared me to be His! And now I live, sinner and saint, walking through the motions of my every day somewhat normal life, trying to be what He has already declared I am. A sinful man such as me can do no other and hope for no other this side of glory.
I want my life to matter. I do not want my life to be a wasted life. Perhaps this is folly, but perhaps this means that engaging my vocations in ways that are meaningful to me and others is, before the Lord takes us home, part of our purpose here. I want to do good works, and yes, like Paul says in Romans 7, I fail more often than not. But more than that, I think that our common idea of good works is ill-defined.
I do many speaking gigs for the book Being Dad: Father as a Picture of God’s Grace. Sometime ago when teaching on fatherhood, I realized that at the end of the day, this whole work is an argument for taking the vocation of father seriously, for taking the idea of vocation seriously.
Gerhard Forde once wrote: “People who complain that Luther has no proper doctrine of good works and sanctification or ethics always seem to forget this understanding of the Christian’s calling. Perhaps because it is so utterly realistic and unromantic. But virtually everything Luther wants to say about ethics comes back to his doctrine of vocation. One is to serve God in one’s occupation, in one’s concrete daily life and its duties in the world. When I tell students that this first of all means that they should pay attention to being better students, they are often a little disappointed. They had more romantic things in mind… It does not occur to them that their first ethical duty is to be good students! Whatever call there might be for more extreme action, it must be remembered that Luther’s idea is that first and foremost one serves God by taking care of his creation.” (Gerhard Forde, A More Radical Gospel)
This is an argument for taking vocation seriously. Our first ethical duty is to try to fulfill our vocations to the best of our ability, whatever they may be. First and foremost, we serve God by taking care of His creation—our family. We serve our closest neighbors, our families, through the seemingly mundane motions of everyday life. God’s words of life come to our families on the lips of another, and by God’s grace, on our lips! So, as a man and a father, if I have done this even a little, praise be to God, and God forgive me for my abundant failures.
A wasted life, I’m not sure. But what I am now sure of is that if my life is wasted, it is not because I haven’t hand built a timbered framed house. I stand in the One who has redeemed me with His own blood. Because of Him, my Heavenly Father has declared me not a waste, and His declarations always come to fruition. By His Word, the entire universe was created, and by His Word, He saves me and calls me to be what He has already declared I am. I am a saved child of my Heavenly father—a man, husband, father, author, teacher, director, and even occasional carpenter. Praise be to God in Christ Jesus our Lord, who saves and calls a sinner like me to a life not wasted in Him.