The sacred ordinary
In getting a string of CFWLA activities lined up for the year I’ve found myself recently buried in a long string of emails, phone calls, lists of details to follow up on, and scheduling coordination. On any given day I might finish a few of these or spend several hours doing tedious editing on a section of curriculum for one of our programs. The sense of God’s favor and concern over the “administrivia” of my daily grind so easily escapes me even as the main theme of CFWLA is the restoration of all of our work for God’s glory and purposes. A book I read over the holiday had a chapter that caught my eye and was a welcome return to the goodness of even our daily tasks of minutiae.
The Sacred Ordinary
Tish Harrison Warren’s recent The Liturgy of the Ordinary does a wonderful job capturing how the regular rhythms of our lives are rich with opportunity to experience God’s presence. Related to the more mundane chores of our vocational tasking she writes,
At times, this big vision of the missio Dei [mission of God] can make its way, very obviously, into our mission and purpose statement, our life goals and vision, but it can easily get lost in the daily grind. For me, being a “blessed and sent” one on God’s mission seems distant and inscrutable in the annoying task of email.1
I remember my life of management in aerospace, facing dozens of new email each day and if I went on vacation and resisted staying connected to the office, sometimes hundreds would be waiting for my arrival. I could feel the dread of return build towards the close of these times away from work. But I knew this was not the whole truth of these tasks as Warren continues,
Yet each message in my inbox, in some way, touches on my vocation, or rather, vocations. Each email has to do with my professional, family, and civic life.
We know as believers that instinctively, every act should be integral to serving and loving God or Scripture quickly loses its coherency.
And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him… Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men. - Col 3:17, 23
But how do we begin to see the perfunctory details of our lives as significant with a kingdom vision? Warren recounted a friend’s reply regarding his work.
He’s doing good work and making an impact through his career. But when you ask him what he does for a living, he answers, “If you ask my kids, they’d tell you that I check emails and go to meetings.” This kingdom vision— our identity as those blessed and sent— must work itself out in the small routines of our daily work and vocation, as we go to meetings, check our email, make our children dinner, or mow the lawn.
It appears that God cares about what I often refuse to care about in my small and seemingly insignificant but faithful efforts. Martin Luther, the Reformation giant, once said that “God himself will milk the cows through him whose vocation it is.” Warren reflects,
But could God himself check email through me? Could he balance the family budget and fold the laundry through me? Could he fill out bureaucratic work forms through me? Does he care about any of this?
Connecting the Dots
She answers her and my question in realizing that what makes us and our work holy is not the abstract concept of some distant impact or significance we assign it but rather the intimate involvement with our Creator in the act of work itself.
My identity as one who is “blessed and sent” must be embraced and enfleshed, even in these hours of email as I seek to form better habits of responsibility and discipline. These are the small tasks in which we live out God’s blessing and into which we are sent; we are blessed and sent into the real ways that we spend our hours.
We must resist the temptation to make certain types of work or career paths more noble or holy as this pushes God away from our present moment.
This new year, let’s invite our Lord into the small things and remember his promise to those who invest care in the small stuff of life.
“Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” (Matt. 25:21)
1 Warren, Tish Harrison. Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life (pp. 92-93). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.