What’s Wrong With Being a Shipwrecked Tentmaker?

Every once in a while I stop by Jon Acuff’s blog Stuff Christians Like. It’s a little too Christian-y to follow religiously but he’s witty enough to bring me back every once in a while. On Valentine’s Day he posted this shot of a page from his daily calendar. I knew the moment I saw it that I’d eventually have to write on it. Just because of that last line. Lucky for you, that day is today.

If you don’t feel like reading the picture, I’ll save you the effort. The entry is about how married Christians feel a need to pressure the singles in their midst. The best part is at the bottom, where he commissions married couples to get their single friends married “and never let them play the ‘Paul was single’ card. Paul was also shipwrecked and made tents. Is that what they want? To be shipwrecked tentmakers?”

Back in high school and early college, when I was still convinced that my life story was going to be an epic romance, I found the Apostle Paul kind of annoying. In particular, I was irked by how hugely he promoted singleness: “I wish everyone were single, just as I am…So I say to those who aren’t married and to widows—it’s better to stay unmarried” (1 Corinthians 7:7-8). He advocated for it so much because of the freedom it gives, of course for him, that meant one was free to devote oneself completely and entirely to doing God’s work. I couldn’t help but roll my eyes a little bit whenever he dissed on marriage.

Though I hate to concede, and would still eventually like to be married myself, I have to admit that Paul isn’t entirely wrong about the benefits of single life. But this post isn’t actually meant to be about singleness. What I’m finding, is that the older I get, the more I can relate to him. I’m wondering, “What’s wrong with being a shipwrecked tentmaker?” Cause, I have to say, I feel a little bit like one myself.

There are many ways in which I’ve been shipwrecked here at my parents’. Due to the present wreckage of my finances, I’m pretty much stranded here. If you go back in my archives and read my posts before I moved back to the Midwest you can tell that in many ways I was being compelled by a force I didn’t entirely understand. Even though I came up with a list of rational reasons for my move, the real reason wasn’t rational. The clever north wind had simply spoken. Over the last year, like John in Cat’s Cradle, like Jonah, I have been compelled by “conveyances and motives, both conventional and bizarre” to be at “certain places at certain times, without fail.”

Though I’m not exactly making tents, I imagine that tentmakers in Paul’s time were like freelancers and that’s what I am now. After I decided not to pursue that ministry job, I also decided to quit looking for any type of conventional job altogether. I’ve known for a pretty long time now that working a 9-5 just doesn’t suit me. Still, I kept searching for one that might have made me happy (honestly, I spent much more time searching than applying). But I realized I was just wasting my time.

It’s been about a month since I devoted myself entirely to getting established as a freelance writer, speaker and promotional marketer/marketing assistant. Surprisingly, this career is coming together nicely. Last week I was hired by a marketing firm to promote vendors at Meijer on the weekends. I’ll start this job after speaking at Cornerstone’s Conference this weekend (fingers -crossed this leads to an actual paying gig one day). I’ve already begun working from home doing data entry and writing website content for different companies. And I’m waiting with baited breath to hear back from journals and magazines I’ve sent submissions into.

Though life as a shipwrecked tentmaker isn’t what I imagined for myself when I was younger, I’m discovering that it suits me better than anything else I’ve tried over the last year. Finally, both the extrovert and the introvert, the thinker and the talker, in me are satisfied. As I’ve been walking down this less than conventional career path, I keep thinking about something Steve Jobs’ said in a graduation speech he gave at Standford (that my dad made me listen to last summer because he loves stuff like that).

Jobs’ had told a shortened version of the history of Apple. How he was a college dropout who hung around auditing classes that interested him, including a calligraphy class, that ended up having a huge impact on how he developed Apple. He said, “You can only connect the dots in your life looking backwards.” My dad loves that line, he repeats it over and over. I feel like I’m beginning to be able to connect a lot more dots looking backward.

Without knowing my present job description, my resume looks chaotic. First of all, I’m way too impractically educated. Then I have these work experiences that seem to be all over the place. I’ve worked in offices doing everything from filing and data entry to creating website content. I’ve gotten a lot of experience staffing and planning events from poetry readings to dance parties. I have a wide range of experience doing marketing, from print marketing to face-to-face promotion. Though I forgot about it for a while, I did quite a bit of freelance writing for my college newspaper. I even did some for the alumni department of a nearby seminary.

The only thing I committed to for over a year was the student organization I began my freshman year of college, the English Society. I did everything for that organization for about three years. I was the president, secretary, online and face-to-face marketer, treasurer, public face, event planner, and I led the creative writing group. Though very few people realized it, it was a one woman show with pawn officers in the charter so it could exist (the group did have members, just no acting officers for most of the time). It’s worried me that I haven’t been able to commit to anything like I committed to that. Recently, I’ve realized that all of the jobs I’ve had since then have tied into that experience and sharpened the skills I first developed leading that organization.

As I connect the dots backward, I can see that this career path I’m now walking down is in many ways an extension of my English Society presidency. It may be a little less cohesive but has a lot healthier balance of demands and responsibility. Recognizing this gives me hope that finally I’m on a path that I won’t veer from anytime soon. All in all, I’m pretty happy being a shipwrecked tentmaker, though hopefully I’ll get to leave Malta* soon.

*Malta is the island Paul was shipwrecked on.

If you have a Twitter, I’d love for you to follow me @LindseyReneeGc.

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