I graduated from high school in 1975 (45 years ago). The school I attended was in a rural area of Peoria County. Most of the students in the school were from families in which at least one parent worked in a blue-collar job, such as manufacturing or the building trades. I came from one of those families.
When I was a boy, my dad was a carpenter. He was later promoted to the position of superintendent for a large local commercial construction company. He eventually ended up owning his own construction company. Despite his success, he always remembered where he came from and remained a member of the Carpenters’ Union.
One class that I took during my freshman year in high school was Beginning Shop. During the school year, all the students in that class rotated every six weeks to different classrooms. In each classroom, we learned the basics of a different trade or occupation, such as woodworking, electrical, metal (fundamentals of spot welding and working with metal), photography (which included developing film), auto mechanics, and drafting.
After taking Beginning Shop, if a student was interested in learning more about a particular trade or occupation, the student could continue on with more advanced classes. During my sophomore and junior years, I enrolled in a couple of advanced woodworking classes. In those classes, I learned how to draw and read plans, build frames, cabinets, clocks, and anything else that could be made from wood. I also became proficient at operating various machines, such as the Lathe, Table Saw, Plainer, Jointer, Miter Saw, and Band Saw.
In one of the woodworking classes that I took, the teacher was Joseph McCraith, a World War II veteran who was also a faithful Catholic. Mr. McCraith had the build and stature of the actor, John Wayne. He was tall, smart, and intimidating — a no-nonsense man who insisted that we abide by his rules and behave like adults. His top priority was safety. All his students respected him because we knew that he really cared about us and he wanted to make us better by pushing us beyond our own self-imposed limits.
At the beginning of the semester, we spent five days in a small classroom with Mr. McCraith. We were all packed in that room, shoulder to shoulder, while he taught us everything he knew about safely working with other people, machines, and chemicals. His safety class included instruction on what type of clothing we could wear around the machines, the importance of wearing safety glasses while we worked, and various techniques that were necessary to avoid being injured by blades or other moving parts on the machines.
The class was an advanced course in woodworking, which meant that we all had previous experience in operating the machines. But Mr. McCraith believed that even if he taught us things that we already knew, we would benefit from reviewing the important practices that were necessary to ensure safety.
After we finished the five days of his safety class, he cut us loose and we were allowed to go into the shop and work on our individual projects.
About halfway through the semester, while operating a band saw, one student — I’ll call him Paul — accidentally cut off about an eighth of an inch of the tip of his right-hand middle finger. There was blood all over the place. Mr. McCraith immediately wrapped Paul’s finger and called 911. While he and Paul waited for an ambulance, the rest of us continued to work on our projects.
After the paramedics arrived and put Paul in the ambulance to take him to the hospital, Mr. McCraith walked into the center of the shop and yelled, “SHUT IT DOWN!” Then he turned around and yelled it again, louder: “SHUT IT DOWN!” After that, he walked around the shop and barked orders to the students to shut off their machines. After all the machines were turned off, he ordered everyone into the classroom.
When we were all in the classroom, Mr. McCraith told us that it was obvious that we needed additional safety training. He then acted as though it was the first day of class and began teaching us the same content he had taught us at the beginning of the semester.
We sat in that crowded room for five days while he repeated everything that he had taught us a couple of months earlier. At the end of class on the fifth day, he asked all of us a simple question: “Now do you think you can all go out there and work on those machines without getting injured?” He knew what our answer was going to be, but he asked the question anyway, just to drive home the point.
We finished the semester without any more injuries.
I thought about Mr. McCraith last week when I was thinking about everything that had happened during the past year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Then it occurred to me that God sometimes behaves the same way that Mr. McCraith behaved after Paul cut his finger.
There are occasions when God allows something to be shut down in our lives, so He can teach us some important lessons.
Whether we realize it or not, nothing happens to us unless God causes it to happen or allows it to happen. When an event that we have no control over occurs and has a significant impact on our lives, it was God’s will that the event occurred. It doesn’t matter whether He caused it to happen or allowed it to happen. What matters is that He did not stop it from happening.
During the first quarter of 2020, God allowed the COVID-19 virus to quickly spread throughout our country. Because He allowed it to happen, it was His will that the virus infected millions of people. By allowing the virus to spread, He shut down certain aspects of our lives so He could teach us some important lessons — lessons that we needed to learn.
While the COVID-19 shutdown occurred at a national level, individual shutdowns periodically occur in all our lives. When something unexpected happens, such as a sudden death of a family member or friend, the diagnosis of a terminal disease, a broken bone or other medical emergency, a financial crisis, a breakdown of an important relationship, or any number of other unexpected events, it is God’s way of saying,
Shut it down and come to Me. I need to teach you a few things about yourself, the people around you, and the reason I allowed you to be born. In order for Me to teach you what I want you to know, you need to be humbled and you need to pray and learn what My expectations are for you during the time that you have left on Earth.
One lesson that God usually teaches us after He allows a shutdown to occur in our lives is that our life on Earth is temporary and as much as we think we are in control of our own destiny, we are ultimately dependent on Him for every breath we take and everything that we are allowed to think, do, and say.
An important thing to remember is that we are not the only ones who experience personal shutdowns. It happened to our Lord and His mother when God allowed a shutdown to occur in their lives. But with Jesus and Mary, it was different. They did not need to be humbled or taught a lesson. A shutdown occurred in their lives because that was the only way the rest of humanity could be saved. Their response to that shutdown was a pure act of sacrifice and love on their part, for the benefit of you, me, and all mankind.
The next time a shutdown occurs in your life, keep all this in mind. Just as Mr. McCraith shut down his wood shop so he could do what was best for his students, God allows shutdowns to occur in our lives so He can do what is best for us.