It is time to honour those who faithfully serve God behind the scenes, says Veronica Zundel
A few weeks ago my husband and I had a very ordinary Saturday. We went to a nearby retail park firstly to change a pair of curtains, which were the wrong size, at a well-known homeware shop, and then to pick up a replacement rear windscreen wiper I’d ordered from a well-known car parts depot. We then had coffee at a well-known chain. As we came home, I remarked that for once we were doing what most people do at the weekend: home improvements, a little outing, domestic management. This is actually quite a rare occurrence for us. We felt almost ordinary. And it was good.
Longing to be ordinary
Let me explain. My husband was brought up in a tiny isolationist Christian sect, and he spent most of his youth longing to be ordinary; to be just like the other kids at school without an extra set of obligations. I, on the other hand, being a child of refugees, never expected to be ordinary because I knew I could never attain it – and besides, why would I want to be? I always had the aspiration to be a writer, though it got submerged for a few years, and being a writer is by definition being different from the norm. Which of us was ‘right’? I think, on reflection, it was probably him. After all, if everyone is extraordinary, then no one actually is. The extraordinary has become ordinary (which is why that song ‘I wish it could be Christmas every day’ is such a stupid sentiment – if it were Christmas every day it would actually never be Christmas). Yet our culture, and even the Church, encourages every one of us to excel, to be unique, to make an indelible mark on the world. I’m sorry to say it, but Christian magazines and literature feed this unrealistic attitude. For entirely understandable reasons, we highlight women and men who have done something different; who have a groundbreaking ministry or have produced some remarkable creative work. Well, who would want to read about someone faithfully making the meals, doing the washing and being the person who holds their entire family together? It’s not the stuff of cover headlines.
Be ordinary for God
We bandy about sayings such as: “Expect great things from God, attempt great things for God.” Our heroes are the megachurch leaders (and alas, how they have fallen like dominoes recently), the Christian singers, the mission partners working with the poorest in the most deprived countries, often at great risk. When have you ever heard a preacher exhort you to ‘be ordinary for God’?Yet it is the ordinary, the undistinguished, those who just plod on and do the normal stuff of making relationships, raising children, volunteering at local charity shops, who actually keep the world going. Yes, we need great artists and scientists and Christian leaders who will give us hope and change the world, but if we aspire to be just like them we are going seriously wrong. Andy Warhol said that in the future we would all be famous for 15 minutes (and perhaps social media has proved him right), and 15 minutes is all that most of us will get. I’ve long accepted that I am merely a medium-sized fish in a rather small pond, whose books are all out of print, and who will barely be remembered after my death except by my friends. But it’s hard to hang on to that when everything and everyone around you is saying that if you want them enough you can have all of your wildest dreams– and even Christians, who should know better, seem to reinforce the message. I’ve recently been writing Bible notes on the Sermon on the Mount – a text dear to the heart of Anabaptists like myself, who stress following Jesus in life as well as believing in him. But you know something? I didn’t find a single text that said: “Blessed are the well-publicised, for they will be acclaimed”, or “Be famous, even as your Father in heaven is famous.”Instead, Jesus praises the poor, the obscure, the ignored, the grieving. It’s almost as if God might want us to simply be ordinary – with an emphasis on showing love and kindness to those around us. So let us refrain from praising those who are already famous. Instead, let us praise those who will never be in the headlines, who make no stirring speeches, who write no bestsellers, who are little spoken of beyond their immediate circles, but who simply live their lives in faithfulness and compassion, serving God by being ordinary. In the homeware shop and the car parts depot, at the school gate and in the local library, let us praise them.