It’s the little things ...
There is a desire in all of us to do the extraordinary. The extraordinary demands much of us, but it is infinitely rewarding.... and yet as Christians...
It makes us feel extraordinary. This is not to say it’s a selfish desire. Extraordinary things, done for others especially, are breath-taking and effective and they cause change and transformation, hence their appeal. It is a beautiful thing that we are wired up as humans to take pleasure and find fulfilment in going completely out of our way to demonstrate real love and kindness. This means though, that as Christians we do not have some sort of monopoly on acts of loving kindness.
It seems to be a sign of all humanity being made in God’s image that we find joy in giving of ourselves for others. Yet, the writers in the New Testament clearly encourage Christians to be people whose good deeds shine brightly in a way that is unique in the world. If this cannot be accomplished merely by doing the extraordinary, then what does this ask of us? What follows is not supposed to be an exhaustive solution to what the exceptional life of faith could look like, but it is perhaps the area which we give little consideration to.
I have come to realise that it is in the mundane and the small scale things of life where we are called to be radically different. When I say ‘radical’, it makes us think of doing breath taking and unthinkable things, but I don’t think this is necessarily what the Bible encourages as the only expression of our devotion to God. In fact, only thinking of ourselves as being Christ like when we do the craziest and most unbelievable things could be dangerous. In reality, the majority of our lives are not successive incredulous and surreal events, so to discard all the normality and rhythm of daily life is to section off a huge part of life which is lived untouched and unaffected by faith. Martin Buber, a 20th century philosopher, argued that we are so convinced that true religion is found in the ‘otherness’ of life that we do not engage with the world around us and hence miss out on the religious experience which makes up part of daily reality.
It is within the context of the ordinary in which we find and also become the most extraordinary.
There are a few bible verses that support this. Philippians 2:14 says “do everything without complaining and arguing”. We easily overlook this call, because we are utterly desensitised to complaining. To do all things without complaining is asking us to abandon something which we can barely go a day without doing. Perhaps we let it slide because complaining doesn’t seem to hurt people directly.
Often bad consequences flag up areas in which we have fallen short, yet there seem to be no repercussions. Complaints are vented with someone who is not connected to the situation and can nod and sympathise and share in your frustration. We want someone to notice, agree, and we want an assurance that that which has irritated us truly was an outrage and shouldn’t happen again.
It is the seemingly trivial nature of complaining that should cause us to think again about it, however. In the very fact that it is such a tiny thing which we consider to be of little significance, there is the opportunity to be radically different. A call to stop complaining is nonsensical, because there isn’t really a reason not to. Normally nobody is affected, and I’ve noticed that sharing a mutual complaint can even be something which we bond over. A shared frustration can easily be something which we use to relate to others. To be someone who is rarely found moaning and complaining therefore, is an extraordinary thing in itself.
I think the key thing to remember is that, whilst Jesus does not demand perfection or good deeds from us in order to be loved and accepted by him, he really raised the bar in an utterly counter cultural way for what it looks like to live and love well. For him, good and bad was not about what is deserved, or whether it will come round to bite you, or whether there will be terrible consequences. In the very fact that we are called to pray for our enemies, we see that we are to be radically different in such a way that we do things that make no sense, do not seem to benefit us, and are not done simply to avoid negative consequences or to stop someone from being directly hurt. When we consider complaining, therefore, our question should not be, “does it hurt?”, but instead, as John Piper says, “Does it help me run?”, that is to say, does it help me to become the person that God calls me to be, in myself and for others?
Our complaints come from dissatisfaction, and dissatisfaction is not a state that Jesus calls us to or offers us. He holds out the opportunity to drink from a well that never runs dry. To live a life of satisfaction, acknowledging disappointment yet not letting it fester in us or let our mouth run out complaint after moan after complaint. Now, of course it may seem a little dramatic to suggest that being unimpressed by the service at a restaurant is a reflection of our satisfaction in Jesus. This is not the point I am making. We are often frustrated by unmet expectations, but what do we show about ourselves and our contentment when we allow them to determine how we speak about our day?
Complaints and irritation, generally, are disproportionate. We give them more attention than they require too often than not. Disappointment is inevitable, but letting disappointment get the better of our attitudes and cloud our picture of a day or even a person is avoidable. Spreading negativity is not what it looks like to be people of the light. But how exceptional it would be to let irritation wash off us, to take a moment to find a perspective beyond the small irritations which cause us little damage if we keep them in proportion. False positivity is not what’s called for, but a genuine attempt to surrender our annoyances and frustrations and keep rooted in the greater beauty and richness of life is a great thing. I wonder if God laughs at how we get so worked up about the smallest things. I wonder if He wills us to just take a moment to step back and realise the hilarity of an irritating situation.
I have no doubt that allowing irritation to pass by us and keeping ourselves rooted in the ultimate satisfaction of a life with God will not only look incredible to the onlooker, but also will give us a whole new lease of life in the midst of the mundane.
Perhaps the more we attempt to reflect Christ in the mundane, the more we will understand the way God acts and is present in what seem to be the dullest moments. Raising our awareness of him in all moments, rather than only in moments of ‘otherness’ could transform the most menial of tasks into a moment to display His glory. If only we could find a place in which we did not only see God in the dramatic highs and lows, or feel that we were serving him only we did something utterly fantastic. If only it was etched into every detail of our days, that we gave control even of the things that we seem to be perfectly capable of controlling ourselves. Be the person who doesn’t get angry in traffic, and the one who doesn’t leave a cruel review, and the person who doesn’t complain to their friends. Perhaps we could allow more room for God in the simplest of things. How extraordinary it would be to refuse to slip into the easily ignored habits and grumblings of daily life. To acknowledge God in all things, to desire to be Christ to people not just in moments of great earth-shattering significance but every second. With God’s help I think this could transform us, and in turn he could change us into truly incredibly, normal people.
Becky Roberts is a first year Biblical Studies and Theology student at the University of Nottingham. She grew up in Ipswich and attended St Matthews church, and recently has been very involved with The Forge in Debenham
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