How to Find Meaning in the Mundane
Do you ever feel like your days run endlessly together? Wake up, go to work, come home to innumerable chores, go to bed, repeat. Where is the abundant life God promised? Are you missing it? Is it possible to find purpose in the predictable and meaning in the mundane?
If we are followers of Christ, the answer is yes, for nothing done in surrendered obedience is ever wasted. At each moment, God uses our mundane, earthly experiences to train and equip us for something greater, to center our thoughts on the eternal, and to be active participants in his outpouring of love and grace. Living God’s great adventure is not a matter of location or vocation, but rather, a continual process of heart and mind transformation.
When considering my never-ending laundry pile, I’m reminded of young Daniel Larusso from The Karate Kid. Uprooted from his home and planted in a hostile environment, he sought help from a karate-extraordinaire Sensei. The Sensei agreed to train Daniel in the art of karate, only to assign the teen countless menial tasks. Wax on, wax off, paint right, paint left. Day after day, Daniel wore himself out performing the mundane.
Of course, those of us who watched the movie knew Daniel’s tasks were anything but menial. Each one honed his physical, mental, and inner strength, transforming him from an insecure teen into a confident warrior. Daniel’s focus was quite narrow. His goal? To survive high school without getting pummeled. His Sensei, however, wanted to see Daniel not merely survive, but instead, to thrive.
This is God’s goal for us as well. He hears our every prayer, most of which come from short-term, temporal perspectives. We want to make it through the day without going insane or falling into a major depression. But God longs to grant us so much more, and he has a clear and determined plan to lift us above our drudgery so that we can grab hold of the extraordinary! He begins this journey not on the mission field or award podium, but instead, in the human heart.
“Many evangelicals add crazy stress to their life wondering what God wants them to do when what he primarily cares about is who we become,” Nathan Weselake from Portage Alliance Church says. “They worry they are missing out on some amazing plan when God’s intention is to make an amazing person. This perspective redeems our entire lives and means nothing is wasted.”
Pause to consider the successful individuals you know. Look past their actions to their character. Perhaps some rode on family wealth or landed a lucky break, but most inched forward because of hard work, perseverance, patience, and dependability. In fact, I’ve heard coaches say they prefer a hard worker over a natural star any day because ability has a limit. They’ve learned success without struggle is momentary, faltering the moment the first storm hits.
Real success—the kind that sustains a marriage, enables a parent to persevere through teen rebellion, and worker to withstand company upheaval—is birthed in everyday decisions. In those quiet moments where the choice to persevere overrides the desire to run. With each difficult encounter, we have a choice: to seek out the the easy, safe, self-protecting path wrought with temporary pleasures, or to stand firm in faith and character, regardless of what God allows to come our way. Because strength grows in the struggle, and God is sovereign in our joys and trials. This means, when we encounter a hostile boss or coworker, a demotion or a financial set-back, it is because God allowed it. If God allowed it, he intends to bring good from it. His good might look different than we expected, but regardless of our ability to see or comprehend it, we can rest in the knowledge that he always has our best in mind. And being the all-knowing, all powerful, all-loving God he is, he has a glorious way of working out our best while using us to bring about the best in others. God’s ultimate best for mankind is that each of us would turn from a life of sin and self-destruction to one centered on him.
Our role is not to question the when, where, and how and to start living in—making the most of—the now (Ephesians 5:16). In other words, God has a purpose in every encounter and every stage of our journey, whether we’re standing in line at the grocery or folding towels at home. His purpose, and our calling, is quite simple: to know him and make him known.
For Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist Kim Zweygardt, God brought this truth home during a middle of the night encounter with an irate patient. “One night I was on call, and a drunk, nasty man was brought in to surgery. He’d gotten into a fight at a bar. I put him to sleep with him spitting in my face and screaming that he was going to sue. Everyone was relieved when the drugs took effect and the room went quiet. The surgeon said, ‘What he doesn’t know is that we’ll do our best for him just like anyone else.’
“The nurse complained about being up at three in the morning for such a jerk. Though I hadn’t spoken aloud, I agreed. And then I heard in my heart, clearly, the voice of the Lord, ‘I died for him, too, Kim.’ It changed the way I saw my work. I realized I was the hands and feet of Christ in each anesthetic.”
God used an emergency and an angry man to center Kim’s heart and mind in eternity. Tragedy and trial have a way of doing that. A job loss can free us from the cancer of materialism, an illness can free us from self-reliance, and relational struggle can free us from apathy—if we surrender our difficulties, perceptions, and responses to Christ. In fact, if left on our own, abundance and blessing can blind us to true and lasting joy found only in the eternal. Once she recognized the eternal impact of her role as an anesthetist, her job took on greater value and she was able to find joy even in the most frustrating situations.
It’s relatively easy to serve Christ in our safe Christian bubbles or in our planned and church-supported outreach events. It’s another matter entirely to live for Christ in our neighborhoods and at the workplace. Especially if the environment is hostile to us and our faith and shows no signs of improving. But I believe God won’t expand the boundaries of our reach until we prove faithful with the hearts he’s already entrusted to our care (Luke 16:10). To simplify, if you want to do great things for God, live greatly for him where you’re at.
Longtime Christian, devoted husband, father, grandfather and Wal-Mart employee, Terry Palmer encourages us to view our co-workers with a long-term focus, realizing it can take years, decades even, for Christ to change a heart. “What a challenging area this is for us all!” Palmer says. And one he is quite familiar with. “[While on the job], A co-worker became verbally abusive with hateful remarks directed at me and my faith. My first response of course was to reply in kind, but through a careful step back, I saw the hurt in his eyes. This led me to be careful with my words.” When others turned away, Palmer remained kind and patient. When tragedy hit, the co-worker remembered. “Later his wife became quite ill, and the man had few friends with whom to share. He now seeks me out, initiating discussions on life and religion.”
To join in God’s glorious plan, to find meaning in the degrading and infuriating moment, Palmer first had to crucify his self-preservation and the worldly desires to be liked, respected, validated.
Consider Paul’s words in Colossians 3:1-3: “Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the pace of honor at God’s right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God” (NLT).
Our real life, the life which we were created for, the life which will bring us the greatest joy and fulfillment, is hidden in Christ. We discover this life by throwing off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles and running with perseverance the race marked out for us (Hebrews 12:1).
Our real life is found not in promotions or bank accounts, but instead, in Christ; and we are made complete in him. Although I know this with my head, there have been few times my heart truly grasped this truth. Both times the realization came during times of intense struggle.
The first was when our family experienced a prolonged period of unemployment. I was a stay-home, homeschooling housewife who had everything planned out. Although I professed Christ as Lord, I often relied on my efforts to hold myself and my family together. So long as we lived, spent, and saved in a certain way, everything would be fine. To rephrase, as long as we had Jesus and, everything would be fine.
When we lost the and, my world felt out of control. Having spent a brief period on the streets as a teenager, I quickly spiraled into panic and depression. Irrational fears surfaced. Instead of us being unemployed, I envisioned us but a few bills away from homelessness. For months, I cried out to God, asking him to change our situation, to free us from our pain.
Instead, he drew me closer to him. In the middle of my heart-broken prayer, he asked me something that stilled my tears and stole my breath:
“Will you still love me now?
If I never change your situation, even if things grow worse, will you still love me? Will you still live for me, even if I strip everything away?”
A soul-deep silence followed. God was asking me to choose between self-reliance and full surrender. Using every ounce of strength I had, I forced out a painful, “Yes.”
It was as if a veil had been removed and clarity set in. In that moment I realized, regardless of what happened, we would be okay because we had Christ. We’d have Christ whether we lived in a three-story, 3,000 square foot house or under a freeway overpass. It was the most freeing moment, other than conversion, I’ve had in my Christian walk.
“When we build our lives on things other than Christ, everything is built on the temporary,” Roger Graber, Lifegroup and Impact Pastor of Reality Church says. “Temporary things quit working. They disappoint us and fail to satisfy the deepest part of our being.”
Only Christ can satisfy us to our core, can bring purpose out of even the most frustrating situations, and can lift us from our petty lives to freedom and adventure. Christ died so we might have life and have it to the full. Through his death and resurrection, he’s already granted us full access to a glorious, joyous, victorious life. This extraordinary, abundant life he promised is not dependent on our job, our circumstances, or our pocket book. Rather, it is dependent upon our surrender.
Jennifer Slattery lives in the midwest with her husband and their teenage daughter. She writes for Christ to the World Ministries, Internet Cafe Devotions, and maintains a devotional blog at JenniferSlatteryLivesOutLoud. Her work has appeared in numerous publications and compilation projects.
Publication date: January 2, 2014