Joel ben Izzy, in his wonderful book The Beggar King and the Secret of Happiness, relates a Zen story he had often heard but never understood. It seems a student seeking enlightenment went to visit a great Zen master. Knowing he must let the master speak first, the student waited. But the master did not speak and for a long time they sat in silence. Eventually the master offered the student a bowl of rice, and quietly they ate.
Everyone has an ordinary life. The Pope has an ordinary life. Movie stars and rock stars have ordinary lives. Presidents and great artists and workers of miracles have ordinary lives. The person you are most jealous of has an ordinary life—every bit as ordinary as yours.
We are marvelous creatures, fearfully and wonderfully made. Yet so much of what we do is utterly mundane. These ten amazing fingers of ours—how do we use them? Even brain surgeons and concert pianists must brush their teeth, eat, bathe, wipe—an endless diurnal series of basic maintenance tasks. The contrast between the banality of our lives and the glory for which we seem destined is a staggering paradox that faces us squarely every day, and increasingly as we grow older.
The nice thing about ordinary life is that there’s so much of it. It’s all around us, all the time, so if we can actually learn to like it, we’re home free. We’ll never lack for anything ever again. We’ll have something the Bible refers to as “great gain” and puts in the same category as godliness: contentment (1 Tim. 6:6).
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.
The reason it is so vital for believers to focus on the ordinary is that the spiritual life cannot be understood in extraordinary terms. Who was looking for the Messiah to be born as a baby in a manger? Or who could have expected that He would die the common death of a criminal? On the lookout for the extraordinary, we miss the hand of God.
Not many people are killed by lightning.
Zac’s mother was.
Zachary Sparks, though small for ten years old, had a look of perpetual astonishment that made him seem larger than life. His eyes were nearly the biggest part of him, round and wide, and his eyebrows had a natural arch as if held up with invisible strings. His voice was high and excitable and his whole body seemed full of little springs. Even his hair, fiery red and frizzy, looked as if he was the one hit by lightning. Everything about Zac Sparks was up, up, up.
A marriage, or a marriage partner, may be compared to a great tree growing right up through the center of one’s living room. It is just there, and it is huge, and everything has been built around it, and wherever one happens to be going––to the fridge, to bed, to the bathroom, or out the front door––the tree has to be taken into account. It cannot be gone through; it must respectfully be gone around. It is somehow bigger and stronger than oneself. True, it could be chopped down, but not without tearing the house apart. And certainly it is beautiful, unique, exotic; but also, let’s face it, it is at times an enormous inconvenience.
Interview with Mike about Champagne for the Soul
(The interviewer is Rosanne Farnden Lyster of InCourage magazine.)
“Happiness has not been my strong suit, which is why I needed to experiment with joy.” So writes Mike Mason in the introduction to his book Champagne for the Soul. In October of 1999 Mason began an unusual experiment. The best selling Canadian author of The Mystery of Marriage, and a man who confesses to having experienced a good deal of moodiness and depression in his life, decided to be deliberately joyful in the Lord for a full 90 days. The idea itself bloomed out of tragedy, but led to a renewed Mike Mason and a book that chronicles the wandering of one man into joy. Mason spoke with InCourage about what joy is, and isn’t, and how you and I can also dwell in joy.