From the outside, it may seem like my life is anything but ordinary. I’m a grad student which means I’m (perpetually?) stuck in limbo between college and “real” adult life. I study history, which means that even when I do graduate and get a “real” job, it probably won’t be a “normal” one in the 9-to-5 sense. And because I study German history, I am spending a year in Berlin doing the research for my dissertation. And if all of that weren’t strange enough, we’ll just toss in the fact that I’ve been in Kraków the last three summers (trying) to learn Polish.
Even as I write down this mini resume of sorts, I find myself thinking that my life sounds pretty awesome and, oddly enough, if I weren’t the one living it, I’d probably be envious. And while I am enjoying it, and I am grateful for it, I can’t help but be struck by the sense of cognitive dissonance: that while my life and especially my current situation seem amazing on paper—or, perhaps more accurately, on social media—my life is actually quite ordinary, unexciting, and, well, normal.
You see, even though I’m living in Berlin, I’m not really a tourist. Yes, when friends come to visit, I show them around the city, take them on tours, and treat them to currywurst. And when certain really cool things happen—like attending the celebration for the 25th anniversary of German reunification—I’ll even post a picture on Facebook about it. But the reality is that I’m here to study and to work, which kind of makes Berlin an extension of my library office in Atlanta. Yes, it’s a much more exciting “office”, with museums and history and very tattooed and interesting people, but in many ways it’s still an office because I’m here to do my work.
Now don’t get me wrong; I am making time to fun things. I bought a year-long museum pass (which is fun for nerds, I promise!), I’ll be going to Karneval in Cologne (think Halloween costume party on steroids), and in a week I’ll be showing my best friend all around the city (I literally can’t wait!). But as awesome as these things are, they are more the exception than the rule, at least in how my time pans out. Most of my day is spent working in an archive, at my kitchen table or (less successfully) in the library. In the evenings, I may run, go grocery shopping, do laundry, catch up with friends, maybe watch TV and then go to bed. At 8 a.m., I wake up and start the process all over again, and the same continues until the weekend rolls around.
So I guess what I’m trying to say is that, while I’m living in a really cool city with a fascinating history and a happening cultural scene, I’m still living here. And living includes a lot of really boring, ordinary, mundane things—things that don’t make the fancy Instagram-able cut. And in the midst of this ordinary-ness and my growing awareness of it, I’m starting to realize this: if life even in the most exciting places consists of a lot of unexciting things, then what we do with the ordinary must matter.
As I’ve been processing through this (often while doing boring things, like the dishes), I keep coming back to these words of Oswald Chambers: “Jesus Christ will not help me to obey Him, I must obey Him; and when I do obey Him, I fulfill my spiritual destiny. My personal life may be crowded with small petty incidents, altogether unnoticeable and mean; but if I obey Jesus Christ in the haphazard circumstances, they become pinholes through which I see the face of God, and when I stand face to face with God I will discover that through my obedience thousands and thousands were blessed […] If I obey Jesus Christ, the Redemption of God will rush through me to other lives, because behind the deed of obedience is the Reality of Almighty God.”
Now, there’s a lot going on in this paragraph, and I don’t know if I fully grasp it all. But after a few days of ruminating on these hundred-year-old words, I’m starting to see that the ordinary things that make up most of our lives really do matter. Boring, insignificant, and silly as they may seem at the time, they do have a purpose. And somehow, by being faithful in them, we grow closer to and become more like God. No, I don’t understand exactly how my dishwashing, toilet scrubbing, room cleaning, and grocery shopping come to have eternal significance–or even what that eternal significance that might be. But I can still attest to the fact, that somehow in some way, when we learn to commit even the most ordinary activities to the Lord, we encounter Him in them. And through His presence, a sort of spiritual alchemy takes place, and the once-ordinary things somehow become holy, set apart, and even beautiful.
I don’t understand it, I can’t explain it, and right now I can’t even think of Bible verses to specifically back it up. And yet all the same, I’m finding it to be true. And I’m finding that having this perspective can make even the most ordinary things seem (pardon the terrible pun) a little bit extraordinary.