The Pain, and Yet Consequent Freedom of Being Ordinary

I can remember, every since I was a very young lad indeed, this idea that would often well up inside me and overtake my thoughts regardless of what activity I partook in. Whether it was playing with my friends atop their tree house fort, stuck at a purgatory-like family reunion lunch, asleep inside my favorite math class, or while I watched Pastor Bob say “thus saith the Lord” every Sunday and Wednesday; I couldn’t escape this overpowering dream, that somehow one day I was “gonna be somebody”. And I believed it truly.

 

This thought continued with me through my adolescent and teen years in between zits, botched up haircuts and high-water jeans, and equally through the turbulent 70’s and early 80’s romp through sex, drugs and rock n roll; though not necessarily in that order. In fact, even when I failed to impress too many with my everyday life, the two of us (me and my recurring dream) knew that it was just a matter of time when we would show everyone our stuff, and that everyone would take a look at us and say, “Wow, look at him now”! That guy right there used to be Mark Prince who lived on Wilson Street, and now, last I heard, he lives just off Rodeo drive in a mansion somewhere—moment of silence everyone please!

 

And I must say it didn’t stop there either, but would continue on into my responsible years of holy matrimony, diaper changing, and my part in the daily grind that we call this American life. I continued to believe I was bound for greatness, and would show occasional actions beyond my mere words and dreams into a new business venture, a network marketing product that was going to take off, a mission to help hurricane victims get water and supplies they needed, and other grandiose ideas of how I could make my dream come true. My poor wife of course always believed in me, and never stopped me from sticking my neck out there to try and do something I honestly believed in. She rooted for me all the way, though I’m sure at times she wondered when I might at least settle on something.
It was then late into my 20’s, that the God I had continually run from my entire life found me and captured me, as I gladly acquiesced my “sick and tired of being sick and tired” life over to him once and for all. There have been rocky paths along the way, but the constant desire to follow him has been there ever since, which to this day brings me the most profound joy I have found outside of my the precious family He helped me create. Nonetheless, at the time of my entrance into the Kingdom, the dream I had caught some new spiritual winds and resurfaced in the shape of someone who would be great in the kingdom of God. Oh I knew the verses of scripture that said:

 

“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25-28 ESV)

Oh yea, I knew them well, and very much believed that the only way to get to greatness was to go down that upside-down kingdom path to be sure. In fact, that was part of my problem—perhaps I believed it too much and others didn’t. It seemed the more I tried to simply allow God to place me where he wanted me, others were pushing and clawing to get their way in or up the ecclesiastical ladder, and being much more successful than I. It seemed after all that much of the church had adopted its own form of a gentile leadership philosophy after all, and if I wanted to get in, I needed to “kiss the ring” too, and fall in line under a certain system, until at last I would get my chance to do what God had called me to do, and achieve my ever illusive, but now God-shaped “dreams”. Now of course that journey and part of my life in ministry is much too long to talk about right now, and therefore it’s not the time and place for any further explanation here, except to say this, “My life otherwise now at 52 years of age, has become shall we say, too ordinary for me to live with”.

 

Now of course part of this problem has to do with my own culture. As the last of the baby boomers (1964), we were the first to be told by our great generation parents that we could be anybody we wanted if we just put the time in and believed it in our hearts. And that’s certainly partially a true American reality (though it’s possibly waning before our eyes), and not a bad philosophy per say; nor is it one I’m trying to kick to the curb today. However, like many philosophies, or assertions of some factualness, there are the “disclaimers” one should also read. And basically, those disclaimers are nothing more than the equal fact that there’s not enough room for everyone to have their own reality TV show, speaking tour, or become a part of their very own Rock and Roll fantasy. And the equal truth is, someone has to work at McDonalds, empty the trash at the church, drop the kids off safely after school, and rake the darn leaves! You get my drift! In other words, some of us, and perhaps more than we would want to admit, need to be comfortable with that nasty word…here it goes: ordinariness. Michael Horton helps us understand the problem when he states:

 

Ordinary has to be one of the loneliest words in our vocabulary today. Who wants a bumper sticker that announces to the neighborhood, “My child is an ordinary student at Bubbling Brook Elementary”? Who wants to be that ordinary person who lives in an                            ordinary town, is a member of an ordinary church, and has ordinary friends and works an ordinary job? Our life has to count! We have to leave our mark, have a legacy, and make a difference. And all of this should be something that can be managed, measured, and maintained.  We have to live up to our Facebook profile. It’s one of the newer versions of salvation by works.[1]

 

As I read those words, I realized that this is something that has far deeper implications into the life of the church in America as well, and that also has become a disease of sorts among us as individuals who have this fear and loathing of the apparent sin of that ugly word: ordinariness. But I think more importantly, for many of us, or at least for me, it is the realization that many times, “the hype of living a new life, taking up a radical calling, and changing the world can creep into every area of our life. And it can make us tired, depressed, and mean”[2].

And as I read that, I see this lopsidedness away from some accepted ordinariness as the cause of much of my own unhappiness in my later years now, wondering if somehow I will measure up, or if like Achilles, becoming very afraid “that no-one will remember your name”[3] in a way that more correctly measures the true value of a man. In other words, and I think here Horton has sounded the gong appropriately and awoken me from my dream rhapsody for at least a true awakened thought, where he writes:

 

Changing the world can be a way of actually avoiding the opportunities we have every day, right where God has placed us, to glorify and enjoy him and to enrich the lives of others. It is all too easy to turn other people in our lives into a supporting cast for our life movie. The problem is that they don’t follow the role or the lines we’ve given them. They are actual people with actual needs that get in the way of our plot, especially if they’re as ambitious as we are. Sometimes, chasing your dreams can be “easier” than just being who we are, where God has placed you, with the gifts he has given to you[4].

 

As those words washed over my soul, I recognized that for many years now, I have been caught in that fear of being ordinary web, coupled with dread that somehow society will finally exercise it’s verdict into my life and say, “you’re toast”, or it will be evident in the fact that I can no longer get a job in my 50’s to make ends meet, because I’m not as “cute and cuddly” as I once was—an increasing American reality for men my age. Or rather, that somehow God will say, “Mark, your dreams really don’t matter”, so just except it and move on into this ordinary path I have chosen for you, and I say, “Yes, Lord”.

 

I’m here today to say that both of these extremes: to loathe ordinariness, and to equally give up on some sort of dream that is truly defined by who we are as a human being, are both equally wrong. There is for sure indeed a truism that when a man’s dream dies, a little more of him or her dies each day as well. I’ve heard that often enough-ad nauseum in fact. The real problem comes in where the dream itself defines us, rather than the fact that God has placed us in his kingdom here and not yet to be ordinary fruit bearers, all the while never giving up the idea of being extraordinary in His kingdom, his way, in his time; and in being true to who we are rather than someone the world is trying feverishly to get us to become. I for one have found it to be a sell-out in the grandest of proportions, and I have many times bought and sold it!

 

But you see the caveat should be this. While we are still dreamers everyday of our lives until the curtain calls, there must also be a holy contentment with life that comes to some acceptance of the circumstances in which God has placed me for such as time as this, or until it should pass, or, even decide to stay. This also means being content if necessary “with my place as an average middle-class guy in an American suburb with a wife and four children — someone with various callings to my family, church, and neighborhood”[5].  This is something too often I have forgotten, and I’m afraid it has brought much sadness of missing the forest of ordinariness for the trees of chasing after the wind many times.

 

What I have come to realize after all of this pondering, is that my life really does matter, unless I choose to let the un-realization of my current dream to continually incapacitate me, and cause me to somehow “disengage”. You see my life, and how I live it each day, matters greatly to my wife; it matters to my dear sons; and it matters to the many lives I have been able to touch throughout my lifetime with a cup of cold water, a blanket, some food, a place to stay, or simply an encouraging word; as well as many lives I still have the opportunity to touch. It also matters when I spend time with my 86 year old neighbor and listen to him, and we share bread and wine and laughs together, for it is then that I become the kind of ordinary that the world has just too little of.  It is I believe, something many of us have sorely missed.   And I believe that is truly the “great” in the kingdom of God.

 

Yet it also means that the Mark Prince, who besides being a salesman, is in fact a writer and a preacher in my soul and in reality, and is someone who’s life will not be determined by whether his writing leads to a book millions or anyone reads for that matter, though it still possibly could. Nor is it determined by a sermon that is piped across the airwaves through a big church that is changing the world, though it also still could—even as I continue to give my free time to endeavoring to do both. And I do so with the same fervor that is mustered within me that I have let for too long keep me from continuing to try, all the while being content with being ordinary, and shucking off the chains of a world’s ethos, who seeks to suck me in to who it wants me to be out of necessity, or survival of the fittest.

 

I pray that my rumination is food for your own thought and contemplation this morning. And though there is an initial pain in the acceptance of the new found beauty of ordinariness, my prayer is that the freedom you find will be the kind of release that causes you and I to say with the apostle Paul:

 

“For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. (Philippians 1:21-22a ESV)

 

Selah

 

References:

 

 

[1] Horton, M. S. (2014). Ordinary: Sustainable faith in a radical, restless world [Kindle].

 

[2] Horton, M. S. (2014). Ordinary: Sustainable faith in a radical, restless world [Kindle].

 

[3] Quotes. (2004). Retrieved from http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0332452/quotes

 

[4] Horton, M. S. (2014). Ordinary: Sustainable faith in a radical, restless world [Kindle].

 

[5] Horton, M. S. (2014). Ordinary: Sustainable faith in a radical, restless world [Kindle].

 

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