I know. Blasphemous.
I mean, who in their right mind would tell you to look at yourself and embrace your ordinary life? What type of self-love, self-help expertise is that? And how does any human do great things if they just settle for ordinary?
Call me crazy, but right now, at this very moment, I have a nagging suspicion that this outlandish advice might be the very piece of wisdom lots of us desperately need to hear.
In fact, for those of us on a mission to create the life we were made to live, I wonder if it’s the very belief we need to embrace.
It’s pervasive right now, out there – this all-consuming feeling that something’s off-kilter, something’s shifting in the orbit of our galaxy’s third planet.
I wrote about that here, and if you hold your ears to the ground long enough, you’ll hear others talking about it, too. Lately, I’ve been thinking more and more about this feeling, philosophizing plenty about the what and why, and I’ve felt a little bit at a loss for answers until I read a verse penned by a man named Paul of Tarsus – a Judeo-Roman theologian whose ideas on things like grace and redemption have shaped the entire Western world.
“Take your everyday, ordinary life,” he said. “Your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life – and place it before God as an offering. . . then, you’ll be changed from the inside out.”
Now, before you think, “Lindsay’s going all sermon on me,” let me encourage you to just stop, drop, and roll for a hot second – because this next point has nothing to do with sermons or faith or God or Paul.
Here Paul was, talking to the Romans – people who lived in the most extraordinary place on earth, the epicenter of all things power, and he told them, THE GREATEST THING YOU CAN DO RIGHT NOW IS ACKNOWLEDGE AND LEVERAGE YOUR LIFE AS ORDINARY.
I imagine that if he were to show up in twenty-first century America right now, people would slap him silly for saying such a thing – (and that’s the last thing I would want to happen because if you know anything about Paul of Tarsus, you know he both gave and took his fair share of licks).
So, maybe that’s why I’m here now– repeating the very thing said nearly 2,000 years ago: If you buy into the lie of extraordinary, it will cheat you out of a life well-lived.
If this sounds, well . . . strange, I get it. It’s counter-cultural and pushes against every thread of our self-made theologies.
You can change the world.
You are extraordinary.
Do big things.
We haven’t built a world that accepts ordinary as a healthy posture. Trained to celebrate the big things – the big birthdays, the big moments, the big dreams, we hush-hush and underplay anything that’s ordinary – the ordinary days, the ordinary moments, the ordinary dreams.
And this is a tragedy because it’s sent us all on a wild goose chase for more life when the life we’ve got is already infinitely beautiful. (We just can’t see it that way because we’ve been taught to measure a beautiful life via the sole measure of extraordinary.)
When I was in college, I met Dr. Joe Burnworth. In the mid-90s, Joe was somewhere in his 50s, and he was the closest thing I’ve ever gotten to meeting Jesus Christ in the flesh.
The embodiment of grace, Joe was an education professor who taught hundreds of students what servant-leadership looked like. He showed us how to be teachers who loved our students without measure, and I’m convinced that hundreds of thousands of kids’ lives have been saved simply because they had a teacher who was lucky enough to be trained by Dr. Joe Burnworth.
Joe was excessively unassuming. His voice was soft, his hair thin and wispy, and in my memory, he never stood taller than 5’9”. He wore a suit jacket and a tie to class every single day, and there was never a single moment where he didn’t make you feel like you were the center of his universe.
The world stopped when you stepped foot inside Joe’s classroom, and here’s what’s so phenomenal about all of it: Outside of that little college town a few miles off of Interstate I69, no one knew about Joe Burnworth.
He didn’t have hordes of awards.
He didn’t speak on world stages.
He had no books penned under his name.
Joe just happened to be an ordinary man who held an extraordinary devotion to his craft. He believed that the essence of good teaching lived at the soul level, and he spent his life teaching others how to tap into that level so they could become phenomenal educators.
Day in and day out, Joe woke up, came into work, repeated the same schedule, held the same office hours, and taught the same course load – not because he wanted to be extraordinary, but because he believed in extraordinary things like goodness, compassion, and mercy.
For me, his life is an illustration of what happens when you embrace your one beautiful ordinary life.
You stop waiting for the sky to part, for the mountain to climb, for the spotlight to shine, and instead, you start soaking up the everyday, heart-bursting, overflowing goodness that’s right in front of your nose.
When you finally understand that the true key to unleashing anything great is simply showing up and sharing the best parts of who you are and what you believe, you can accept that for most us, life is merely a collection of small, ordinary moments – ordinary people coming together and offering their gifts, their talents, their God-given magic in spite of everything life throws our way.
The lie of extraordinary is that it makes us believe we can bend life to our will, force it to surrender at our feet.
But the truth is that for most of the 8 billion souls on this chunk of sky and soil, life’s modus operandi isn’t remotely close to big or extraordinary.
To quote Paul, we sleep, we eat, we go to work, living much of life in a familiar pattern that stands in stark contrast to the extraordinary lives we think we should have. And when we measure our lives against the false ideal of extraordinary, we feel unfulfilled, severed from our birthright of meaning and purpose – as though that one big thing we were supposed to do slipped right through our fingers before we even had a chance to grab it.
But what if most of us weren’t designed to have that one big thing?
What if most of us are the bolts that hold the whole frame of life together, the ones who live quiet, beautiful, dependable, ordinary lives so that others, in turn, can see the clear path and live beautiful lives, too?
I want to live in this space of what if, because as the life of Joe Burnworth has proven to me, extraordinary might be inspiring, but ordinary is catching.
Live a life others can replicate.
This is the essence of a life well lived, and it’s how all the small, ordinary moments add up to create a truly extraordinary world.