A fair while back, I read an article in The Independent about the most difficult English words for non-native speakers to pronounce. On the list were “squirrel” and “rural”: words that I can pronounce reflexively and with no great effort, but which apparently stymy newcomers to the language.
But languages are like that. I remember reducing a Japanese conversation partner of mine to tears of laughter when I told her I liked repeating the Japanese words kono sono ano and kore sore are over and over because they sounded so soothing, even though they really mostly function as pronouns. And I remember spending an entire day learning how to say “thank you” properly in Irish (go raibh maith agat) only to be stunned to hear a native Irish speaker whip out the phrase casually in conversation.
We often are indifferent to the complexity and the value of the familiar.
English doesn’t enchant native speakers because we grew up speaking it. Maybe, for us writers, the language and the words matter deeply – for me they certainly do – but in a general sense, culturally, we’re separated to a degree from the glamor of the language and how it really functions. In the same way that the Irish cart driver thought nothing of a particular phrase of gratitude and my Japanese conversation partner was amused over my interest in “simple” words, we English speakers tend to view our language as plain and ordinary. Functional, perhaps, but unremarkable.
Nor is that altogether different from the way we view our own lives.
Do something long enough or learn it well enough, and to you it becomes ordinary. My father drives a gigantic diesel truck loaded with heavy parts down narrow, spiraling, ice-encrusted mountain roads in winter – and he doesn’t think twice about it. If you commented on how dangerous that seemed, he’d shrug and say, “It’s really nothing.”
I’ve had people tell me that they can’t imagine what it must be like to stand up and lecture college students for an hour and a half – but for me it’s pretty much a normal day, part of the routine, as simple as brushing my teeth or making up the bed.
My mother, the MacGyver of crafting, can create a cute Christmas gift out of two stray tacks, a crumpled piece of foil, and a piece of loose stuffing, but if you tell her that’s amazing she’ll look at you like you’ve lost your mind. “It’s not special,” she’ll say. “It’s really easy.”
The lesson here of course is that the things we’re familiar with, that we find ordinary or unremarkable, can really be quite fascinating to other people. And it’s a lesson I want to encourage you to apply to your Christian life today.
So many times I’ve heard believers shrug off their stories and testimonies with a “well this isn’t really special, but…” Maybe it’s not really special to you. But maybe it was not supposed to be. Maybe it’s meant to be special to someone else. The completely ordinary request God answered, the completely ordinary prayer you prayed, the completely ordinary work that God did in your life, the completely ordinary skill you have: maybe these things have just been dulled to your eyes by your familiarity with them. Maybe, in someone else’s view, they would be more than remarkable.
God works in amazing ways. Always. But sometimes, we can’t see His “amazing” because we’ve cloaked it with our “ordinary.” Even the things in your life that don’t seem particularly worthy of attention or note can be used in a wonderful way to bring glory to the Lord, if you let Him work.
Nothing is beyond his reach. And what is ordinary to you might well be extraordinary to someone else.