Forget What Your Mom or Teacher Says—You Aren't So Special After All
Yesterday I woke up, went for a run, ate breakfast, then started my daily routine of work, household chores, and writing. To spice things up, I had lunch with a friend, who gave me a special tour of the hospital where she works. That was the most eventful part of my day. Besides the lunch date, I will probably do the exact same thing tomorrow. It's nothing too remarkable or profound. It's just my ordinary life. Or is it?
In a recent article in The New York Times, Alina Tugend asks the same question. Contemplating the accolades of her own children, the NYT columnist writes,
"I wonder if there is any room for the ordinary any more, for the child or teenager—or adult—who enjoys a pickup basketball game but is far from Olympic material, who will be a good citizen but won't set the world on fire."
She notes that for some "in this world, an ordinary life has become synonymous with a meaningless life." These days, success is measured by the extraordinary rather than the mere faithful or honest. As Tugend says, "we have a need to be exceptional." And she wonders if this is all a good thing. We can't all be the next innovative inventor, best-selling author, or Olympic medalist. The reality is that most of us will live our lives in the routine and mundane.
This is true as much for Christians as it is for everyone else—a good lot of us will not accomplish the extraordinary or supernatural in this life. Yet we are tempted to feel like we aren't doing enough for Jesus unless we are saving African villages, writing inspirational books, leading a church with a massive membership roll, or adopting children from Haiti. We tend to measure success in the currency of adventurous mission trips, large ministry followings, and educational accolades. And we can feel like our life is fairly insignificant if much of our time is spent changing dirty diapers, teaching the same students every day, or working a fairly boring job. In a time when many, including well-known evangelicals, build a platform around living a "life with impact," "changing the world," and "making a difference"—which they announce through blogging and Twitter feeds—we're tempted to view the routines and ruts of everyday life with derision.
The desire for the special and the spectacular is rooted in a good seed: Deep down we want to believe that we have worth and value. We want to know that our lives are making a difference. That's not all bad. In fact, it's precisely because we are special that we desire these very things. But we are special not because we possess a worthiness of our own, but because we image the special One—our Creator. He created us to reflect his glory to a watching world. Every job we do, every gift we possess, and every seemingly mundane task we complete faithfully is all part of our reflecting his creative majesty. And every life is necessary in God's economy. This is what gives us significance and meaning, regardless of the tangible outcomes of our efforts.