Be Still: In the Ordinary

It had snowed the night before and the glass doors and windows in the living room gave way to a beautiful view of frosted over trees, dancing in the wind, and glimmering from the sun’s rays. I gazed upon this site and gave an audible yet soft “wow”. 

I had just finished reading the reflection for that day in the Rejoice! Lenten Devotional I’d been working through (see the last two posts here and here for more on this book) and the theme for the day had been “Ordinary” through the eyes of St. Joseph. What Fr. Mark Toups was able to unpack here in a few short pages was remarkable and gave me real pause. The cliff note version that I wrote down that day is this…

How did Joseph view the ordinary?

  • He found God in it because he lived with God and in God.
  • He was intentional in the ordinary. This allowed the extraordinary to in fact be that- extraordinary, not burdensome or falling flat. Intentionality in and with both (the ordinary and extraordinary) is key.
  • He wasn’t always longing for more because he didn’t have to because he saw God right where he was, regardless of external or internal factors. God always provided in these areas.

As I sat nestled in the couch separated from those iced over trees by a mere wall of glass, I contemplated the ordinary and the extraordinary through the eyes of St. Joseph. In that moment I had simultaneously stepped out of the ordinary (by going on a retreat) and stepped into the ordinary (by slowing down to experience nature, silence, and stillness more fully). How could this be? It was through this paradox that I realized this retreat was yes, perhaps an escape from the ordinary in some areas of my life but more so it was an opportunity for the enhancement of the extraordinary that is contained within the ordinary. In this case, the ordinary was the silence, was nature, was the consistent prayer schedule of the Benedictines, was the making of meals and sitting to enjoy them, was the early rising and early sleeping, was the sound of my sole footsteps echoing all around me. What made these all extraordinary through this retreat was the experience of them outside of my normal, daily life- even if they are each something I can encounter within my normal, daily and ordinary life as well.

This was my clue- my clue that experiencing the ordinary in an extraordinary way is possible. It just takes an active, intentional decision to pause -to be still- and to recognize God in that ordinary moment with you. When the ordinary becomes extraordinary in that way the constant longing for more begins to wane and we also gain a greater clarity of vision to view the extraordinary with true awe and wonder.


When we are longing to escape the ordinary a few things happen.

  1. Instead of trying to find what is extraordinary about the ordinary, we try to bring what is in and of itself extraordinary into every moment. This in turn dulls the extraordinary so when we encounter it on its own, we need bigger and bigger experiences in order for it to make any impact at all.
    1. i.e. Eating your favorite food all the time (extraordinary because it’s your favorite) makes it no longer special on special occasions. Your mom’s amazing lasagna every week means it’s not as special on your birthday and maybe you’re even sick of it by the time your birthday comes.
    2. Or turning random days into something worthy of a big celebration, get together, or purchase- just try listing all the “National _fill in the blank_ Days”.
  2. The ordinary is viewed as so terrible or monotonous that we find ourselves always planning for that next extraordinary experience. So much thought/longing/desire goes into it that when it finally arrives, we’re paying more attention to the fact it’s going to end and dreading the return of the ordinary than we pay to the actual extraordinary experience itself.
    1. i.e. Christmas. How many of us spend so much time buying gifts, planning parties, cooking food, etc. that once Christmas day (and the Christmas season which only begins on the 25th) actually comes you’re ready to take down the tree, cut the lights, and crash on the couch before the night even ends?
    2. Or a honeymoon or vacation that takes so much planning and build up that once the time comes it’s a whirlwind that’s hardly remembered, the trip ends, a month passes and you find yourself asking- When can we start planning another trip? Can we spend two weeks this time? Can we go even further from home than last time?
        

As Fr. Mark Toups said, “Joseph found God in the ordinary. Therefore, there was no need to overindulge or escape the ordinary because after all, what would he be looking to escape?”


 So the question then becomes, how do we keep the extraordinary special?

  1. We acknowledge there is a time and season and it’s not meant to last forever. This is a legitimate true fact about its reality. Again, consider Christmas, or your birthday, or a pregnancy, or a vacation- they all last for a certain length of time.
  2. We find what is special about the ordinary in its own right.
    1. The ordinary gives us peace, stability, a place to grow & learn, form relationships & invest in others, embrace silence, grow in humility & virtue, repent and forgive often.
  3. We have to be intentional.
    1. Find ways to focus on the extraordinary during its rightful season so it doesn’t get lost, forgotten, or mistakenly seen as ordinary.
    2. The ordinary can be special too, it doesn’t necessarily mean boring or dull. Intentionally live your everyday life well and with joy. However, it can also be boring and in fact needs to be at times because boredom inspires creativity and encourages silence which is where we meet God and are called deeper into our co-creator relationship with Him.
        

Fr. Mark Toups again reiterates the importance of the separation here when he says, “If we are not intentional, we actually may lose sight of the extraordinary because of the extraordinary.”

As we try to wrap our minds around this idea of the ordinary and extraordinary, I ponder one more question. What do we all have that is both ordinary and extraordinary?

A heart.

We all have one. In its physical manifestation it beats at relatively the same speed each moment to keep us alive. Yet, in its spiritual manifestation it is also what makes us each so incredibly and uniquely different. Ordinary and Extraordinary.

Joseph’s Chaste Heart

Mary’s Immaculate Heart

Jesus’ Most Sacred Heart

Use your heart and the hearts of the Holy Family to guide your journey through the ordinary and extraordinary.

BONUS: I also want to share a quote that I read from Matthew Kelly’s book, Life is Messy, shortly after my retreat. He titled this section, “Cherish the ordinary”.

“It was the ordinary things that saved me. I have experienced enough extraordinary to know that I would choose the ordinary over the extraordinary all day long. Learn to cherish the ordinary. Make a list of 20 ordinary things that bring you joy when you experience them consciously. Here’s my list: Breathing. Sleeping. Waking. Water. Nature. Food. Reading. Thinking. Conversation. Music. Art. Seasons. Friendship. Children. Kindness. Chocolate. Laughter. Hugs. Holding hands. Home. Allow the ordinary to heal you.”

 

AccountabiliTEA

I could take this post in two directions- focus on wounds or focus on how they’re being healed. When I first started writing this blog a few weeks ago, I began by sharing a lot about my personal wounds in the area of friendship, especially female friendships. I was expressing everything how I wanted but paused when it came to writing about the whole inspiration behind this blog post in the first place. Then life happened and this post sat in my drafts folder. I was also served some humble pie in another area of my life in regards to friendship and I realized I no longer wanted this post to be about the past but about the present. Hmmm novel thought for a blog titled Present Catholic 😝 So as you read through this, I challenge you to yes, acknowledge any of your own wounds that may surface but then to follow up quickly with a prayer to the Holy Spirit asking Him to reveal the ways He’s already healed those wounds and the opportunities He’s putting in your path to continue healing them now.

One of the greatest joys in life is to cheer another human on as they walk, run, tip toe, crawl, or dance down the path God has designed specifically for them. Recently I’ve been given a front row seat to this journey for three amazing women. A couple months ago, one friend suggested we start a group chat where we could send each other quick video updates on our lives each morning via Instagram as a fun way of connecting throughout the week more regularly. It was lovingly named Morning Tea- drinking tea (or coffee lol) and spilling tea!

Initially these were fun quick little videos that we all loved getting each morning. We’d send our joys, struggles, menial daily tasks, confusions- you name it, but all in quick snapshots. Then something interesting happened- we began to spend time responding to what the other ladies had shared. But not only responding- unpacking, offering advice, spending time meditating on each other’s thoughts/experiences, and praying for each other specifically over their current needs. These quick little morning videos became in depth conversations and a real source of joy, affirmation, hope, comfort, being seen, being heard, and accountabiliTEA 😉

We LOVE cheering each other on! Let me tell you, even the smallest things like sharing that I threw lipstick on one random day that I knew I was only going to be in my apartment just because I wanted to garnered so much affirmation! Or when one of the ladies made a cute video to Slim Shady’s I’m Back when she hadn’t shared any videos in a few days, we all loved the silliness! With these ladies I can just. be. me. And we can all be our goofy, raw, loving selves.

But beyond the affirmations, we’ve learned how to speak to our wounds. Multiple times we all individually had thoughts that the others would start to get annoyed by all the videos or by us taking a long time to respond. Then someone mentioned the fear, someone else reassured them how life giving this group was, the others agreed, and poof the fears disappeared because our old wounds that had birthed those fears had nothing to hold onto anymore. The reminder that we are not burdens on each other but gifts to one another has been especially healing for me. And it’s not just words- it’s actions. These actions, this accountabiliTEA, followed through on have given me a space to be vulnerable and not afraid of rejection, abandonment, or comparison- those personal wounds I mentioned I had originally written about.

The healing and growth I’ve witnessed has not only been in myself either, but in each of these three ladies. Their courage to dive into the hard stuff and let it stretch them so that they grow more and more into the women God has designed them to be is truly breathtaking. Even the moments when they want to hold back, there’s always another one of us encouraging them to not close in but stay open and let us and the Lord walk with them even if it’s painful. I am in awe of them and thank the Lord for gifting me with a front row seat to witness it all.

I find it extremely fitting that I’m writing this on the Feast of the Visitation- when Mary, the Mother of Jesus, after just accepting God’s request that she bear His Son, went to go serve her cousin Elizabeth who had miraculously become pregnant in her old age with her own son who would become known as John the Baptist. The four of us ladies have each been Mary aiding Elizabeth or Elizabeth receiving Mary. The beauty we’ve shown in loving one another without being asked, pressured, or burdened and the beauty of receiving that love without fear, pride, or questioning has been a true example of this divine meeting. I’m also realizing, and have witnessed, how us women lifting each other up has also allowed us to lift the men in our lives up and bring them closer to God. Just as Mary serving Elizabeth brought Jesus to John which caused him to leap with joy and Elizabeth’s prayerful response gave him an example of how to praise God, both of which inspired him to serve God so faithfully his whole life, we too bring God and an example of how to love Him to the men in our lives by serving and receiving each other well. When women love each other better, they love men better and then men AND women love God better. This might have to be a whole other blog post, but what a powerful role we’ve been given as women!

So, my parting words- love each other better. Go deeper, bring the wounds to light, and affirm the beauty of the life in front of you, whoever it is and whatever place they’re at in their life. Make room for that accountabiliTEA because it just might be the warmth you need coursing through you on an unexpectedly cold May morning.

Are you looking to deepen your bonds with certain people? Ask God how He thinks you should go about this in the present moment. Ask him how He wants to heal some of those underlying relational or self image wounds. Ask Him to love on you BIG through other people. Who knows, maybe He’ll answer with a steaming cup of Morning Tea 😊