In defence of ordinary
I used to long for an extraordinary life. Once, I drove across Canada with a team of young adults on a short-term mission trip, vowing to live the rest of my days “sold out and radical” for Jesus. I wanted to stand out. I wanted to rise above the mediocre masses.
Back then, I would have resonated with the “Not Normal” MINI car commercial I saw recently. Energetic, inspiring music plays as advertisers pitch a unique lifestyle characterized by an oversized duck strapped to the roof of a car and young people passionately kissing in an elevator.
“Normal is regular, average, medium,” says the voice-over. “Normal is safe, familiar, warm, and comfortable. But normal isn’t great. Normal isn’t fantastic. Normal can never be amazing.” Who wouldn’t want to be amazing, fantastic, extraordinary?
A different story
But I’m not convinced there’s anything wrong with normal.
It’s not that I don’t want to make an impact in this world. On my children’s lives. In my community. Among my family. For the sake of Christ.
I’m just not sure I have to do something extraordinary to accomplish that. I’m not sure I have to be extraordinary to be happy or faithful in God’s eyes.
Rising to the top
Extraordinary, by definition, means remarkable or unusually great. It’s marked by drive and ambition. To be extraordinary means you’ve trod over others – clambered and climbed and scraped and scratched – to get to the top.
Not everyone can be extra-ordinary. When someone achieves the status of being extraordinary, others are left behind. Olympic gold winners are extraordinary, while hundreds of other athletes are just ordinary, even though their race times differ by mere fractions of a second.
When one church is extraordinary, other churches down the road are just ordinary, and may even be considered boring. “Excellence is a top priority for many ministries,” writes Michael Binder in Leadership Journal. “We’re all too familiar with what’s at stake. Do things with excellence (i.e., musical worship, preaching, children’s ministry, building space, and small groups) and your church will grow. Don’t do things with excellence and people will move to the church down the street with better programs and more polish.”
Is this God’s intention? Is the Christian life all about striving to be extraordinary, trying to surpass everyone else? This perspective puts the emphasis on me, rather than on God. How easily we buy into the North American notion that life is a competition – against others and even against ourselves. Frankly, it’s exhausting. And it wreaks destruction on the very community we’re called to build.
The deep, Christian life consists of finding fulfillment and grace in everyday, regular moments.
Getting back to ordinary
As I watch people negotiate life’s bumps, hills, and valleys (such as teenager Lydia Herrle, featured on pages 10–13, of this month’s Herald, who’s recovering from a traumatic accident), I see many who long for ordinary.
People who are battling cancer long to feel normal again. People who are forced to negotiate difficult relationships – with a spouse, child, or co-worker – yearn for normal. People who are grieving over the death of a loved one ache to return to plain, old ordinary.
So today, I’ll take my cue from Paul in Romans 12:1: “Here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life – your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life – and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him” (The Message, emphasis mine).
That seems like a pretty extraordinary task to me.