An Epic Tale in Eight Hours a Day

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When my aunt passed away, I inherited a little black journal of my grandfather’s that she had kept. It’s just big enough to hold in one hand, the paper so soft and thin, and his light, somewhat cramped penciled handwriting is fading with the years. He died just months before I was born, and all my life I’d been told how much alike we were, so this little piece of him, traveling to me from across the decades, was a treasure indeed.

One day, I started to read it. Though I hoped for insight, outpourings of the depths of his soul, I got entries like this.

Fri February 7, 1947

Worked 8 hrs today, which went by very well.

Pay day. Fair all day.

These were the makings of life. There was the birth of dad’s eldest sister, years before he was a thought. There were fair and warm days working in a shipyard. There were days work went well and days it went slow. There were days of cultivating gardens and visiting family and, occasionally, missing the bus.

My grandfather was a simple man. He went to a Bible college in New York, wanted to be a preacher, somehow made his way from New England to Florida, and supported his growing family by working on ships and in orange groves. He never drove. His kids played marbles in the dirt road.

And my parents have made a similar way, though perhaps with a little less education and little more money in the end. My dad joined the Navy, spent a few years in Puerto Rico, married my mom, worked a couple jobs before persistence landed him at a local phone company. Forty years, five company name changes, and a slew of new technologies later, he still loves it.

My mom worked in retail and grocery stores until I was born. She stayed home to raise my sister and I. She homeschooled us and drove us around and made sure her little family ate three meals a day. Sometimes she talks about things she wanted to be when she grew up, but she sees the blessing and the hard work of being a mom.

It seems they didn’t make as much of calling as my generation does. We’ve been told we could be anything we want to be if we get a degree and dream big, live life like an adventure, center ourselves in an epic story.

They told us we deserved more than a mundane 9-to-5, that we could do more, dream more, that it’s somehow noble to quit your day job to travel and write and play songs and dig wells. That your story could be more.

More epic. More lasting. Like your own personal Odyssey. Like immortality can be earned.

Well. Let me tell you.

We are none of us entitled to our own epic story.

We are in one, but we are not one. We are the walk-on extras in the grand tale of the universe. We are living in our microcosms, but floating in and out of the scene.

Of course, we do live them. Some of us do enjoy the call to go do grand things. But some of us write our smaller, no less important stories in eight hours of work a day.

Profile photo of Jen Rose Yokel

Jen was born and raised in central Florida, but now lives in the strange land of southern New England. Her words have appeared in TS Poetry’s Every Day Poems, CCM Magazine, and other publications, and she recently released her first poetry collection Ruins & Kingdoms. Some of her favorite things include used bookstores, good coffee, messing about in the kitchen, and local adventures with her husband Chris.


29 Comments

  1. Michael Hadley

    This was fantastic. I’ve been thinking about this recently, have we made too much of callings. Maybe this is why the millennial generation is a bit disappointed, not everyone can be famous or do great things. That being said, sometimes the small things are the most important. An ordinary life can change more people sometimes than an extraordinary life. I love the quote from Doctor Who, “Nobody important? Blimey. You know, 900 years of time and space and I’ve never met anyone who wasn’t important before.”

  2. Everly

    Jen,

    This was really good. Not everything worthwhile is an adventure. It also inspires me to journal more, even on the “mundane” days.

    Thanks!

    Everly

  3. Jeff Miller

    Well, isn’t this a grand howdy-do! Fantastic post. “We are none of us entitled to our own epic story. We are in one, but we are not one.” Man, I need to hear that more days than not.

  4. Profile photo of Ron Block

    Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Jen, great to have you writing, thanks for this.

    Our culture presses us to make “calling” be equal to “something big” or “something famous” or other culture-driven ideas of “success.” But a woman can be called to be a homeschool mom and wife, and/or work at a bank. A man can be called be a dad and husband, and to work at a construction company. “Calling,” I think in the end, will have a lot more to do with how we viewed our daily life, what we saw as important, rather than “I am called to become a world-famous, rich app inventor,” or celebrity, or whatever else the culture deems an acceptable calling. George MacDonald said, “You would not think any duty small, if you yourself were great.” I think calling is a lot more about the attitude of faith and less about the actual thing we are doing.

  5. Scott Richardson

    I was struck by this same idea when my wife’s Mom died in 2003. I did her final tax return (just think, someone will be doing YOURS some day!) and realized that she’d never made more than about $35K in any given year. She was by no means a rich woman, nor a woman of big ideas or dreams.

    But in the last few years of her life, her faith became very real, and she loved our daughters in some beautiful, concrete ways that only a grandmother can truly do. And at her funeral, during a time of “open mic”, people told stories of ways that she had quietly but meaningfully impacted their lives that we’d never heard before. It was beautiful, and stunning, to see the meaning and the beauty in her simple life of working 8 hours a day (and actually, 8 hours a night, as she worked as a unit secretary at a local hospital on 3rd shift), learning to love God, and loving her family.

    It’s a beautiful thing when we get to live meaningful, deep, powerful lives. But the grass does need mowing, and the dishes do need washing, and kids do need teaching, and cars do need their oil changed. Let’s do it with joy, love, peace, and let the glory of God shine through us.

    Thanks for sharing this, Jen.

  6. Leanne Vaughan

    Thank you, Jen.

    I have often worn myself out chasing grand things in the name of calling, all while saying that the small things and small moments were important, even precious. Now, God has given me a 6-year-old son, and, as Scott said above, the grass needs mowing, my car needs an oil change, etc. I don’t think I’ve ever known my need for His grace in the everyday things more than in this season.

    Thank you again.

  7. S. Benjamin

    True words, Jen. I think the important distinction that often gets culturally muddied, as Ron noted above, is between the “epic” life and the meaningful life. When we equate the two, there is a real danger that we will miss the sacred, beautiful, and the profound that is woven into the ordinary, commonplace, and everyday. The pursuit of the meaningful life is grounded not in the grandness of our achievements and accolades, but in knowing who(se) we are, and the beautiful truth that we ALL have a role to play in the grandest story of all as it continues to unfold…

    What grace… Thank you for the reminder, Jen.

  8. Anissa

    I wrote my senior thesis with the goal of reconciling the apparent conflict between adventure and responsibility. I focused on Tennyson’s poem, “Ulysses” and couldn’t help but quote AP’s “World Traveler.”

    One year later, I work full-time taking care of one year-olds in a daycare. Exhausting, mundane, rewarding.

    I’m learning all is grace. All is humility-building. All is a gift.

    Thanks for this reminder. I needed to hear this again today, especially at the start of another week. 🙂

  9. Profile photo of

    Jen Rose

    @

    Thanks everyone for the kind words! The Rabbit Room is special to me, and I’m so excited and grateful to be here. 🙂 This is a subject that’s been turning around in my heart and mind a lot lately, so I’m really glad to see it resonate with so many others. I need reminding of all this daily.

    Another thought I’ve been pondering… so our culture makes so much of calling, living an epic life, making your story the most amazing it can be. I wouldn’t say that’s inherently wrong, because everybody needs a vision and we should make the most of the time we’ve got, all while pursuing God first. So how do we find and pursue that calling without wrapping our identity in it? When does a calling become an idol?

    Tossing that out there for thought and discussion. I love you people. Thanks for welcoming me. 🙂

  10. Ashley Thomas

    First, I love this.

    Second, I think what you point out in your comment here is telling–when does it become an idol? I think anything (a calling, thing, job, relationship, etc.) can become an idol when we are more wrapped up in the gift, rather than the Giver. When we assign our identity to anything, but Christ, it is easy to slip into idolatry.

    I’ve been given lots of good things in my life, both tangible & intangible, but I cannot value these things more than Christ who gives them.

    Thanks for sharing, dear one. I look forward to more of your writing here.

  11. Chris Whitler

    Good post.

    I’ve thought about this idea in terms of the stories in the Bible that I’ve read all my life. I think we’re sorta trained to take the lessons there and apply them to ourselves. We should be blameless like Joseph, we should obey when it seems crazy like Noah, we shouldn’t let weakness stand in our way like Moses. In other words, we cast our selves as the star of the story…in the place of the heros. And while these stories can be helpful in knowing how those who have gone before responded to God, we’re not Moses or Joseph or Noah, we’re us.

    Maybe I’m not supposed to be Moses. Maybe I’m called to be “recently freed Hebrew slave #5423.” Somebody has to be that guy too.

  12. Heidi Johnston

    “We are in one, but we are not one.” Love that this humbles me with the truth that the story is not about me, while at the same time thrilling me with a reminder that I have been welcomed into the story that brings meaning to my moments and days, however ordinary they may seem. Maybe the more we make our lives about knowing and telling the true story, the less we will need to make our own an epic. Thanks for this Jen.

  13. Profile photo of Ron Block

    Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Jen said, “I wouldn’t say that’s inherently wrong, because everybody needs a vision and we should make the most of the time we’ve got, all while pursuing God first. So how do we find and pursue that calling without wrapping our identity in it? When does a calling become an idol?”

    Like nearly everything else in the world, it isn’t inherently wrong in itself. It is the use made of a thing, how we go about it, that determines right or wrong.

    Three thoughts:
    1. Of course our identity must be based in Christ. It is all-important to get a grip on actual Reality, the eternal sort, from the Scriptures, to know we are loved, accepted, cleansed, forgiven all our sins (past, present, future), indwelt by Christ, sons and daughters of God, whole, complete in Christ, filled full of the very same Power that dwelt in Jesus (Colossians), because we are in him.

    2. Like many things, we usually learn our real identity by doing it the wrong way. The musician starts by believing in his calling, his gift, and eventually becomes entangled in “What others think of my gift.” If others think well of it, the musician establishes an identity that is satisfying, to a degree. This is the reason Paul said, “Not many rich, not many noble, are saved.” It is hard for the rich – those rich in talent, money, fame, friendships, marriage, or any other thing in this world – to be saved, that is, to truly open the heart of hearts to the Father and the Son and say, “This is all yours.” Because if one is getting fed a steak dinner laced with slow-acting poison, death is certain. It is much easier (in a spiritual sense) and harder (in a worldly sense) for those who are not rich in some way – the not-as-good-as, poor, unknown, lonely. They know there is a problem; they are hungry.

    3. We must remember that God works all things together for good to those who love him and are called according to his purpose – even getting our identity from our calling. But of course, we are responsible for the truth we hear, so if we suspect we are doing so, it is important to go straight to the Father with it and ask him about it.

  14. Scott Richardson

    Good thoughts, Ron — this concept strikes home especially for men, I think, because what we DO is so core to our identity. What do guys ask when we meet each other? “Hi — what do you DO?”

    Your post also made me think about John the Baptist — he had a calling from God to be the Forerunner before the Messiah — but then, at some point in Jesus’ ministry, that calling ended, he winds up in jail, and he seems a bit lost in that passage where he sends his disciples to ask if Jesus is “the One”, or should they expect someone else? It’s hard to accept it when our calling changes from “something epic” to something “ordinary” — and to take joy in what God IS doing, vs. what he WAS doing, just a little while ago.

    I’ve struggled with this since we came home from Romania 15 years ago. Went from being a full-time missionary with what felt like an “epic calling” to a guy working at a desk for a company, paying the bills and “funding the expedition” for my family. On days I have my head screwed on straight, I get what God is doing. Other days, it can feel like I’m “missing out” on something bigger, more important, more impactful.

    It’s all about listening to God in the midst of MY situation … if I’m called to do something huge and don’t do it out of fear, I’m a coward. If I go launching out on my own to find that “epic adventure”, when I’m called to something simpler, I’m a fool. If I stay right in the middle of God’s will, no matter what that looks like, I’m going to hear those words I long to hear one day, “Well done, my good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Master!”

  15. Sheila Duerksen

    Jen, your very first post has stirred my very first comment. I really agree with what you’re saying here. This topic of calling has also been much on my mind, and I am dismayed at how, even in churches and church schools, young people are usually told to identify their gifts, get an education, and follow their dream. As Ron Block says, none of these things are bad in and of themselves. But I wonder, what about putting as much or more emphasis on teaching our children that the point of life is not to live OUR dream, but to be part of GOD’S dream, His Kingdom on Earth as it is in Heaven? What about teaching them submission of their gifts to His purposes FIRST, rather than go follow their dream and then ask God to bless it? It seems we are often backward.

    Sometimes people in church tell me I have this or that “ministry”, based on the gifts they see in me, and I very much appreciate their affirmation. However, I try to resist “vain imaginations” about how He might use those gifts. It is a daily dying to self, I think, to lay down pride and control, and to say to myself, and to God, “My ministry is doing what You want me to do, right here and right now. Please give me eyes to see and ears to hear, and humility to be led by Your good Spirit.” May I not fail to minister to my recently divorced neighbor, bereaved friend, hurting child, exhausted husband, and yes, tend to the accumulating laundry and dishes. This is all ministry, and it is submission to a Higher Plan. “Not my will but Thine”, right? If I trust Him to lead me, then I do not need to know anything more than one step at a time. This is hard for me, but it is the peace I yearn for.

    I know I am preaching to the choir, and please know that I am preaching to myself. I believe in this upside-down way of living which God calls us to, which makes no sense to our natural minds, and which rejects the lies that culture feeds us. Thank God for the transforming power of His holy Word, without which I would be lost.

  16. Dan R.

    Hi, Jen, and welcome. I really appreciate you posting about this. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my calling, and trying to get a deeper understanding of how it works, and this post reaffirms something that I’ve been seeing (and with such a poignant story too!).

    Really good comments so far. In reply to Chris’s comment about Moses:
    I noticed something recently about when God called Moses from the burning bush. After much convincing, it seems like Moses finally gives in and says ‘okay, God, I’m not sure this is such a good idea, but if you say so, I’ll be your messenger and let you speak through me to convince pharaoh to let your people go.’ All of Moses’ concerns seem to be about how it will go when he’s supposed to be the one in the spotlight, impressing pharaoh and leading the Israelites out of Egypt. And this did happen, but compared to the magnitude of God’s power revealed, the fact that Moses was there at all seems trivial. It was all because God showed up in a way no one could have anticipated, and very little, if any of it, depended on Moses deciding to follow God’s calling on this one. And yet, in some ways that boggle my mind, it was all because Moses, in faith, submitted to God’s plan. Jill Phillips’ song “Show Up” keeps coming to mind, with the quote: “no great things have I done, only small things with great love.”

  17. Matthew Benefiel

    Good post Jen. It’s hard to gauge really, I think the idea of leading an epic life isn’t limited to just this generation, if history shows anything, it comes and goes. This generation certainly is more caught up in the idea. I’ve noticed here in the US and when I was in the UK in 2001 that young adults are more prone to seek out the career they think they want instead of the career that may best suit them. Our sin natures lead us down the path of least resistance so we end up looking back thinking “what now?”

    Thankfully God is soveriegn and He uses broken vessels for great works, though we rarely see it due to our pride in wanting full credit. I’ve known many who got degrees they found they couldn’t use the way they thought, but were led down a different path and God used them for much greater purposes.

    Something that has been on my mind lately, regarding the whole career thing, is that we wrap everything up in a nice little piece of paper. How much weight is thrown into a degree. It certainly is a great help, but it is a foundation to build upon. If that foundation is weak, then the building will fall. I’ve known engineers straight out of college that though very smart, lacked the understanding of the world, that things never work perfectly. Constrast that to the technition who having no bachelors, spent years working in this broken world and can show these young graduates a thing or two.

    Having found my bridge to creativity through engineering, I’ve found that experience in this world can open many doors, even if it doesn’t match your degree or you expertise per say. So a house wife, who nowadays appears to be a “uneducated” career choice, learns much on how to put things in order and manage those put in her care. Is this not the same experience as any boss as work. In fact I’ve seen many in higher posistions that could learn a thing or two from any family God has blessed with unity, for to lead those God has placed under you is to understand and love them, to serve them and use their gifts wisely. Too often employees are seen as replaceable, another degree in a long line of degree holders.

    Sorry for the long post, you got me thinking; a gift and a curse. I agree with Ron on the idol part, God gave us a mandate in the beginning be fruitful and multiply, to use all that He has given us to His glory. We were made to work and enjoy it. Our sinful natures have broken that calling, but in Christ we can once again fulfuill it. I know in my life I wish to become great, to leave my career and become some epic author or great thinker, but God is slowly showing me that these are worthless in the end. The moments of true joy are found in knowing I have a Savior who loves me, who loves us, greater than our brokeness, and He calls us to works of joy, greater than any epic quest.

  18. Allison

    Great post! I just finished reading a book called “God of the Mundane” about how faith is worked out in everyday lives, that maybe being “radical” isn’t for everyone. And my pastor just preached a sermon from Ephesians 4 on Sunday about how faith works itself out through love — he’s calling the series “Faith for the Everyday” and it could so easily describe your grandfather’s life or my life of my parents’ lives. Or mine. I’m planning a couple of blog posts about these things, so this is timely. I think many of us who grew up with the “you can be anything you want to be — dream big!” culture are figuring out that not everyone is going to do some great thing, just lots of small things, faithfully, with great love.

  19. Renee Keren Powell

    Short and sweet and amazingly right to the heart. My grandfather kept a similar book. His was filled with numbers and short notes of his day as a carpenter. He became lead carpenter on our church building. His notes about disagreeing with the architect over the swing direction of a closet door were particularly comical. Hard earned wisdom flows throughout those note pads.

  20. Amy S

    Hi Jen,
    You really hit on something with this post. It seems we grew up despising the mundane lives of our parents. I remember being a teenager and telling my mom I didn’t want to be like her, that I wanted to do more with my life. I went as far away as I could go from the life I thought I didn’t want, only to find myself on an island in Southeast Asia, doing pretty much what my mom did, and loving it. My epic dream came true, in a way, as I serve God overseas, but it looks very much like what every other mom does, no matter where she lives. I recently wrote a poem to process the feelings I have about my mother and my own path in life. I don’t know if it’s appropriate to share in the comments, but I’ll go ahead, since it resonates with this thread.

    Generations

    You didn’t speak your gifts in my language.
    And these ears that crave words
    missed the messages, sometimes
    thought you not wise.
    For all I knew of wisdom was made
    in words to be heard or scribbled
    fast, with passion. I judged you,
    unimaginative silence, and searched
    beyond the seams of the simplicity
    your daily practice preached.

    Oh, that striving selflessness, undemanding
    surface of your soul still yearning to bloom.
    Instead you tended the wild shoots
    of brash and unthinking daughters,
    and held your tongue in hopes
    of what could become.

    Truth unfolds the decades,
    reveals what separated as nothing more
    than the thinnest strand of misunderstanding
    pulled taut to foreign seas
    and snapped back to teach
    how little difference remains between you and me.

    Now I too toss up silent prayers with morning pancakes.
    Softly singing my poet dreams alongside pots of evening spaghetti.
    The children fuss and I remember your own wearied pleas.
    I take heart knowing you walked this daily routine, with me.
    Remembering that silence has its place
    and words do too. If this is true,
    I make my word art as a daughter, richly woven
    by what my steadfast mother left unspoken.

    I really appreciate this conversation and a place to process “calling.” It’s been on my heart for a while and I needed to hear some other voices.

  21. Brad Griffith

    Jen, this really resonates with me (and apparently with many others). I think you’re right that our generation feels entitled to some sort of “epic” existence. Thank you for another nudge towards the sanity of finding ourselves within God’s great story.

  22. Peter B

    Jen, this is magnificent in its humility. Thank you — and welcome 🙂

    Like James, I could have used this twelve (or twenty) years ago. Better late than never, as any Dave Ramsey graduate will tell you.

    “It’s a beautiful thing when we get to live meaningful, deep, powerful lives.”

    Is it possible that we all do but fail to realize it?

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