At a dinner party recently, I was asked by the man on my right, ‘What do you do?’ I breathed in and answered with as much conviction as I could muster, ‘I’m a housewife and mother.’ ‘Oh good for you’ he replied, which was generous, I thought! Turning to my left, I just couldn’t quite believe I’d be so lucky a second time and so waffled on about looking for a job as obviously being at home was a mind-numbingly tedious, insignificant and pointless existence which anyone with at least an iota of intelligence, (which I was eager to claim) would eagerly want to escape.
What is at the heart of this inability to answer honestly? Fear? pride? I was afraid that each of my companions that evening would make a judgement about me based on what I do and I wanted to be thought well of. I wanted to be thought interesting and very definitely didn’t want to be thought ‘boring’. Aren’t many of us guilty of the same? I just can’t admit that I haven’t done anything of particular note, my achievements count for very little and are largely unknown, and the impact of my life extends only to very few people, mainly my husband and children and church and hey, let’s face it, I’d have liked to have been a little less ordinary.
‘Ordinary’ – a dirty word? Not an adjective you want to be used to describe your daughter or your looks or your cooking or your holiday. Here is a book, however, that has brought the extraordinary back into ordinary as Mark Galli, Editor of Christianity Today has put it. In essence Michael Horton shouts from the rooftops of this 211 page book – ‘Ordinary isn’t mediocre!’ but not only this, it is God’s very means of working in this world to bring a people to Himself.
Starting his book with a six chapter outline of the ‘radical and restless’ world in which we live, he pierces the heart of western culture’s lust for the new, the sensational, the life-changing and gently invites the evangelical world to recognise its own desire for ‘The Next Big Thing’. We run after novelties out of a right desire for excellence but Horton reminds us that ‘Excellence is [only] a virtue when it has God’s glory and our neighbour’s good in view’. Unfortunately we turn this virtue into a vice by using our service as a ‘stage for my performance’ rather than for the good of others. The illusion of self-justification has crept in.
It can become a terrible drug. Rather than placing our trust in God, we learn to trust in our own piety and devotion. Our tireless service is driven more by a desire for self-justification and self-acclaim than by being secure in Christ enough to tend now to the actual needs of others.
The alternative presented to us in the second half of the book is to be ‘ordinary and content’. We are to resolutely re-place our trust, our justification, our significance in Christ alone which will free us to serve others in ‘ordinary and unheralded ways’. Rather like George Elliott’s Dorothea Brooke whose example Horton cites and who cropped up in a previous post, we are free to live ‘faithfully a hidden life’ serving others because they need it not in order to curry favour with God or enhance our reputation as ‘keen’ and ‘really going for it’.
Michael Horton is an incredibly honest writer confessing that he has himself fallen into the trap of making others the ‘supporting cast’ in his own ‘life movie’ rather than serving them out of love for Christ and for their good. Having read this book, those who have fallen into the mirky bogs of egocentricity will find themselves liberated to pursue unashamed ‘a patient commitment to daily routines, routines that to the outside observer seem dull, trivial, worthless.’ With renewed confidence in God’s chosen means of grace, namely weekly church gatherings, preaching, prayer, baptism and The Lord’s Supper, we can allow Him to quieten our hearts and avoid the exhaustion and burnout that is worryingly prevalent in some churches.
I’ll still have to work on my dinner party answers but in the meantime, since reading this book, I am a little less perturbed by the ordinariness of my existence and have a renewed respect for other non-celebrities out there who cheerfully and without ego follow their callings under God whether noticed or not by those around them.