I am a scholar of language and literature, and as a result, I am always struck by the language – written and visual – that Christians use to describe their walk with Jesus.
I hear words like adventure and journey and extraordinary and exhilaration and freedom. At the same time, these descriptions never include words like ordinary or calm or stable or average. As a result, the common language that refers to a life lived with Jesus often portrays it as being experientially rich and full, somehow more and better than the mundane.
The visuals go along with this, too. Mountaintops. Cliff edges. Oceans. Beautiful vistas. There is an impression I always have when watching introductory sermon videos that encourage people to walk more closely with Jesus, and it is this: life with Jesus is lived in color. It’s the coolest, brightest, best thing you will ever do! It’s living life out loud! It’s so far from the ordinary everyday!
But I wonder if all of this is doing a disservice to the way we view our Christian walk.
It’s true: life with Jesus is joyful, and rich, and illuminating, and freeing. It can even be exhilarating! And for some believers, particularly those called to mission fields or unexpected places, the spiritual walk is indeed as topsy-turvy, wild, and unexpected as those rolling vistas and breathless language would lead you to believe.
For most of us, though, the spiritual life can be joyful, rich, illuminating, exhilarating…and ordinary. And stable. And mundane.
Christians wash dishes every day in their very ordinary kitchens for their very ordinary families. They vacuum and check the mail. They have ordinary prayers and an ordinary Bible study and an ordinary church congregation. They make beds and go to their jobs and take their cars for oil changes. They say hi to their neighbors and mow the lawn and go to brunch. They tuck in children and dole out goodnight kisses and go to bed and start all over again. These aren’t extraordinary experiences, but an extraordinary God works in and through them all the time.
Sometimes I fear that this emphasis on the awesome Christian walk – dependent, it seems, on the breadth of experiences you have and the depth of emotions you experience that go beyond “normal” – ignores the fact that the awesome Christian walk can indeed be ordinary, mundane, and simple. That closeness with Christ does not always mean walking cliff edges and climbing up mountaintops, but exists in the rich everyday: the nurse who tends to her patients with clockwork regularity, the caring supervisor, the children who learn to share and forgive each other.
In one of the books I read recently, the author lightly chided “consumer” Christians: believers who have come to expect, through their churches and their denominational upbringing, that a relationship with Christ should or will always result in interesting, satisfying experiences. She worried that we show up now not in order to know God, but to be entertained, to be delighted. This is the same mindset that leads to the “life with Jesus is always wild, interesting, and new” phenomenon: we now expect our faith to deliver experiences of substantial quality and interest, deviations from the mundane norm.
The problem with this, of course, is that the Christian life is not a collection of amazing, super-awesome experiences that are exhilarating and fulfilling. I mean, sure, there are some of those, but there are also the day-to-day duties and rhythms of living: what Paul called “a quiet life” (1 Thess. 4:11). Nor is this a negative thing: the ordinary is where we can most often find God! Think of Jesus’ parables. He talked about wives and parents, gardeners and farmers, regular workers: people living life day to day.
If we are tempted into believing that life with Jesus is always extraordinary in the sense that we will always be having top-notch, unbelievable experiences with Him, we lose sight of Him in the ordinary. We begin to deify and idolize people with extraordinary lives and experiences, losing sight of the believers doing work in the calm and the quiet of daily living. And maybe most dangerously, we start to embrace Christianity as a faith meant to indulge us by giving us bigger, brighter lives, than as a means to know and grow closer to God.
You’re going to have your mountaintop experiences as a believer, for sure. But sometimes having a rich, fulfilling, and extraordinary walk with Christ will come in the quiet, average, regular moments. In fact, your best encounters with Him might be in those places. So embrace them, and don’t give into the temptation of waiting for something more thrilling, more emotionally-provoking, or more interesting to come along.