The desire, temptation, and lure to live an extraordinary life is strong; to figure out our “one thing;” to do, create, be, achieve, rise up, astonish, accomplish, shine.
It’s exhausting, really.
And it’s a relatively new phenomenon. Far before pressing existential (and advertising-inducing) questions like “what is my life’s purpose,” everyday choices were shaped by survival and perseverance, seasons and hours, shelter and sustenance, tribe and family.
Ordinary life took precedence. And somehow, in the midst of such, extraordinary lives were lived.
A few examples from my lineage of stories:
- Hagar: a slave who was forced to bear the child of her master and then banished to the desert with her young son, Ishmael – the eventual patriarch of Islam.
- Ruth: a too-young widow who took care of a bitter mother-in-law. Hungry, she stole gathered wheat left behind by the harvesters. Eventually found out by the wealthy owner of that land, he married her. Their great-grandson was King David.
- Mary: an engaged girl trying to make sense of an unexpected pregnancy became the mother of Jesus.
Their stories (and so many more) are of ordinary life lived. Like us, they were wives and mothers, daughters and cousins, sisters and friends. They knew desire and choice, tears and trauma. They birthed and nurtured, fed and cleaned. They spoke and sang, laughed and loved. They were fertile and barren, healthy and ill, strong and less-than, brave and afraid, named and unnamed. They lived ordinary lives that changed the entire world.
What if we redefined “ordinary”?
Parenting. Paying bills. Grocery shopping. Brewing coffee. Fixing meals. Cleaning. Driving. Writing. Working. Having conversations. Drinking wine. Sleeping. Waking. Laughing. Grieving. Being alone. Being together. Living life.
Maybe it’s only me, but I still feel the incessant and insipid pressure to do more, be more, achieve more, accomplish more.
Those internal and external messages have the wily ability to take front-and-center stage in my mind and heart. And when that happens, all the day-to-day aspects of my life get shoved into the shadows; the ordinary becomes drudgery in the illusive pursuit of the extraordinary.
BUT THAT’S NOT HOW IT (actually) WORKS!
It is in living an ordinary life that we are profoundly extraordinary. Not because we are trying. Not because we are striving. But because we are surviving and persevering, even thriving – day-in, day-out. Good and bad. Easy and hard. Joyful and excruciating. Wins and losses. Gifts and hassles. People and places. Normal, everyday stuff.
Our choice to be ordinary, to simply be awake and present to what is happening around us, is what enables an extraordinary life.
Nothing more. And certainly nothing less.
If, in the mix of all that we write a book, or stand on a stage, or build a successful business, or raise an amazing family, or keep a marriage together, or leave one entirely, or (you fill in the blank), it will only be because we have – in obvious and ordinary ways – taken the next step, done the next thing, walked through the next door, lived through the next day. NOT because we have pushed and prodded and persuaded ourselves to be more amazing and incredible than we already are.
Follow the lead of Hagar and Ruth and Mary. They did not spend one moment trying to figure out how to be amazing and larger-than-life and phenomenal and extraordinary. They lived ordinary lives – focused on what mattered most, on the things about which they could not remain silent, on the work they could not not do.
Believe that you are enough…and not too much. And then live your ordinary life. That is extraordinary.
So are you.
May it be so.