“You’re totally ordinary and you know it.”
These are the harsh words uttered by Ricky Fitts to Angela Hayes in the movie American Beauty. While the word ordinary isn’t going to be bleeped out on the radio or censored on public television, it can still leave a mark on us as much, if not more, than a curse word. Think about it. How would you feel if someone said you were totally ordinary? Even hypothetically thinking about that now makes me want to call my mom and hear her tell me how wonderful I am.
But why do we have such an adverse reaction to the idea of being ordinary or doing ordinary things? Maybe it’s because we have such high expectations placed upon us by our parents, neighbors, coaches, bosses, and even pastors.
I am by no means advocating a lifestyle of mediocrity and laziness. However, I wonder if in all of our talk of being extraordinary and accomplishing extraordinary things we have lost sight of the fact that God does indeed love the ordinary. I think there is something God sees as beautiful and good in the seemingly ordinary parts of our lives. After all, Jesus lived out the majority of His life in the obscurity of ordinary life.
Obviously, we know a lot about the three years of Jesus’ ministry of miracles, healings, and teachings that culminated in His death and resurrection. But do we ever stop and think about the fact that Jesus worked as a humble and faithful carpenter for 18 years? As our lead senior pastor Tom Nelson has said, we move from the cradle to the cross very quickly, but we miss the carpenter’s shop. Jesus’ work as a carpenter wasn’t about waiting around until the “real work” of His ministry began. It wasn’t about killing time until God was ready to use Him for His “true purposes.”
I believe that the seemingly insignificant and shockingly normal years of Jesus’ carpentry work in obscurity teach us something. Namely, that God values, appreciates, and is involved in the ordinary things of our lives. This is good news, because so much of our life is, in fact, overwhelmingly ordinary.
In her outstanding book Liturgy of the Ordinary, Tish Warren reminds us of this important truth.
“The new life into which we are baptized is lived out in days, hours, and minutes. God is forming us into a new people. And the place of that formation is in the small moments of today.”
We all long to live meaningful lives and desire to do things that truly matter. We want our lives to count for something and have something to show for our time on this earth. But that is not mutually exclusive from doing ordinary work, being formed in ordinary ways, and maintaining faithfulness in ordinary things. We all want to live extraordinary lives. But that cannot happen without embracing and even rejoicing in the ordinary things of life. If we fail to see the importance of being faithful and intentional in what we view as ordinary, then we may miss out on what is truly extraordinary about life.
In his book Ordinary, Michael Horton pens these poignant words. He writes, “Our big ideas to ‘change the world’ can become ways of actually avoiding the opportunities we have every day, right where God has placed us, to glorify and enjoy Him and to enrich the lives of others…Sometimes, the best way to change the world is to live extraordinarily in what looks like an ordinary existence—to radically love and serve those around us every day, no matter where we are.”
Yes, we want to live lives of deep devotion and radical faith in Christ. But perhaps we need to start by reminding ourselves to be faithful and intentional in the very ordinary things that God has placed in our lives. I think Jesus was on to something when He said in Luke 16:10, “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much.”
We may have grandiose expectations for our lives and for what we want to accomplish. But is it possible that in fixing our eyes only on extraordinary things we may miss out on the great fruitfulness of being faithful in the countless ordinary things in our Monday life? Is it possible that we have failed to see that the very path toward an extraordinary life is paved with so many beautifully ordinary bricks?
How is God calling you to be faithful and how is He forming you through the ordinary parts of your Monday life?