Work with your hands

work with your hands poster

“Everybody isn’t a lawyer or doctor. Teach kids it’s ok to work with your hands and build cool things.” I ran across this poster on LinkedIn last week (you can see it here) and a friend commented that it’s a great time to be in the trades.

Later she wrote me how frustrating it is that people seem to think “. . . being a tradesmen is a secondary dream or something to fall back on if you don’t make it as a doctor . . . It seems the general LI public is really ignorant as to the education and commitment that it takes to be successful in a trade and that it’s not something to be taken lightly. It’s like if you don’t work at a keyboard or on a phone, that you’re less of a professional.

  • The fact is HVAC, plumbing, electrical and other tradesPEOPLE do go to college and are required like many professions to obtain annual CEU’s and certifications.
  • The fact also is that plumbers can expect to earn $80-100k annually.
  • The fact also is that we have a terrible lack of tradespeople available and they are now in a position to call the shots in regards to benefits, schedules and perks.

I don’t think that sounds like something that is a ‘fall back’ . . . I’m seriously disturbed by the attitude of people who clearly consider working with their hands lower in some way . . . and we’re going to find ourselves in a dire situation because we haven’t fostered the trades.”

Her comments reminded me immediately of Shop Class as Soulcraft by Matthew Crawford. I’ve quoted him before on the blog (here and here and here). He’s a PhD who became a motorcycle mechanic. He documents how we have degraded work over time by separating thinking and doing. This is a false separation, as my friend knows. In real work, you can’t separate mental and manual function. Mechanics, plumbers and general contractors constantly confront situations that require diagnosis and good judgment. It’s super insulting that we imagine these people are somehow less intelligent than a banker.

If thinking is bound up with action, then the task of getting an adequate grasp on the world, intellectually, depends on our doing stuff in it. Shop Class as Soulcraft p. 164

Work with Your Hands

Nothing beats experience. When you work with your hands, you see what works and what doesn’t. There’s something tangible in front of you and you get immediate feedback on your progress. You see what you have accomplished. This is highly rewarding to most of us. Who has experienced the feeling that you’ve accomplished more cleaning out your garage then you did all week at work?

There are a couple reasons for this:

  1. We see the whole picture. It’s easy to grasp how our efforts contributed. We can see real differences!
  2. We complete a whole project instead of just filling a desk for a certain amount of hours.

I’m sure you could think of more. If you want meaningful work, it’s important to consider how important tradespeople are to our society. They might not get the respect they deserve, but if you run their jobs through Daniel Pink’s Drive test, they win every time. Autonomy? Check. Mastery? Check. Purpose? Check.

Let’s work on erasing the hierarchy of jobs and instead celebrate the diversity of careers. The next generation needs to know all their options.

Pain is a Signal

Pain is a signal. But it can signal different things. I was reminded of this yesterday, when I was thrilled to get to spend some time skyping into the Comm 180 class at my alma mater, Trinity Western University. It’s always exciting to get to share some of my experience and hope that it helps people with their own callings.

The students asked some great questions, and as I gave answers I noticed myself going back and forth a lot. The paradoxes, the tensions, the juxtapositions. So much is situational when it comes to calling. One person asked about how you know it’s time to move on and I started my answer with pain.

Pain is a signal

When I burned out at my first job, I was in pain and it goes worse and worse the longer I stuck it out. I had physical stress symptoms, mental exhaustion, emotional upheaval etc. My pain was a signal that intensified until I couldn’t ignore it anymore. When I quit, I was flooded with peace and relief.

When I wrote my book, it was hard. I didn’t like it. I had back and neck and arm pain from the lengthy computer time. I was mentally exhausted from trying to write well. I was emotionally fragile as all kinds of classic writer’s doubts assailed me. In this instance I felt like the pain was signalling that I was doing what I was supposed to be doing. When I was done writing the book, I had a huge sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.

Both experiences involved pain but signaled something different. In the first instance, the pain was signalling that I needed to remove myself from a situation that was toxic for me. In the second instance, the pain signalled that I was on the right track – we never create without resistance, without overcoming hurdles.

To be honest, it can be easy to assume the wrong thing about pain. I picked two instances where I feel like I made the right call about it, but I know I’ve made plenty of wrong ones too. Sometimes we assume it’s necessary pain and hurt ourselves by staying. We assume we should never quit, that the pain is something we can fix, ignore or overcome with enough time. Other times we give up too easily. We experience some unexpected resistance and assume it’s a signal that we’re going the wrong direction. We stop when we should push through.

So how do you know what your pain is signalling? How do you know whether it’s a situation where the pain “is gain” or it’s a warning to stop?

I think it takes time. Time to check your reactions and underlying motivations for continuing or stopping. Time to ask your trusted advisors. Time to check your sense of well-being and identity. It’s never an easy call. It’s unlikely to be straightforward. That’s why we need so much discernment and wisdom in our lives. Because so much is situational and unique for each person and there usually aren’t quick, easy answers. It reminds me of a favourite quote my dad sent me awhile back:

Never make a principle out of your own experience; let God be as original with other people as He is with you -Oswald Chambers

What do you think? How do you normally respond to the pain signals in your life?

A Year of Biblical Womanhood: Domesticity

DomesticityOf course, one of the parts I liked best about Evan’s book was her conclusion in the chapter on Domesticity where she affirms calling for all women, whether in the home or outside of it.This is a huge struggle for women, Christian or not. Countless articles and books debate if, when and how women can “have it all” – by which everyone seems to mean being both a Domestic Diva with gorgeous children and a Career Woman heading for the C-suite. It all starts to get confusing and guilt-inducing. Everyone wonders if they’re ok.

  • The women who can’t imagine giving up a career.
  • The women who secretly wish they could just stay home instead of working (even with no kids!).
  • The women who stay home with kids but can’t help wishing for a work environment.
  • The women who love work and love their kids but aren’t sure they’re getting the balance right.
  • The women who find fulfillment in staying home with children but wonder if that’s enough.

And on top of career and kids, we all have houses to clean and meals to cook. What should our attitudes about these things be? In the midst of these debates and wars, homemaking is either glorified as the ultimate womanly calling or reviled as a contributor to the suppression of women everywhere.

Much of the humour in A Year of Biblical Womanhood comes from Evan’s status as a novice when it comes to all things domestic. She freely admits that she hates cleaning. I nearly died laughing when she describes reading through Martha Stewart’s Homekeeping Handbook checklists:

“As it turns out, until I started this experiment pretty much everything on Martha’s ‘clean every day’ list I did about once a week, pretty much everything on Martha’s ‘clean every week’ list I did about once a month, pretty much everything on Martha’s ‘clean every month’ list I did about once a year, and pretty much everything on Martha’s ‘clean every season’ list I’d never done in my life. That’s right folks; I’d never vacuumed our refrigerator grille and coil. We lived in squalor after all.”

I got that same tome for my wedding and have rarely cracked it opened due to the enormous sense of panic that attacks me if I even glance at one of her checklists. I just don’t want to know how much I’m not doing!

But as Evans goes along with her experiment, she discovers she loves cooking and learns a lot about connecting with God in the day-to-day housework, not just in her writing or devotional time. She writes,

“As much as I hate to admit it, the sixteen hours I spent deep-cleaning my kitchen turned out to be some of the most valuable hours of the project. The task required creativity, problem solving, innovation, and resourcefulness, and it forced me to confront the ugly air of condescension that permeated my attitude toward homemaking.”

This chapter reminded me of one of my favourite books of the past year, Kathleen Norris’s The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy and Women’s Work which I wrote about here. Norris has an amazing way of helping us meet with God in the midst of daily chores. Evans draws on Brother Lawrence’s Practicing the Presence of God, which I also highly recommend. I read it in high school and remember experiencing both a huge sense of relief that “praying constantly” was something that could simply flow out of everything you were doing and at the same time feeling challenged to truly see God in my day-to-day circumstances.

Homemaking is a noble calling that we should honour, just not to the exclusion of all other callings for women. Evans concludes,

“If God is the God of all pots and pans, then He is also the God of all shovels and computers and paints and assembly lines and executive offices and classrooms. Peace and joy belong not to the woman who finds the right vocation, but to the woman who finds God in any vocation, who looks for the divine around every corner.”

This is such an important message for women as we constantly battle different expectations about work, family and home life. We don’t have to go somewhere else or be somebody else to live in the calling that God has for us. Our callings will probably wind in and out of our homes throughout the different seasons of our lives. The important thing is to meet God and follow him faithfully wherever we are currently placed.


Don’t Tell Them Not to Read It!

I read Rachel Held Evan’s blog. I enjoy her writing, her humour, her challenging questions and the grace with which she handles differences among us. She just published her second book called A Year of Biblical Womanhood and the Christian blogging world is whirling with reviews and reviews of reviews. I haven’t read the book although I plan to, but all this reminded me of one of my major pet peeves:

People who warn you against reading something.

Danger - Do Not Read This Book!


To put it bluntly, I think that’s the stupidest thing you can say. Here’s why:

1. The minute something is forbidden, it becomes more tempting. I know we’re supposed to be more mature than that, after all we’re not toddlers who have been told not to touch the hot stove. But let’s be honest, don’t you immediately feel the urge to flip through that book to see why you shouldn’t read it? If you’re trying to make sure someone does not read a controversial book, what you should really do is brush it off casually and suggest that it’s boring or not worth reading. Don’t warn people about its dangers! That will just encourage them to read it!

2. You reveal your own insecurities or fears. If you feel threatened by the material in a book, it might mean you have some doubts or questions you haven’t adequately addressed in your own life. Instead of just avoiding “dangerous” ideas – maybe it’s time to tackle them until you know where you stand. If you’re not confident about handling questions on your own, get help from a mentor.

3. It’s insulting to the person you warn. Do you think they’re not smart enough to recognize the problems or “dangers” in the book? Does reading a book mean you agree with everything in it? Does reading a book automatically change your mind? No! If only! Think about what perfect Christians we would be if simply reading the Bible immediately changed our hearts, attitudes and behaviours!

If you’re worried about someone being influenced by bad ideas, the best thing you can do is encourage them to read the book carefully. Tell them to take notes, underline sentences, write down questions and highlight points to discuss. When they’re done reading it, go out for coffee and have a good long discussion about everything they documented. Do some research together. Dig into what you really believe together. Figure out where you agree and disagree with the author and maybe even each other (gasp!). You might be surprised about how much you learn BECAUSE of that “dangerous” book.

I would argue that Rachel Held Evans wrote this book to start a conversation, not to declare that she has the final answer to “biblical womanhood.” In fact, she says as much here. Reading something does not mean you agree wholeheartedly with an author. The point is to engage their ideas thoughtfully and form your own opinion. If an author is telling lies, it will teach us to recognize them. If an author is using bad arguments, poor logic or falsified data, that should teach us to reason, research and fact-check properly. Frankly, we should be doing that with everything we read, whether it comes from a “dangerous” source or your favourite author!

Please read dangerous books. Read them with your friends and mentors. Talk about them. I promise you it will be good for your spiritual growth.


Choosing God

I don’t know how many of you got to watch the TEDtalk video I posted last Monday. Barry Schwartz, the speaker, made a lot of good points about how choice paralyzes us.

In brief, here are a few of the points he made:

  • We think autonomy is good but often it hurts us. He uses the example of a doctor giving you options to choose from instead of just telling you what the next step is. Sometimes there are lots of options, but sometimes (especially when we’re sick and in no shape to research) we just want a doctor to help us by telling us what to do. We want to just trust the expert. Autonomy in these situations shifts the burden of responsibility to us when we are not capable of bearing it.
  • We are preoccupied with consuming life questions like when and who to marry, when and how many children, when to stop working when we’re so connected we could work around the clock. We get to “invent” ourselves but it means we’re constantly having to make decisions. This is tiring.
  • Rather than being liberated by more choices, we are paralyzed. With too many choices, we are less satisfied overall with whichever option we choose because we’re never sure we really made the right decision.
  • Our expectations escalate to a point where we expect perfection. It is no longer possible to be pleasantly surprised, we can only hope that our expectations are adequately met. We’re in for dealing with a lot of disappointment.
  • With tons of choices, we have only ourselves to blame when we don’t get the experience we wanted. We think we should have been able to do a better job choosing.

What does God have to do with this?

I believe God is the answer to these issues! God limits our choices. And this is a good thing. Something to be grateful for. He has limited us by choosing certain gifts for us, by making our personality one way and not the other, by putting us in a specific family, in a specific place in a certain era. This can feel like a real negative for many of us. “Why God?” is a common question and we’re not really thrilled with answers about how he knows best and that his ways are different than our ways. We’ve swallowed the lie that more choices are better and these limitations can feel very restricting. Many of us want to make our own decisions – we don’t necessarily perceive how draining and disheartening it can be to have the whole responsibility for our lives in our own hands. When we see God’s limitations on us as negative, we push back and walk out on him.

But what happens when we view these limitations as positive?

Suddenly the burden of responsibility is shifted back to the one who is capable of wearing it. We feel less stressed about figuring out our major life questions because we aren’t in the business of trying to invent our own life – we’re allowing ourselves to be led. We can be more satisfied and content in the present, without constantly worrying that the grass was greener somewhere else and we missed out on it due to our own error.

Trusting that God is writing the story of your life can lift the pressure of our decision anxiety. If you’ve never trusted God with your life, maybe it’s time to test it out, to let go of your own control and to ask him to lead you. Some of us say we’ve trusted God our whole lives, only to realize we’ve never really actually tried it. We’ve payed lip service to the idea while maintaining our own control. It’s a hard concept for us to swallow – this idea of letting someone else be the director.

In The Rest of God, Mark Buchanan writes, “Any deep change in how we live begins with a deep change in how we think. The biblical word for this is repentance – in Greek, metanoia, ‘a change of mind.'” In A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, Don Miller writes, “I admitted something other than me was showing a better way. And when I did this, I realized the Voice, the writer who was not me, was trying to make a better story, a more meaningful series of experiences I could live through.”

Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” Maybe it’s time to trust that he meant it.


Calling and the Choices we do make

We’re back with further discussion on Anna’s comment from my blog post on how choice can paralyze us. We discussed the feeling of intimidation first and today we want to talk about two further emotions Anna mentions,

frustration and disillusionment, because even with a college degree and charming personality, it seems to be much more difficult to actually take advantage of these options than society and media suggest”

We see success stories everywhere. People who seem to be doing what they love everyday, following their callings and making a big difference in their communities. Looking at our lives can definitely cause us to feel frustrated and disillusioned. I think there are several factors that play into these feelings (these are not in any kind of order of importance):

1. Our modern concept of work
We see the success stories and we wonder why we’re putting in time at an office or retail job. Part of this disillusionment is allowable – workplaces today are generally not set up to allow people to pursue their callings and we’re usually not prepared for this discrepancy. There are many theories on why much of our work has become meaningless today. Daniel Pink suggests that every job needs to provide some autonomy, an opportunity for mastery, and purpose in order to be  good work (see my blog post on that here).

Our choices here?

When we’re working in a job that is not fulfilling, maybe we can brainstorm ways that would make it better. We can try to work within our environment to initiate changes that allow us to grow more.

If your workplace is set in stone, maybe you can start focusing how to live out your calling outside the workplace – this may involve redefining what you think of when you think of “your work.” For example, my job title is Office Manager, but when I think of my work, I think of this blog and everything that goes along with that.

2. Impatience
But we can’t blame everything on corporate America’s lack of fulfilling jobs. Frustration should serve as a reminder that we live in a very “instant” culture and we need to fight our assumptions about doing significant things RIGHT AWAY (a common Millennial generation characteristic which I’ve discussed before). Learning to see calling in our small unimportant daily lives is essential. There is no overnight success. And if you’re really frustrated with your lack of movement, I suggest reading the story of Joseph several times . . . I imagine he was fairly disillusioned about his dreams when he was first sold as a slave and later put in prison.

Our choices here?

Learning to think of time differently. This is difficult because it is such a commodity in our lives. Allowing ourselves to learn to wait and learn from the moment is difficult because it feels like we’re “wasting” time or letting time “pass us by.” God’s view of time is a bit different than ours and for those of us on the younger end, we need to remember the “fruition” of what God calls us to may take place much much later in our lives. We need to choose to still be faithful.

3. Our definitions of success
Much of the time, we see calling tied to successful people. They were the ones who were able to “choose their own destinies” and those destinies are usually bright, bold and beautiful. It’s easy to get caught up in this. We want to be successful too. We want to be self-fulfilled too. But is that what calling is really about?

On the other hand, we often see calling tied to missionaries and pastors. These stories can also leave us thinking that others have it all figured out and are successful because they found a missionfield or a church to live their calling out in. We might listen to the stories about their meaningful work with envy and think that we should follow similar routes in order to be successful.

Our choices here?

The choices we make here are about perspective and attitude. We have to decide if we think our callings are about our own self-fulfillment or something bigger than that. We have to decide what definitions of success we will hold to. We have to decide again how we’re going to respond to the fact that our lives are not playing out like the autobiography of our favorite movie star.

At the same time, we have to acknowledge and accept our uniqueness. God may not want you to become a pastor – he might want you to do pastoral work in your engineering job. We have to be careful not to limit “success” to taking certain specific paths.

4. Thinking God will do all the work for us
Sometimes we think that if this is our calling, God will open all the doors and make everything clear and easy for us to figure out (see above success stories that often present life in this way). We’ll meet the right people, make the right connections, notice the right opportunities, get the right jobs and move smoothly through it all. This means we spend time waiting for things to happen to us.

God does call us and does provide the way but that doesn’t mean we don’t have to participate in the work or that he removes all the obstacles. Maybe we have a lot to learn as we knock on doors ourselves and spend time searching for the right opportunities.

Our choices here?

To TRUST or not to TRUST – this is the biggest choice we make in life. How do we know we really trust God’s guidance? When we’re willing to take the risk of actually following. Waiting and considering and getting advice are great and necessary things, but at some point, we must be willing to take the first steps.

What are your thoughts? Any contributing factors I’ve missed?

An outside take on Choice

Hi Friends,

Today’s post is just a link to an interesting TEDtalk on the Paradox of Choice. I think this adds some very interesting points to the conversation of our last two blogposts which hopefully we’ll have more time to dig into on Friday.

Have a great week!





Choice and Calling: Take 2

I got a great comment on Monday’s blog post that I want to use to further explore the tensions of choice and calling. Anna writes about feelings of intimidation, frustration, and inadequacy in her search for calling and I just want to discuss the first one today.

“intimidation, because of the overwhelming variety of options apparently available”

When we think we have to sort out our calling from all the options out there and figure out what to do with our lives, it is extremely overwhelming. Like we discussed last time – we end up paralyzed by too many options and the fear of committing to the wrong track. But the idea that we choose our own callings is actually a lie. We don’t. This isn’t like choosing a major or a career or ordering something out of a catalog. Callings come from outside of us, and require a response. There are only three responses, “Yes”, “No” and “Maybe.”

However, that can make it sound like it’s easy to figure out what our callings are and how to respond. From personal experience, you’ll know that this is never as easy as it sounds. First, we have to learn how to hear before we can respond. And that might require us to do some soul-searching and have some honest conversations with ourselves about all the various messages in our lives. This could take time and then we still might not be sure that what we think we’re hearing is what we’re supposed to do.

This is where choices do come back into play because our callings can unfold in a variety of ways, like a theme in a piece of the music gets played out in different variations. For instance, for the last two years, I have felt compelled to research and write about calling. This has led to a blog, several workshops and three partially-finished e-books. I have had to make decisions about where to focus my attention and in what order of priority to invest my energy. As my due date approaches, I realize that my calling may take on another form completely for awhile – blog, workshops and e-books may be taking a sabbatical.

So while I didn’t choose to get completely obsessed with the idea of calling and all the ramifications that has on our lives, I have actually had a good deal of choice regarding the details of how I say Yes to following God in this area. Sometimes, one option has been very clear and sometimes, I’ve waded into the mess of figuring it out through a process of trial and error.

You might have the desire to do a lot of different great things – and it’s possible that they will all be part of your calling at some point or another. The question is what is my calling right now in this place and time?

If you’re feeling intimidated about figuring this out, I think a good place to start is acknowledging that it’s not your choice. You can’t be anything you want to be. God created you to be you and has a calling to match your uniqueness. This takes the burden off of you. It means living everyday normal life with an openness to being led and taught.

I would highly recommend reading the chapter on “The Focused Life” in Os Guinness’s book the The Call which deals with choice and commitment.

The Paralysis of Choice

This weekend, John and I were talking about having too many options or too much variety. Try creating a baby registry and you’ll know what we mean!

I’m easily overwhelmed by choices. My brain shuts off and I often give up, simply leaving the store or closing the webpage – I have real problems with shopping cart abandonment. I’m sure part of this is personality but I also think part of this stems from my childhood. Growing up in a small town in Germany meant that variety and options were limited whether it was groceries, clothes, paper goods or restaurants. Sometimes this was hard but most of the time this restriction didn’t bother us much. With limited choices, you make quicker decisions!

John doesn’t have shopping cart abandonment issues. Where I get tired and discouraged, he thrives on scouting and researching his options to the max (although even he has admitted to being daunted by the sheer overload of information you can find about strollers, carseats, cribs etc). Variety and options are really the name of the game for most of us in North America. With so much information available, John can spend days combing the internet to find out what essential features are required for the best quality, and then hunt for the best prices.

From these brief descriptions, you might realize that we tend to have some issues when we shop together. I just want to go get that one thing I need and avoid dealing with all the other items. John, on the other hand, usually “just wants to make sure” we’re getting the best deal, which means looking at everything before deciding.

If you’ve been wondering where this is leading, here’s the answer: These two shopping styles can also be two ways we approach calling. I think our differences highlight some of the same issues we run into as we contemplate the idea of calling in our lives. In North America, most people have the freedom to choose what to do with their lives compared to ages in the past where your path was set for you by your parent’s profession, social status and income. While we wouldn’t want to go back to having no choice about what we do in our lives, these days we’ve swung to the other extreme. We’re told we can be anything we want to be and this can actually become a burden that keeps us from moving forward.

Some of us have no idea where to start because it seems like there are too many options or paths we could take. It seems like so much work to even start figuring it out. We end up paralyzed and stay where we are, simply because we’re too overwhelmed. Then, when we do make a decision, we worry about whether we really had all the information we needed or if we should have kept researching.

On the other hand, many of us actually end up “wasting time” exploring all our options in detail. We research and read reviews, make pro/con lists, and have to walk around the whole store before we settle on something, even though it may be the very item we picked up when we initially walked in. We’re so busy comparing all the options and features that we get paralyzed in a place of just trying on different callings instead of committing to a path.

Which one do you relate to most: shying away from considering your options at all or spending too much time researching each one without committing?

On Friday, I want to talk about more about how choice and calling interact. Have a great week!