I’d like to say a few words in defense of the ordinary. It seems that in our single-minded pursuit of the extraordinary, the unbelievable, and the jaw-dropping, we have somehow lost sight of the value of the ordinary. Consider the following:
Be original, not ordinary.
It only takes a little extra to turn the ordinary into the extraordinary.
Escape the ordinary.
I think I understand the gist of these statements and agree with them—just not to the total exclusion of the ordinary. If we fall into the thinking that we must somehow eliminate any vestige of the ordinary in our lives (and it’s my perception that many do), we have overshot the mark. After all . . .
- We’re quite pleased when our baby is born with an ordinary number of fingers and toes.
- When we fly, we don’t get upset about an ordinary takeoff and landing or a decided lack of turbulence.
- We’re happy when the grocery store has all the items we ordinarily purchase.
Just so we’re clear, by ordinary I don’t mean mediocre. That implies something that is less than our best. I mean something along the lines of average in the sense that you might be of ordinary height, make an ordinary salary, and have an ordinary number of friends, etc. If we stop and think about it, there’s a whole realm of ordinary like this that tends to get ignored but it shouldn’t be. In the midst of pursuing the extraordinary, we need to understand there’s still plenty of room to appreciate the ordinary. In fact, we must!
We know this because there was so much about the most extraordinary person who ever lived that was (by God’s design) ordinary. To fail to see and appreciate this is to fall into the error of those who attended the synagogue with Jesus at Nazareth. If you read Mark’s account of Jesus’ return home in 6:1-6, it’s very eye-opening in what it has to say about “the ordinary.” You’ll want to read the text for yourself, but here’s a synopsis.
Christ returned home with His disciples. They went to the synagogue on the Sabbath where He spoke. The people at first were amazed by Him but that quickly turned to resentment and offense. The reason? They knew Him well, and parts of His life were just . . . too ordinary for Him to possibly be the Messiah. He was from a single-parent family (possibly) living on the margins. He previously worked as a carpenter. From their point of view, this was all to ordinary and inconsistent with what their expectations of the glorious Messiah were.
They clearly were suffering from an underdeveloped appreciation for the ordinary. More to the point, their perspective was radically different from God’s—who highly values the ordinary (after all, He made so much of it). It is an important part of His creation. It was an important part of Jesus’ life. This kind of ordinary wasn’t something to rise above, but to embrace.
All of this makes me wonder if we don’t suffer from a similar lack of discernment in regard to much of the ordinary. We live in a world that worships not being ordinary. So many spend so much time looking for ways they can call attention to themselves so they can show us, “I’m not ordinary! Look at my appearance, my accomplishments, my acquisitions, my accolades!” Well, Jesus was extraordinarily ordinary in many ways. There was apparently nothing special about His appearance (see Isaiah 53:1-2), His profession as carpenter, His family, or the place He was from. In all of these, He was extraordinarily ordinary.
Maybe we’ve been asking the wrong question. Instead of asking, “What about me is or could be extraordinary?” maybe we should be asking, “How do I treat the ordinary in my life?”
Part of what made Jesus extraordinary was His embrace of the ordinary. And it wasn’t just the ordinary in His life, He embraced it in the lives of others as well. The twelve men He chose to be His disciples, as many have pointed out, were extraordinarily ordinary in many ways. The people who tended to be attracted to Jesus were, with a few notable exceptions, ordinary people.
Now no one thinks that Jesus was a proponent of mediocrity. The Sermon on of the Mount makes it clear that He calls His followers to a very non-ordinary lifestyle. Still, He appreciated the ordinary wherever it was good to do so, and I think that’s our challenge.