After my graduation from college I began working for a local carpenter. Over the next several years, I helped construct many barns, garages, shops, storage buildings, and a few houses. During this time I wrote a small poem that reflected on the value of ordinary life and labor; which is where most of us find ourselves. The temptation is for us to view "going overseas to do missionary work" as being what is more exciting and valuable to the Kingdom of God. This is not true. What the Church is mostly in need of is ordinary people willing to live ordinary lives, doing ordinary labor. The key is to do it in an extraordinary way, through the help of the Holy Spirit, thus bringing honor to the name of Christ.
Some say I'm just digging ditches,
Others say I'm just digging holes,
But I just smile to myself
As I consider the beauty of my goal.
The imagery of this poem comes from a parable of Jesus in which He compares the kingdom of heaven with a man who finds a treasure while digging in a field, buries it again, and sells all he has in order to buy the field. In another parable He compares the kingdom of heaven with a merchant who sells all he has in order to purchase a pearl of great value.
While these men were doing their ordinary work, they each came across a great treasure and realized the tremendous value of what they had in their hands. Perhaps others had seen the same items but did not understand their value. Perhaps they may have even thought these men to be foolish or crazy for giving up everything in order to possess those items. How about us? Do we see the tremendous value of choosing to give up everything in order to spend our lives in ordinary service to our family and neighbors? Would we be considered crazy to see that kind of life as a sacrament -- a means of God's grace being poured out in our lives and a way for us to attain the Kingdom of Heaven?
At the time, I especially liked these two parables because I had gone to get a college education and then found myself "digging ditches" for a living. Not too exciting, but it was God's provision and I was grateful to have a job. In an age when many people value excitement and adventure, its harder for us to see the extraordinary value of living an ordinary life to the glory of God. It may not be exciting to sit on the front porch chatting with a neighbor, but this is where ministry happens.
This next poem I wrote many years later, reflecting on what it means to have an appreciation for our life in rural Kentucky. I am reminded that Jesus became incarnate to live most of His life on this earth in an ordinary manner, laboring with His hands at daily tasks as many of us do.
Sacrament of the Ordinary
Come to the ordinary
Find the extraordinary
Plant your feet in the soil
Of this quiet earth.
Wisdom from above is found
in the sound of leaves
Providing rich humus for
your mind and soul.
Come to the ordinary
Embrace the Incarnation
Breathe in deep the incense
of prayer and peace.
Wisdom from above is found
in the sound of trees
Joining in worship with the
Angels and saints.
So now the question may be: Why then is our family traveling over to Africa to be in ministry there? Ah, a good question that we often ask ourselves! We have struggled much with this decision to live in Tanzania for the next two years; realizing as we do about the value of living ordinary lives here in Kentucky. This ordinary life is even what we ourselves actually desire and prefer. Sure, going the first time or two is an exciting adventure. But now it has lost its excitement appeal. It is not easy for us to leave this ordinary life that we have been so blessed with. We are going out of obedience to what the Lord has set before us to do. Whether this will be short term or long term, we have not been given to know yet. But we don't need to have it all figured out beforehand. Let us be obedient to what we know to do and let the Lord accomplish through us whatever He wills.
What is important is that we are true to the vocation that God has planned for us. For most people, it is the ordinary life. For a few, it is the life of adventure. Yet both need to be obedient to His will. For one it may be a sacrifice to stay at home, for another it may be a sacrifice to go, yet both are doing the will of God. The prophet Jonah was called to go when he would have preferred to stay home. It would equally be wrong for someone to go when they are called to stay. We need to know where we belong and be content to be there.
I am reminded of a recent sermon by our priest, based on the story of the Apostle Peter walking on the water to meet Jesus. Many people interpret this to mean we should have enough faith to get out of the boat as he did. Yet, we should notice what really happened. Peter first asked Jesus, "Lord if it is you, bid me to come to you". Then Jesus said, "Come". It was then that Peter got out of the boat -- not based on his faith, but upon his obedience to Christ. The rest of the apostles stayed in the very ordinary boat, right where they belonged. Jesus had not told them to come along with Peter. To not walk on water was no reflection upon their level of faith.
If Jesus does not call you to get out of the boat, you had better stay right where you are -- rowing your ordinary boat through the storms of life. Your decision to stay in a boat or to walk on water should be done from an obedience to the vocation that God has given you for your life. God's grace is poured out to most of us through the ordinary life; let us then embrace that life with joy.
Next month we will not be walking on water, but rather, flying over the water to meet with our Tanzanian brothers and sisters in Christ. Pray for us as we seek to understand and do God's will for our lives.
Moving forward in joy,