One of the more popular blog posts I’ve written, and one that seemed to resonate with many of those who read it, is the one in which I declared the goodness of the ordinary, or really, the goodness of being ordinary. Ordinary has since been a popular theme in Christian publishing, with two books now sharing that title, and a host of others carrying similar ones: Boring, Mundane, Normal, and so on. I’m glad for this new emphasis.
Way back when I wrote that article I said this: “Ordinary is a book I have lived. I live it every day. I live an ordinary life, pastor an ordinary church full of ordinary people, and head home each night to my ordinary little home in an oh-so-ordinary suburb. I preach very ordinary sermons—John Piper or Steve Lawson I am not and never will be—and as I sit with the people I love I am sure I give them very ordinary counsel. A friend recently confessed his initial disappointment the first time he visited my home and got a glimpse of my life. ‘Your house is so small and your life is so boring.’ Indeed. It’s barely 1,100 square feet of house and forty hours every week sitting at a desk.”
And not much has changed. My mortgage is a couple of years closer to being paid off, but the house hasn’t gotten any bigger or fancier. My preaching skills have probably increased just a notch or two since then, based simply on preparing and delivering quite a few sermons. But there hasn’t been any sudden or dramatic improvement. And my life? It is still just about the same, I think. I love to live it despite the fact that it is almost always very mundane. In fact, I love to live it exactly because it is almost always very mundane.
You knew there had to be a “but” in here somewhere. Over the past couple of years I have learned something about being ordinary: I am comfortable with “ordinary” as my self-diagnosis, but I haven’t yet gotten to the point where I am comfortable hearing it from others. That’s the new battleground. I can see my own ordinariness and be okay with it, but it still hurts when other people see and acknowledge it.
I have realized that diagnosing myself as ordinary can carry with it some pride. “I’m the ordinary guy” sounds humble, but can still pack a proud attitude. That’s the sinful human heart, I guess—able to boast about a lack of skill or a lack of talent just as much as an abundance of each. It’s pathetic, but it shows that somewhere and somehow I still want to be a big deal, even if the big deal is being ordinary. I still want to wear a label. I have learned that when I say I am ordinary, I am sometimes actually bragging and maybe even hoping that people will respond to my statement with some kind of a correction—”Oh, no, you’re not. Not you.” That does something to me that my heart quite enjoys.
But then there are the people who agree with my diagnosis. Or who even somehow communicate that they had already come to that conclusion. I have counseled people in my church who really wanted one of the other guys, but had to settle for me. I have been invited to speak at conferences or churches where I have learned—or just been told—that I am plan b or plan c. We really wanted those other guys, but they were all too busy doing other important stuff, so we’re settling for you. And the public has said it as well. I’ve written books, and the books have sold, but not in noteworthy quantities. It’s not that I expected a book on spiritual discernment or a book on Christians and technology to go shooting onto the New York Times list of bestsellers, but, you know, like every other author, I couldn’t help but dream a little.
I’m realizing that somehow I still want to be a big deal—an ordinary big deal, as if that makes any sense. I want to be ordinary by my own assessment, but special by other people’s. I struggle to let go of the desire to be a big deal. And God gives these gracious little pokes, these jabs, to remind me that I’m not. I’m not a big deal. I couldn’t handle being a big deal.
I’ve got a feeling that the people who do the most for God are those who are most content to be ordinary. Some of them remain unknown and unnoticed through their entire lives. Others are elevated and admired. But I suspect that the ones we love the most are the ones who can be satisifed with either a profile or invisibility, with either much or little—whatever God gives. There is beauty in that. I want that.
I guess what I am seeing is that it takes ongoing training to be and to embrace ordinary. It is not a one-shot deal. I want to be content with ordinary, and I need to be, because more and more I see God’s gracious evidence that this is exactly who and what I am. I’ve just got to learn to love it.
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