In general, youngish-Reformed evangelicals tend to be a pretty affluent, heavily degreed, upwardly mobile lot with a surplus of time to read websites and grow their considerable book collections. [1] With “providing” often being a top priority for Reformed men, this group generally has a clear vocational plan and usually gets plenty of opportunities to implement said plan. And because we tend to be small-government capitalists, we tend to feel pretty good about ourselves when we’re making lots of bank–and don't feel conflicted about enjoying it. And in general (again), readers of TGC tend to be pastors, professors, seminary students, theology nerds, or wives of the aforementioned.

But what about those who don't fit this social/cultural Reformed paradigm, including in their vocations? 

For the first time in 10 years, due to a combination of a slow 2013 writing-wise, sketchy financial self-discipline [2], the academic job market, and Obamacare [3], I’ve had to take a real job that requires me to get up very early in the morning and do something besides sit in front of a computer or teach in a college classroom. I’m doing things on this job like wearing an orange vest and lifting with my legs and not with my back. There are many more ways to be injured or killed while doing this job, making it, in some ways, a lot more stressful than sitting at a computer. There’s a surprising amount of mental work that goes into not getting injured/killed . . . dispelling the myth that most blue collar work is mindless.

Essentially I’m getting paid to use my body and my mind, instead of just my mind. And while the work has been difficult in some ways, God has blessed me through it in many others.

Oh, Ted

The worst thing I could possibly do here is write some egghead/nerd piece that tries to intellectualize physical labor or otherwise romanticize it in a literary way. That would be dumb and patronizing and also probably not all that surprising. As every pro athlete everywhere would say, it (physical labor) “is what it is.” But in this space I want to connect with other people in our evangelical subculture who may labor physically for a living and discuss some of the ways God has blessed me in it.

Sometimes when I tell people what I’m doing, they react as though I’ve just told them that I’ve been diagnosed with a terminal disease. “Oh, Ted,” said one friend. Sometimes they put a hand on my shoulder, concernedly, as they say these things. I do appreciate the concern . . . but the thing is, I really like this job. In some ways I like it better than writing.

Not surprisingly, working on this kind of job site has given me an appreciation for guys who do this labor full-time and have done so their whole lives. Believe it or not, there are a few in our churches. It’s hard on the body, mind, and soul . . . albeit in different ways than desk work.

Physically Harder, Emotionally Easier

Speaking from experience as a working writer and (I’m guessing) for pastors in a similar position, critiques from readers/constituents can be especially vicious. These critiques tend to be of the “I feel called to tell you how much I hate your ideas” variety, with the occasional “and incidentally I also think you’re a jerk, personally.” [4] For some of us (read: me), this criticism is really hard to take. It's one of the worst parts of being an author (along with editorial interactions in which editors generally mean well and are helpful but are still tinkering with my words, which is its own kind of miserable).

At my blue-collar job, the critiques tend to be more of the “move out of the way so you don’t get hit by this piece of machinery” variety, which is helpful, immediate, and beneficial in that it keeps me alive. It’s perfunctory and completely impersonal. I find that I really appreciate the lack of emotion in my blue-collar job. This is a consolation from the Lord. 

Toughness

Another consolation, believe it or not, is waking up well before dawn. I thought this would be brutal, but it really isn’t. I enjoy the quiet house and the pre-dawn calm. It’s often a better time for Bible reading, before the chaos of family life ramps up. A lifelong insomniac, I’m now so exhausted at night that I rarely have trouble falling asleep. This is another consolation that sounds small but to an insomniac is extremely significant.

Coming from a sedentary writing career for the last decade, I’ve been relentless in my pursuit of a “life of the body,” which has included forays into the following: boxing, semi-pro football (repeatedly), softball, track and field, church basketball, and even professional wrestling. [5] Most of these pursuits (at least the football and boxing) were a means of proving that I was not “soft” even though I thought/wrote for a living.

My job provides a level of physical challenge and danger that satisfies many of the longings I sought for so many years as a competitive athlete. And the people who do work this kind of work tend to be tough and tend not to whine and complain. This is a quality that I’d like to cultivate in myself and that I admire in people who have it.

God Provides

It can be hard to be in a state of financial desperation, and it can be even harder to admit that you’re in state of financial desperation, adept as we are at constantly manipulating our personas such that people perpetually think we’re awesome.

Right now (and maybe for the rest of my life), God is providing in part through hard physical work that won’t bring me any of the applause/acclaim/praise of men that I’ve come to enjoy so much. This is good for me. Living without pats on the back actually grows my character and helps me do what I am often writing about, which is relying on the Lord for my peace, hope, joy, and provision.

A friend sent me Psalm 33:18-22, from the New Living Translation, and I thought it nicely summed up our reasons for being hopeful, even in a state of financial duress and professional changes.

But the Lord watches over those who fear him, those who rely on his unfailing love. He rescues them from death and keeps them alive in times of famine.

We put our hope in the Lord. He is our help and our shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. Let your unfailing Love surround us, Lord, for our hope is in you alone.

My hope must be in God alone. In tenure (or lack therof), in publishing opportunities (or lack thereof), and even in an orange vest, while lifting with my legs and not with my back. 

* * * * * 

[1] Which, incidentally, I’m glad for as an author.

[2] If Dave Ramsey were my father he would have disowned me a long time ago. Also, if Dave Ramsey were my father I’d probably be loaded and none of this would be an issue. Also, I don’t know Dave Ramsey but I bet he’s nowhere near as cool as my actual father. Anyway.

[3] Which I’ve snarkily nicknamed “Affordable Health Care.” Oh wait, that’s what they’re actually calling it.

[4] These are sometimes anonymous and are often ended with a sign-off like “Blessings” or “In Him.” Eye roll.

[5] Albeit this was research for a book, but still, my wife deserves some kind of an award.