For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to do something “big” for the Lord. Once God saved me in college, ordinary was something I wasn’t willing to settle for. But as adulthood settled in, ordinary was all I saw around me. I worked desk jobs. I did the same thing every day. Sure, I liked my work sometimes (sometimes I didn’t). But these were hardly the visions of grandeur I imagined as a passionate new believer.
Now I’m a stay-at-home mom, where ordinary is the defining word of my days, and I am regularly left wondering if what I’m doing is big enough, important enough, or doing something that matters in God’s eyes. This is not unique to me. Our culture, and even Christian sub-culture tends to describe life in these very terms. Important and big versus ordinary and small.
But we are defining big and important by the wrong scale. The Bible reminds us that the last will be first and the first will be last (Matt. 19:30; 20:16). Jesus tells us that it’s not great faith that we need in order to move mountains; it is faith as small as a mustard seed (Luke 17:6). God chooses the weak things to shame the wise (1 Cor. 1:18–31). He even chooses an instrument of torture and death to bring about the salvation of broken sinners like you and me. Ordinary and mundane is the way of Christ.
Michael Horton challenges us in our restlessness in the ordinary:
Given the dominance of The Next Big Thing in our society, it is not at all surprising that the Christian subculture is passionate about superlatives. Many of us were raised in a Christian subculture of managed expectations, called to change ourselves or our world, with measurable results. There always had to be a cause du jour to justify our engagement. Otherwise, life in the church would simply be too ordinary. Like every other area of life, we have come to believe that growth in Christ—as individuals or as churches—can and should be programmed to generate predictable out- comes that are unrealistic and are not even justified biblically. We want big results—sooner rather than later. And we’ve forgotten that God showers his extraordinary gifts through ordinary means of grace, loves us through ordinary fellow image bearers, and sends us into the world to love and serve others in ordinary callings.
In our Christian circles, we are tempted by this pull toward the spectacular. Ordinary exercises in faithfulness regarding our work don’t cut it in a culture that is looking for the next big Internet sensation or viral video. If it’s not funny, it’s not worth sharing. If it’s not tweet-worthy, it’s not worth talking about. If it’s not saving a faraway village for Jesus, it’s not worth our investment. We are living in a time when being ordinary is the worst thing that can happen to a person, and nothing screams ordinary like at-home work. Few people see the daily work that you do. Unless you raise the next president, celebrity, or athlete, few people will praise you at the city gates for the work that you have put in over the years. We all feel a strong desire (both from inside us and from the culture) to do something radical with our life, to not waste it. And sometimes it feels wasteful to spend your life on at-home work.
But that’s not the way God views your work. He sees your work and delights in it. God cares about what happens behind the closed doors of your house each and every day because he cares about the people in it. He cares about the seemingly ordinary work that you do because he is the one who created you for the very work you are doing right now.
It’s not just this pull toward the meaningful that causes us to miss the point in our work. Maybe you don’t feel like you need to make a name for yourself. You have always wanted to stay home with your children. You never wanted any other job—and now you are doing it and feel complete. But do your feelings about your day rise and fall with every task accomplished or with happy children who don’t throw their food on the floor or throw tantrums at bedtime? While you may not be tempted to brush off your at-home work as unimportant, disillusionment may come in the temptation to deny yourself by the work at home. Do these thoughts resonate with you? The more I do, the better I feel. I’m better than her because I stay home with my kids. My concern with this view of at-home work is that it tends to overcompensate for the culture’s view of at-home work. If the world can’t value it, we will. Unfortunately, sometimes we swing that pendulum too far. And this has devastating consequences for our spiritual life.
There is a middle road for all of us—those who devalue the work of the home and those who idolize it. Understanding God’s original intent for our work, what happened to our work when sin entered the world, and how we miss the point in our work is the first step. Your daily work matters, friend. Whether it feels like meaningful work or not, I assure you it is.
(This excerpt is adapted from “Is There Life Out There?” from Glory in the Ordinary: Why Your Work in the Home Matters to God, pages 41-43)