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.
Paying attention to ordinary life involves the difficulty of distinguishing, as T.S. Eliot described it, “between what one really feels and what one would like to feel.” As we examine our actual feelings about mundane activities, we may discover much that does not fit with our high, heroic view of Christianity. But this is precisely why we must look to the ordinary in order to discover the truth about ourselves. The truth about the great Christian leader is not to be found in the stirring sermons he preaches nor in the multidudes he leads to Christ, but rather in the way he relates to his wife and children, the thoughts of his heart as he mows the lawn, how he reacts when his plans are frustrated.
Most Christians do not have spectacular careers as missionaries or miracle workers, or make outstanding contributions to business, politics, or the arts. No, the vast majority live ordinary lives that will never be written about in books. Many believers live at home, performing the same humble tasks day after day. Many, for various reasons, are not able to work at all or to ‘contribute to society’ in the normal sense. How are we to comprehend this? What are we to make of such lives? Are they second rate? Have the majority of believers completely missed the call of God?
Or does it, in fact, take more faith to lead an ordinary life than an extraordinary one? If one sincerely does not feel led to undertake great exploits for God, is there not considerable faith in accepting a humbler calling, being content to pursue tasks without glamor or obvious importance?
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.
In fact, what’s the point of having faith if it’s only for the big things? Don’t you want a comprehensive faith that touches all bases? The alternative to not having faith in the little and the ordinary is that we end up spending a good deal of energy on grumbling. We don’t like having to clean toilets or wait in lines because these activities are not fundamentally important enough to warrant our attention. They are, in fact, beneath our dignity—or so goes the drift of our internal, semi-conscious monologue. The Bible expects us to believe we are the sons and daughters of the Great High King, and yet how do we spend the majority our days? Bathing kids, fighting traffic, preparing food, talking to fools, and tending to a thousand other matters so trivial that they should be left to the stable hand.
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.