Ordinary” has to be one of the loneliest words in our vocabulary today. Who wants a bumper sticker that announces to the neighborhood, “My child is an ordinary student at Bubbling Brook Elementary”? Who wants to be that ordinary person who lives in an ordinary town, is a member of an ordinary church and has an ordinary job?
We think our life has to count! We have to leave our mark, have a legacy, make a difference. And all of this should be something that can be managed, measured and maintained. We have to live up to our Facebook profile. It’s one of the newer versions of salvation by works.
[...]In a world intoxicated by such freedom, everydayness is boring. This vision of reality affects us all. Even more than I’m afraid of failure, I’m terrified by boredom. Facing another day, with ordinary callings to ordinary people all around me is much more difficult than chasing the dreams I have envisioned for the grand story of my life. Other people—especially those close to us—can become props. “The Poor” can be instruments of our life project. Our big ideas to “change the world” can become ways of actually avoiding the opportunities we have every day, right where God has placed us, to glorify and enjoy Him and to enrich the lives of others.
[...]Taking a summer to build wells in Africa is, for some, a genuine calling. But so is fixing a neighbor’s plumbing, feeding one’s family and sharing in the burdens and joys of a local church. What we are called to do every day, right where God has placed us, is rich and rewarding.
Sometimes, the best way to change the world is to live extraordinarily in what looks like an ordinary existence—to radically love and serve those around us every day, no matter where we are.
I want to quote from a post by Wes Widner. He is a talented software engineer, and a very practical person.
Here’s a challenging post he wrote about about short-term missions.
Here’s what was said:
Because of this misunderstanding of the great commission and what it truly means to make disciples of those around us, we tend to overlook questions of stewardship and logistics. In fact, since we think the imperative is to go we tend to start to think that any cost is acceptable and questions of logistics are a mere nuisance.
How much does a round-trip plane ticket usually cost to travel overseas? $1,000, $2,000? More? Once you count the cost of food, lodging, transportation, etc. you can often approach figures well over $3,000 just to send a single person overseas. Is this really the best way to reach the lost?
[...]Why do we go? Why do we really go? If our real aim is to make disciples as we are commanded to, then we will gladly step back and examine the questions raised above (and many will come to the conclusion that short-term, long-distance mission trips are simply not a good idea) but I believe the main reason most Christians go is to satisfy a desire for an emotional experience which they equate with “being close to God”. And therein lies the heart of our dilemma.
So that’s the first point to make – do the people who want to fly off to far-flung places for a few weeks want to make a difference? If so, how does throwing away thousands of dollars do that?
In my own life, I’ve favored stewardship and strength over recklessness and thrill-seeking. I have been working out a slow and steady apologetics-focused plan that started when I was in high school when I was reading C.S. Lewis and winning awards in computer science. From there, I got my BS and MS in computer science and have proceeded to built a gapless resume and a fortune which I use to support Christian students and fund apologetics events. I have sponsored dozens of apologetics events during the last 15 years, and let me tell you, I can fund several campus events with as much as people spend on a 3-week mission trip. And it’s a much higher impact. A much better use of funds. We need to be influencing the university, that’s where future leaders come from.
Let’s take a look at another concern.
Look at this post by a male reader of The Thinking Housewife blog.
Since I wrote you last, I have decided to sign up for a few online dating sites, mostly out of curiosity. I could not imagine finding a serious mate on, say, OKCupid, but anything is possible. In poring over many hundreds of profiles in the past few days, a few things stand out to me.
- I have not seen any woman make her desire for children, or even marriage, the central focus of her profile. Even though I filter profiles based on the “wants kids?” question (which is, surprisingly, often answered “yes”), nothing in the written profile suggests it is important to them. (This is occasionally not the case for Asian women)
- The emphasis is instead on career, activities, hobbies, favourite movies/books/music, travel, and political inclinations (always to the left, sometimes the feminist left)
- The surpreme goal of women my age appears to be to start an NGO in a Third World country.
- Every woman my age has read Eat, Pray, Love.
- Most are doing (or have done) advanced degrees, often in education or healthcare.
- It is rare that a woman expresses interest in cooking, though most express interest in restaurants and food.
- I have never seen a woman mention that she desires a good home, a place to call her own, or that she is otherwise domestically inclined.
I suspect these line up with your readers’ experiences too. That said, it may be that women view these traits as being desired by men, and they may be at odds with more deeply held needs.
So marriage and family are not viewed as ways to make a difference, and all the effort is put into travel, education, politics, social work and career.
The Thinking Housewife adds her own thoughts:
Right now, in this country, there are many children growing up in single-mother homes. Growing up without a father and with a mother who is usually not at home and who may bring strange men into your life is a desolating experience that has been proven to damage many people. I have a friend who is a teacher in a white working-class neighborhood. Many of the children there are growing up in homes of never-married or divorced mothers. These children are hungry for attention and love. Their situation portends further social chaos. Do you think the young Evangelical women you mention would brag about helping these white children? Would volunteer work with them have the same cachet?
I suggest to you that it would not.
I understand that people in Third World countries are materially poorer than these white children I mention. But in the Christian view, the immaterial is foremost and the spiritual conditions of these white children are nothing less than dire and probably worse than that of most children in the Third World. They are being raised by nihilistic popular culture.
[...]Christianity will not flourish in the Third World if it is dying in the West. We need these idealistic women to do their work at home, and that work includes becoming wives and mothers themselves.
The idealism of these women is not wrong, but the direction it has taken is. Volunteering in the Third World has become a status symbol for Christians.
This is definitely something that I have seen with young, umarried Christian women. There is very little effort into choosing the right man, and planning for marriage and parenting with him. Everything is about missions trips, graduate degrees, changing the world with broad brush strokes. Being in the spotlight. Being recognized by everyone as important.
Last link – this time from Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason.
You can make a difference as long as you’re making a difference with someone else with whom you have a difference (here I mean difference in ability). So maybe you know a little bit of theology. Let’s say you know like three theological truths. Well, you can teach those to somebody who know less than three theological truths, or don’t know those three. You can teach them what you know. That means just about anybody can participate as long as you find someone who knows less than you do, and there’s a lot of them around.
Take what you know, take the circumstance you’re in, and bloom where you’re planted. And that is when you learn best. When you’re teaching someone else, you learn it better. It’s very simple. You have a small group. Sometimes your group is two or three people. You have an audience of one, over coffee at Starbucks. You could be sharing, talking, teaching, instructing. You take those opportunities, and you are faithful in those smaller opportunities, and more opportunities will probably come your way.
You may not have an audience of 100 or 1,000 or 3,000. I rarely have that size audience, anyway. But Jesus said, “If you’re faithful in smaller things, you’ll be given greater things.” Jesus wants you to make a difference in small ways. The fields are white with harvest. There are all kinds of need out there, and you’ve been gifted to meet that need. So it stands to reason, to coin a phrase, that you will be used as you become better at what you do by the One who distributes these gifts, God, through the person of the Holy Spirit.
My answer to the question is then, keep your eyes open, and take the opportunities that come your way, look for opportunities. Bloom where you’re planted. Do whatever you can, wherever you’re at. And then watch the Lord work and see what He decides to do with what you’ve done.
Here’s the Scripture he mentioned from Luke 16:10:
10 “He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much.
Even more than teaching another person what you know, you can just care for them and encourage them. You can just love them.
My view has always been to learn skills through study and save money I needed to be able to respond to challenges. If opportunities arose, then I could do something. I also made big plans. But even with these big plans, I always thought that I should be flexible. There have been times when opportunities to mentor someone one-on-one came up, and when they did, I invested heavily in those other people.
So I did have big plans. But then along came individuals, some of them from rough situations, who needed my help. What should I do? Keep trying to make my big important plan happen? What if the person who came along had a story that fit my abilities and experience so well that I was sure that God had placed us together for me to love and serve this person?
I’ve always felt that I should be flexible about letting my big plans go and working on these one-on-one relationships. But in order to do that, I had to accept that I might never get the recognition I wanted. That I might never get the excitement that I wanted. But sometimes, I got the joy that comes from supplying another person with what they needed, so that their wounds are healed and they move closer to God.
If we all slowly and carefully built up the skills and resources we needed to be able to make a difference with one person at a time, in the places and times where we are right now, then wouldn’t that change the world?