Forever I will move
Like the world that turns beneath me
And when I lose my direction
I’ll look up to the sky
And when the black cloak drags upon the ground
I’ll be ready to surrender
And remember we’re all in this together
If I live the life I’m given I won’t be scared to die.
– The Avett Brothers, “The Once and Future Carpenter”
This song describes an ordinary but gifted carpenter (“man my hands were callused/ I could swing a metal mallet sure and straight”) who, discontent with his mundane life, abandons his profession and wanders restlessly (“But I took to the highway, a poet young and hungry/ And I left the timbers rotting where they lay”) in search of something better – more satisfying, more purposeful. Ironically, he does not find what he is looking for (“And I followed ’til I finally lost my way”), but instead loses his sense of meaning (“And now I spend my days in search of a woman we call Purpose”).
Yet in his disappointment, he comes to an important realization: he was made to be a carpenter, and if he is just faithful to this simple calling (“If I live the life I’m given), he can find purpose and feel confident at the end that he lived life well (“I won’t be scared to die.”).
These themes speak to the temptation that perhaps all of us sometime experience at some time or another to covet another person’s life, or perhaps an ideal life that we have imagined, and so feel dissatisfied with an ordinary, humdrum existence. This temptation, fueled by feelings of regret, causes some to make rash decisions in pursuit of some elusive dream, even if that means abandoning our basic duties, regarding as less important the needs of those who rely on us to keep them.
This brings to mind a disturbing film I saw a few years ago: Revolutionary Road, starring Leonardo Dicaprio and Kate Winslet. Set in the 1950s, it tells the story of a young couple raising two children in suburban New York. Discontent with their ordinary lives, and despising the ordinary people around them, they dream and make plans to migrate to Paris for the husband to become an artist, which he believes will give him true fulfillment. These unrealistic ambitions prove disastrous for their family, and the director emphasizes the couple’s narcissism by referencing their children but never actually showing them in the film.
God’s Word corrects such covetous inclinations of the heart by giving us the doctrine of calling. Consider the Apostle Paul’s instruction to the church of Corinth:
17 Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches. 18 Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision. 19 For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God.
The doctrine of calling teaches that the station in life each of us resides in is not accidental, but that we were put there by the hand of God who is directing all things according to his purpose. Furthermore, everyone has a calling: not only special people like presidents, celebrities, missionaries, and history-changing personalities, but even ordinary people like farmers, teachers, insurance salesman, stay-at-home moms and yes even carpenters. The doctrine of calling imbues mundane activities, which occupy the vast majority of the human race each day, with the dignity that comes from a pride or purpose. As we fulfill our callings faithfully each day, living honest, humble, responsible lives, taking care of the needs of our family, while we meet the needs of others through our work – “keeping the commandments of God” – we can find the satisfaction the comes from living life well and even with the hope that our ordinary labors are not in vain.