Another Word About the Ordinary

It’s been about ten months since my last post. Things have happened. The winds of change came barreling through like a tornado, leveling life as we knew it. We welcomed our fourth baby boy into the world at the end of August and the new baby fog has dropped a thick blanket of exhaustion, chaos, and monotony over our days. No longer free to simply pick up and go with the kids wherever weather and desire lead us, we are once more grounded in the newborn neediness. One month in and it still feels like I’m nursing an over-excited hamster. The gnawing… oh sweet Jesus, HELP. 

We have also made the switch back to homeschooling, which means we are all together, all the time. A first grader, preschooler, toddler, and a fresh-out infant. All boys, every minute of every day. The thoughts of all that I can’t do and be right now feel heavy. And that heaviness tends to give entrance to a number of convincing lies. Sandwiched in between the harsh whispers of “failure” are others that fuel the frenzy of self-doubt and what I perceive myself to be lacking.

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When the previous day rolls into the next without any sort of delineation (because infants view  nighttime sleep as merely optional), and dawn finally sets about permeating the darkness with strokes of color, I release a paradoxical sigh- relief that the sun has made its journey back around to bring salvation from the night, but also the awareness of another day of mothering the countless needs and developing hearts of four young boys. The daily work of mothering often appears so very unexceptional and ordinary in its redundant tasks, and so to view motherhood as somewhat cumbersome feels a whole lot easier than to embrace the journey as a treasure trove of opportunity, surprise, and delight.  

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But I wonder why we so routinely twist our perception of ordinary life into a thing of worthlessness; that it is somehow not enough, unfulfilling, or less important than the fewer shiny, flashier moments. Most of life IS the ordinary stuff. If I settle for the belief that raising and educating my children is somehow a lesser journey, that I could have been and done so much more had I chosen something other than them, then I’ve missed it. I’ve missed the reward, the growth, the joy, everything.  The struggle to raise good men will always look like struggle and never a display of God’s infinite glory, mercy, and grace. I will only ever see fallible humans failing instead of image-bearers of Christ being molded into His likeness in the day-to-day. 

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, an eighteenth century German poet, gifted us with this bit of wisdom: 

Cease endlessly striving to do what you want to do and learn to love what must be done.”

Instead of seeing a task, see purpose. Instead of simply pushing through, determine if there is a weakness that can be strengthened or a lesson learned- because therein lies the transformation. The beauty of ordinary life will begin to reveal itself as our perception of the ordinariness changes from one of worthlessness to accepting what’s actually true- that the ordinary transforms. Identifying purpose in the mundane unveils its worth.

So what does that look like? A recent example happened to me just minutes ago as I was typing these words. The baby, who had been sleeping, began to fuss. My initial reaction was to feel resentment toward fussy baby for interrupting my typing. Because instead of sitting comfortably on the couch typing about embracing the ordinary, I actually had to go live it out by calming a crying infant and putting him back to sleep, which could have taken who KNOWS how long. But I stopped my eyes from rolling and immediately put that feeling of resentment on hold, went to him, and pulled him in close to my chest. Nuzzling the top of his warm, fuzzy head I began to breathe in his sweet baby scent. And as I settled into  the quiet, ordinary moment of lulling him to sleep once more, I felt a deep sense of wonder at the gift I had been given in caring for this tiny, fragile human, and my heart was filled with the sweetest joy. I was able to experience a holy moment of genuine gratitude because this time I had chosen to love what must be done. I recognized purpose instead of a task- loving my child, not quieting an interruption.

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The Summer Day

Who made the world?

Who made the swan, and the black bear?

Who made the grasshopper?

This grasshopper, I mean-

the one who has flung herself out of the grass,

the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,

who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-

who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.

Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.

Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

—Mary Oliver

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Most of us don’t have time or opportunity to spend our days strolling through fields and observing the eating habits of grasshoppers, but I think the reminder for us all in this poem is to pay attention. Pay attention to the details, the minutiae, the bit parts in our daily story that reveal pieces of God and His mysterious, limitless grace. When we busy ourselves with the goal of discovering grace and beauty in the ordinary things, there is no longer space or time to accept the ordinary as anything less than extraordinary. God’s faithfulness and redemptive, shaping work in our lives- among our chores, responsibilities, obligations, reactions, interactions, and attitudes- is nothing short of miraculous. Every single day we are living out a miracle orchestrated by the hand of God. If we were to see the whole story from start to finish, the gradual influence of the everyday moments would become crystal clear and we would be awestruck by the confluence of these millions of tiny moments shaping within us something so grand.

So then:

This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” (Psalm 118L24, NIV)

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A final word from artist and author Ruth Chou Simmons:

“When we believe the Giver of every ordinary moment in our every day is the faithful God who is trustworthy for each next step we take in our daily lives, we have reason to rejoice in the gift of another day. “Let us rejoice and be glad in it” isn’t a grit-your-teeth-and-obey imperative; it is a response to the preceding truth that this is the day the Lord has made. The Lord is the author of this day you and I get to live. We become joyful and glad about this day- today- as we take our eyes off of what we must do and behold the One who created us to do it in the first place.”  (excerpt from Beholding and Becoming: The Art of Everyday Worship)

Peace & Love, Amy

 

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