In praise of the ordinary.
It’s a beautiful Saturday morning here in Auckland at this pause point of the Easter weekend, and I have been thinking about the last entry in the Lent app I have been working my way through during the lead-up to Easter. The final reflection summed up what I have been trying to articulate in these Lent thoughts. The writer states that if we spend long enough in the desert we can let go of the illusion that we are somehow more special than others. That is a powerful challenge to my own sense of self-importance and one that I haven’t mastered by a long shot!. And then I read this:
The devil sometimes puts ambitious desires into our hearts, so that, instead of setting our hand to the work which is nearest to us, and thus serving Our Lord in ways within our power, we may rest content with having desired the impossible.
– Teresa of Avila
I had to read this several times to really start to understand the implications of this.
I mentioned last time about how our online life is cluttered with quotes inspiring and urging us to live a life of greatness, and we hear it in our churches and schools as well. There are so many powerful stories of people doing great exploits in both the Old and New Testament, and definitely people are called to do amazing things, go on epic adventures and lead lives of huge influence.
But I do often wonder about the countless unnamed men and women in the Bible. The many Israelite families who followed Moses into the desert and bought up their families as they trekked for 40 years. Those people Jesus touched,whose lives were transformed, bodies and minds healed, who went back to their villages and families and lived out ordinary lives of service and worship. The thousands of new Christians in those very first New Testament churches who walked a new way – a way that was radically sacrificial and often dangerous. We will never know who they are, and whose lives they impacted (in this life at least).
And what if that is what purpose means or most of us – to serve where we are, to set our hand to the work nearest us, to be faithful in the little things, to worship God for the simplest of blessings and ordinary miracles He bestows on us every day?
Jesus turned down the power and riches the Devil offered Him while He was in the desert. I don’t just think that it was because He had access to riches and power beyond anything Satan could give Him; but to show us(me) that success and the validation of our (my) own importance we (I) so often strive for can be a deception and an illusion that we(I) can also walk away from.
After successfully resisting temptation, Jesus then came out of the desert and set about building relationships with ordinary people. He told stories of ordinary things that people could relate to, made disciples of ordinary people, and was executed in an ordinary (brutal) manner of the day. Paul later spoke of the fruit of the Spirit – such simple and ordinary virtues that transform the lives of people when they exhibit them.
As we celebrate a risen Christ tomorrow, I will also be thanking Him for my ordinary life and the opportunities I get to set my hand to the work nearest me; and praying that I will become much much better at seeing them and acting on them, rather than dreaming of potential greatness.
Do not forget that the value and interest of life is not so much to do conspicuous things…as to do ordinary things with the perception of their great value
– Teilhard de Chardin
4 thoughts on “Lent Musing #3”
This is a timely message. I have been convicted lately that I need to focus on the work at hand, instead of allowing my heart and head to run ahead imagining a season that may never arrive. I was shocked to realize that these hidden dreams had begun to rob me of contentment in this season. Thank you for sharing!
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Thanks for reading! I’m slowly learning how to not build castles in the air but but not always successful
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Thank you for this lovely reflection, Leanne. I’d be interested to read about whether you had specific goals for doing “amazing things” or whether you just feel you are capable of so much more than you had the opportunity to do. I have struggled for many years to find a place where I could do something that would help many people but that never happened. Many ideas came and went but the opportunity or resources were never at hand. Now I have the opportunity to potentially inspire many people with my writing but I’m afraid of what success would look like and how it might affect my family and other relationships. How do we know if we are an ordinary person resisting the call to do something extraordinary (because it’s very hard or we lack confidence in our abilities) or if we should be content to spend our days caring for family, friends and community?
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Hi Caroline. That’s a really good question. I have been fortunate to have been able to do some pretty amazing things while caring for our rather large family, and looking back, I have fitted a lot in – although yes definitely times when I was frustrated by the constraints of raising kids – but getting these five people to adulthood was in the end the best use of my talents and skills. Ironically it’s now that I have some more free time that I am finding myself more challenged about motives and what is the best use of my time. I want to somehow find the balance between being content to care for the people and community around me, and be fully engaged in that, but also be alert for opportunities. I’d be delighted (if a little daunted) if I was felt I called to do something crazy and huge – and I am definitely not averse to taking a risk – but I am also learning to be just as delighted in the small things.
I think for me in the culture I see ( I am in contact with a lot of younger people) there seems to be a trend to believe that you are an extraordinary person, and an assumption that you will do something great (which is the message they hear from so many sources), rather than just getting on with what needs to be done. I love it when I see young people do extraordinary things (and we have one of those in our own family) but I also want to support those who will never be high flyers (and we have one of those too!)
Exciting that you have an opportunity to step out of the boat – your writing options sound really exciting even if they come with new challenges. Thanks again for that last question, I think it’s a good one to ask ourselves on a regular basis and be honest with the answer.