I am fascinated lately with reading about how we view our lives and what we think “fully living” or the “fullness of God” really means.
Many sermons exhort us to accomplish great deeds, but we don’t often hear of the importance of ordinariness. This is the dark side of faith, the side that tends to be turned away from the sunshine of God’s love. Here is where faith is most needed, not up on the stage where floodlights play upon remarkable acts, but in the backyards and allies and empty lots of our lives.
The very things we wish to hide, or that we fear are not worthy of notice, are what we must learn to bring into the light and celebrate. Here is where our deepest fears and anxieties reside—not in the big, important matters that preoccupy our attention, but in our underlying insecurity over how ordinary we feel. We are so plain and dull, we think, that we must accomplish momentous deeds in order to justify our existence. But this is a lie. We are justified and loved not for what we accomplish but for who we are, so that deep security can come only from resting in our utter ordinariness.
But here is the big question: Is the ordinary truly ordinary? No, it’s just that we see it that way. Our skewed vision needs healing. We need the Holy Spirit to open the eyes of our hearts in order to see things as they are.
We are a people obsessed with success. Yet isn’t failure––or at least the sense of failure––a far more common phenomenon? Among the vast array of self-help literature, shouldn’t there be instruction on how to fail well? Isn’t this a skill worth mastering?
A friend of mine said recently that he was having trouble getting his life together. But what if the goal of life is not to get it together? What if it’s just the opposite: to fall apart gracefully?
God comes to us disguised as our own lives. The sleepless night, the accident, the broken marriage all carry messages between the lines. While we cry out, “Where are you, God?” He is speaking loudly in our unemployment, our illness, or in the words and attitudes of our friends. Are we listening? Do we bother to pay attention to what is right under our noses? What good is it to study the Bible if we cannot read the daily messages in the Book of Life? Is our theology blinding us to reality?
We have this expression “living life to the full.” But how can we live life to the full when life is, apparently, so full of mundane moments and plain things and unremarkable events? Happiness is only possible in the present moment, yet the overwhelming majority of our moments are utterly ordinary. Therefore, if we want to be happy, we must learn to love the ordinary. It’s good to have lofty dreams and aspirations, but if we let future goals so control us that they overshadow our present reality, we will not be happy.
Why does God love our ordinariness? Because the more ordinary we are, the better His glory shines through us. And He wants to be glorified. We may think we have to be wonderful, remarkable people in order to impress God, or else to impress the world on His behalf. But really the opposite is true. The greater we are, the harder it may be to humble ourselves; but the more ordinary we are, the more obvious it will be that we have a great God. When the Jewish leaders realized that Peter and John were “unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13).
We think the world needs to see how happy and well-adjusted Christians are, how much fun we have, what great accomplishments we achieve in art and sports and business, and how enviable is our quality of life. But is this God’s plan for evangelism, or ours? Is this even what the world truly wants to see? Is the world impressed by all our greatness? Even if they are, isn’t that a problem? Shouldn’t they rather be impressed by the greatness of God?
Not only does God’s glory shine best in our plainness, but we connect with Him and with others much more through our weakness than through our strength. What non-believers truly want to see in Christians is not how much better our lives are than theirs. No, what they’re looking for is one thing: love. They want not strong, competent superheroes but ordinary, broken people who love each other. For the people of the world are ordinary and broken themselves and they need love—the love that cancels mistakes, values what is lowly, mends broken hearts. People want to be included, and love is their one entrance point, the one place any of us can squeeze into the kingdom.
Whether we like it or not, the great goal of life is love. Without it we have nothing. Surely the function of the ordinary—this immense tract of stuff in our lives that seems to have no great and lofty purpose—is to break up our attachment to what we consider important and to re-focus us on the one thing that is: love.
We may think of faith as something we need in order to step out of our normal characters and perform great feats. But no, true faith accepts ourselves not as heroes but as mere servants, with a humility that fills our depths with contentment and gratitude. Without such faith as a solid foundation, the accomplishment of any number of heroic deeds will only leave us hollow and unsatisfied.
Without a robust, contented faith in the inherent worth of ordinary life, we end up carrying on a lingering argument with our Maker, blaming Him for setting us such demeaning tasks. So the choice is clear: We can spend our days grumbling, or else we can develop a tender-hearted affection for all that is little and ordinary in our lives. We can exalt so-called ‘important matters,’ and so relegate all the rest to relative unimportance, or else we can give preference to the ordinary and so discover the real meaning of life.
Instead of shunning our ordinariness, why not rejoice in it? Mike Mason