Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The Person Who Hates Ordinary.

That's definitely me. I hate to be ordinary. Most of my life, I wouldn't have said this about myself, but the older I get (and the more personality tests I take) the clearer I see my fight against being ordinary spilling into every day. Whether it is breaking the rule of wearing white after Labor day, or choosing to write with a pink pen instead of black, I just don't like to do what is normal.

There is nothing wrong with being ordinary, simple, or maybe even boring. In fact, in 1 Thessalonians, Paul calls the people living in Thessalonica to aspire to live quietly, and to mind their own affairs. Maybe this is a stretch, but I don't think Facebook stalking really counts as minding your own affairs. I am definitely guilty of this, but I also see how this constant evaluation of others is perpetuating a cycle of discontentment in my life.

I base my ideas of success, achievement, and living a life full of God's work, on the people I see. Not even the people I actually know, but people in the news, highly recognized for their efforts against poverty, homelessness, racism and more. However, the bible does not tell us to evaluate our worth based on a stranger's accomplishments. I wish I was a little more settled in knowing where my worth comes from, but I am still insecure, full of vanity, and ever desiring praise for my efforts. In reality, our job is not to sit and evaluate our efforts, or anyone else's, but to recognize God's goodness in every situation, and be content for the things that come our way.

At the same time, this doesn't excuse us from striving for excellence. What about achieving impossible accomplishments in the name of God? Shouldn't we be driven to make a difference in our world? Not to simply settle for less? To make the biggest impact we can? Yes, definitely, we should be doing these things. But first, we need to recognize this: all of our accomplishments in these endeavors are God's accomplishments. We cannot let our desire for greatness, or our ambitions for justice, cause us to look down upon a simple, seemingly normal life, or be discontent when our life seems a little more boring. We need to learn contentment in all circumstances.

This is where things get complicated in my brain. How do we balance striving to do the impossible and contentment with our roles? How do we work hard to accomplish our goals while not agonizing over being less successful than we hoped? Where do we draw the line between healthy ambition and selfish obsession? Sorry to say, I don't have all the answers, but I know there is a great balance to be found.

I truly believe our ideas of fruitfulness lie at the root of these questions. We equate being fruitful with having a visible impact. We think the more people know about what God has done through us, or the more people saved from poverty by our work, the more valuable and worthwhile our efforts have been. It is true people will know us by our fruit, by what pours out of our lives (Matthew 7), but the fruit of our lives, and the work we do for eternity, does not always have a visible, measurable outcome.

The greatest example I have of this is a woman I don't actually know. Back when I was newly married, my husband and I sometimes attended the Youth Group at our church, kind of like adult helpers (minus being incredibly helpful). One week, an elder of the church spoke about his aunt who lived much of her life in an Iron Lung. She had polio as a child, which eventually left her partially paralyzed, and unable to breath unassisted. She basically lived in a small room, inside a chamber, often by herself, while the Iron Lung used air pressure to fill and empty her lungs. Yet, this elder said his aunt was the most content, joyful person he knew. She was always reading her bible, always asking what people needed, always praying in earnest, always giving encouragement, despite the effort and time it took for her to speak a single sentence.

During this time in my life, I was constantly struggling with discontentment, and I was genuinely astonished at this woman's story. In fact, I still am! I saw the shallow puddle of faith I was standing in and desired to jump into the ocean of joy and confidence in which this woman freely swam. How could we be serving the same God? It was evident I was not serving God with a pure heart, as most of my desires revolved around my comfort, my selfish desire to have others think highly of me, or my need to be validated.

Her story altered my compass. I still drift away from True North at times, from following Jesus above my own comfort or pursuits, but I find courage in the testimony of her life to continue down the narrow path. She showed me that knowing God, blessing others, and not worrying about your potential impact is more freeing and joyful than pursuing the greatest achievement you can dream up on your own. I am constantly falling off this achievement-contentment balance beam, trying to change my circumstances to fit with my ambitions. But I know we can take this woman's example of how to balance well.

First, seek God, above all else. Study His word and pray.

Admit there are some circumstances you cannot change. Find a way to be okay with it.

Do everything you can to give the truth, love, and goodness of God to those you encounter.

Go for it! Anything else on your heart? At peace with where you are today? Then go for whatever it is God is leading you into, expecting Him to do great things.

I really do think it can be this simple. We tend to complicate situations, trying to map out where we need to go, what we need to do, or what we think we should have, instead of starting along down the path we feel called to take. We focus on changing our circumstances to enable our pursuits, instead of pursuing God and trusting the fruit He will bring out of our faithful efforts.

Ordinary does not mean we cannot be brave, accomplished, effective, or important. Many ordinary women step up to God's calling as events around them require their bravery and willingness. Many more people die without witnessing the fruit of their labors, so we would be wise to consider this outcome and find peace if our lives take this route. We cannot expect to feel validated by our achievements in this lifetime - that is not the goal. Here are Jesus' words in John 15:16, which brought me comfort (and I hope some wisdom) this week.

"You did not choose me, but I chose you, and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask in my Father's name, He may give it to you."

God is choosing us to bring forth fruit that endures. Not necessarily fruit that quickly or easily shoots up out of us, or fruit that changes the globe in exciting ways, but fruit that endures long after the world is demolished. This is what it means to be extraordinary: being a part of God's eternal plan, and bringing forth fruit in every circumstance, not just the circumstances we think are important. This kind of fruit reaches further than we can imagine, penetrating an Iron Lung, a generation of people, and the most selfish of hearts.

Believe this, we can be a part of God's eternal, important, world-changing plans in our every-day, ordinary lives. God may not call you into fame, or even out of an ordinary life, but He does call you to excellence in bearing fruit. We will never achieve it if we are wishing ourselves out of the circumstances He has placed us, even if they are sopping with uneventful monotony. When we are willing to live a simple life, we are more free to enjoy God, to pursue His plans wholeheartedly, and to witness His faithfulness every day. You will never regret this kind of achievement, as the fruit that grows out of this kind of contentment will be picked and enjoyed forever.


  1. We just finished a wonderful book in Women's Mentoring that I think you would really love! It is Holy Habits by Mimi Wilson. It addresses a lot of things you talk about in this post. It's set up as a 12 session bible study, but is terrific just to read as well.

    Great thoughts as usual, dear daughter! I'm glad to have raised such a wonderful deep thinking woman (I think all of you have this trait, but you express things so very well!).

  2. Thank you mom! I will definitely check out that book, I'm always on the lookout for uplifting things to read :)