I was stunned to silence a few days ago by the weirdest thought. I just started this book called Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life by Tish Harrison Warren, and by “just started” I mean I got all of three pages into the first chapter and read this:
“But after hearing about Jesus’ birth and a brief story about his boyhood, we find him again as a grown man at the banks of the Jordan. He’s one in the crowd, squinting in the sun, sand gritty between his toes. The one who is worthy of worship, glory, and fanfare spent decades in obscurity and ordinariness.”
Perhaps it’s because it’s summertime, but this idea of Jesus squinting at the sun and having dirty sand between his toes brings a smile to my face. I find it so relatable. So human.
It’s really easy for me to make “Jesus was perfect” synonymous with “Jesus never had to deal with annoying human stuff.” But he did.
For one thing, they walked around in sandals in a place full of dirt and sand. I absolutely hate the feeling of dirt on my feet while I’ve got shoes on. Like, to me, the shoe isn’t doing its job if there is dirt on my feet while I’m walking around. It’s supposed to be a barrier. I get that flip-flops and sandals don’t exactly fit that job description though, and I wear them non-stop in the summer because they are comfy and I like the flip-flop sound. But when I’m walking through sand? Sand gets in them with each step forward no matter how carefully you walk. So at the beach it’s a matter of seconds between when I step onto the sand, and when I kick my sandals off. I love the feeling of sand between my toes when I am there, but as soon as I have to leave and pull the sandals back on over my feet – that no amount of rinsing can fully clean properly – my nose wrinkles. It’s a countdown until I get to scrub them in the shower.
And get this, Jesus knows exactly what that feels like. That feeling of filthy feet coated in sand and getting it all stuck between his toes as he walks around. My savior got dirt and sand between his human toes. I almost laugh aloud thinking of it.
Another thing. During the summertime (and well just life in general if it’s over 75 degrees) I sweat within minutes of stepping outside. Grey has been forever banned from my closet. It’s actually disgusting. My palms get all itchy, and my back gets all sticky. The whole thing. And he can relate to that feeling too. He knows what sweat trickling down his arms feels like. He had to walk around every day beneath a sun that is probably 100 times harsher than the one I live under over here in North Carolina. That makes me smile because it’s a tangible thing I know we have in common. How crazy is that?
The Incarnation is obviously a complex thing and I am under no misconception that I can sum it up or anything close, but I love the gritty details of it. He really did go all out and become fully human, dealing with all that implies. It means his clothes weren’t pristine white 24/7 (or probably ever, if we’re being real here). It means he got sand in his sandals when he walked along the river and he probably fell asleep with it still there and walked miles and miles the next day in the same way. It means he got sweaty. And his hair was probably not ready for a L’Oreal commercial ever. And I highly doubt deodorant was a thing then.
I’m not trying to be irreverent, I promise. I’m not thinking about any of this to try to make him seem less God-like.
I just like remembering that he wasn’t un-relatable in the super annoying little life things. He went through those too.
It comforts me to know that on my worst day, when I run out the door to pick up paper towels at 7:30 in the morning, and my hair is so greasy it would stay in the same shape if I took the hair tie away, that he’s not up there judging me like, “Sweetheart get your life straightened out.” I can laugh and acknowledge his presence and say, “Dang, that’s so annoying.” And he can smile and chuckle because, yes, he is so in on that inside joke.
It reminds me that even in those times, when my hair looks like that, and I am not smelling like eucalyptus or mint, I’m still allowed to show up. I’m still making him smile.
I might have mentioned this before, but one of my least favorite things on this planet is unclogging my shower drain. I hate it. It’s when my Enneagram 4 becomes super-duper obvious to anyone within a 10-mile radius because internally I’m kicking and screaming. (Shoutout to those of you who love the Enneagram – let’s babble excitedly about it absolutely whenever!) I put on the worst t-shirt I have and shorts I don’t care about. I climb into my bathtub and try to get through this nasty process as fast as possible. It’s in this horrific moment that I feel the most mundane. The most unexceptional. And the loudest “WHAT. IS. MY. LIFE!?!?!” is screaming murderously in my head. I know very well how spoiled this sounds. Just keeping it real. The scenario itself is less important than the conclusions I draw from it. This one creates an overwhelming feeling that I’m not amounting to anything, and I can’t possibly be anything close to royalty or important in any way, shape, form, or dimension, and there can’t be some God up in heaven who would look down on this and go, “Yes, I’ll die for that one.” It makes me want to cry in confusion and anger all at once.
So last time, when I was getting caught in this spiral again, I decided to drag Him into the tub with me. (I’m convinced God’s favorite place to talk to people is in the shower, and it doesn’t matter if it’s on or not.) I pictured Him sitting next to me while I explained this feeling, in simultaneously angry and weepy tones, like I was wrestling with two truths and getting more bruised than victorious. This insignificance. This horrible, horrible sense that I’ll never be anything outside of mundane and ordinary and surrounded by soap scum and filth.
It’s hard to believe you are up to something wondrous in my life when it’s Saturday afternoon and I’m crouching in my bathtub and fighting with my shower drain.
Sometimes. I don’t. Feel. As special. As you. Claim. I. Am. Just. Sayin.
Maybe this is because I nod my head in agreement to all those sermons and podcasts and talks that impress upon Christians the importance of “finding your calling” and “making a difference in the world that only you can make.” I do think those things are good. I do think there’s no one else like me or you and that our impacts (should we choose to embrace them) are unique and needed, but while I agree to those things, I think I just oftentimes fail to remember that, “Oh, and while you’ve got these grand plans about being a world-changer, you’re still going to have to clean your shower some days too.” Perhaps it’s a given, but it’s not exactly shouted from the rooftops with as much enthusiasm as “GO CHANGE THE WORLD YOU BRILLIANT PIECE OF STARDUST”, is it? So a girl like me forgets.
I forget that knowing the king of the universe doesn’t get me out of doing little, “unimportant” tasks that seem like mundane maintenance to me. Reality check. I’m still a normal human being. And “normal” things still need to get done.
Situations like this one, reveal to me that particular reminder hasn’t been repeated in a while. The alignment is off, and all of my fury and frustration gets taken out on the shower drain.
I can picture him just looking at me and smiling a bit, like I’m a child who has confused herself so badly she’s upset when he’s had the answer ready all along. He’s the only one who can make me feel like a child without making me feel foolish. When people give me this look, I get the feeling they’re thinking themselves pretty superior to my childish behavior and I get pretty angry. When God gives me this look, it does the opposite. It calms me down and gives me a sense of comfort. I don’t have to wrestle with my importance level and my job description. Because that’s just thinking about me. Whether I’m thinking I’m awesome or thinking I’m mundane and boring, it’s still me thinking about me and what I’m doing and what I look like. And the point, he says without needing to say anything, is that you are meant to be a child who doesn’t get tangled in this stuff at all.
I don’t mind being a child in his eyes. In his eyes a child is not inferior, or dumb, or petty, or foolish. It’s trusting. It’s whimsical. It’s obedient. It makes me want to be better, not worse.
“Is this one of those times when I’m thinking about myself too much rather than just thinking?”
I have to remember to trust him like a child would, and then learn to forget to think of myself so often.
C.S. Lewis says it beautifully in The Weight of Glory:
“It may be possible for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbor. The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbor’s glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken.”
And within minutes I just started laughing. I felt like He was laughing, you see. Not at me though. So I was laughing, and then I was less scared and instead was giggling hysterically in the middle of my bathtub with a disgusting trash bag next to me.
And that, right there, is what felt a little like holy ground. He knows. He knows, he knows, he knows. Perhaps he never had to unclog a shower drain, but life back then would have been far yuckier in numerous ways. These horrible, gross, human things that are inevitable to deal with, he knows them all. Not just because he made us, but because he lived like us too. And it gives me something to latch onto when I get drawn into that spiral of thought.
My savior had dirty feet too, and it didn’t stop him from kneeling down to wash someone else’s.
My savior got sweaty too and had messy hair, and probably had bugs crawl over his toes while he was sleeping. And he didn’t instantly ask his father to hurry up already and remove him from this ridiculous planet.
He got tired. He got hungry.
And maybe, instead of hating these messy, ordinary things, I’m supposed to find him in them.
He’s not going to rescue me from the shower drain. There are things a girl’s gotta just do and get over it. But if I think about him sitting there while I do it, we can share a laugh. This life is so not glamorous all the time. Not even most of the time. But that’s okay, because thankfully, being glamorous all the time (or ever) isn’t a prerequisite or an expectation when it comes to spending time with or being loved by Jesus. The quality of our relationship isn’t dependent on the state of my hair, my shower, or my toes.
If I only approach him when those things are exactly how I want them, I’ve fallen back into seeing him as un-reachable, un-relatable, and un-pleasable.
But if I take a moment to acknowledge his presence when I don’t feel glamorous too, then I’m acknowledging that those things don’t improve or damage his opinion of me. He doesn’t rate the mess of my pride or my productivity or my hair on a scale from 1-10 and subtract that from my value.
He’s much more interested in the state of my heart. Do I attach my value to the amount of “important” things I do or don’t do? To the amount of dirt I’ve got underneath my nails? Have I put him in the “GOD WHO NEEDS TO BE IMPRESSED” box again? Am I so arrogant to think this job is below me? Is my identity so frail that “mundane” chores make me feel so small?
Or am I just waiting to sit with him in the midst of it? Am I interested in doing all the things I have to do anyway…with him? Am I confident that he wants to laugh with me, regardless of my chore list on Saturday afternoon? Am I secure in his love enough to clean every shower drain in the whole world and still know that he doesn’t think I’m mundane or filthy or boring or meaningless?
Questions I want to think about next time I clean the shower.
What if I’m not meant to rebel so fiercely to what is ordinary throughout my day? Because in so many of those Bible stories, it seems like the most ordinary times in their day were the places people saw him, met him, talked with him. Aisle three. The barn. My backyard by the steps where all the ants are. The laundry room. The shower.
Later in the same chapter, Tish Harrison Warren says it beautifully:
“And every new day, this is the turn my heart must make: I’m living this life, the life right in front of me. This one where marriages struggle. This one where we aren’t living as we thought we might or as we hoped we would. This one where we are weary, where we want to make a difference but aren’t sure where to start, where we have to get dinner on the table or the kids’ teeth brushed, where we have back pain and boring weeks, where our lives look small, where we doubt, where we wrestle with meaninglessness, where we worry about those we love, where we struggle to meet our neighbors and love those closest to us, where we grieve, where we wait. And on this particular day, Jesus knows me and declares me his own.”
The rest of her book explores what it is like to connect what we might consider to be “mundane” tasks like making our bed, having a cup of tea, losing our keys, or sitting in traffic with important, sacred practices. It’s a glimpse at what it could be like to not hate what is so “ordinary” and realize that perhaps these things are helping change us in the best possible ways.
“Redemption is crashing into our little stretch of the universe, bit by bit, day by day, mile by coming mile…We are waiting, but we will make it home.” –Liturgy of the Ordinary
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