In Defense of the Ordinary

One of the most difficult feelings I have as a writer is that so much of what I feel equipped to address would be considered “problems” because we are not thinking about them. It’s really easy to write and gain readership when you write about problems many people recognize and hope to address. It is difficult to get much of an ear when you write to call out problems few recognize as problem.

But, if you’re reading this, hear me when I say: We have a problem with the ordinary and the boring because we have become obsessed with entertainment.

A common theme in this newsletter is that in the social media age and within the economy of the social internet, “boring” = bad. As I wrote for The Gospel Coalition last month:

When it comes to what generates maximum attention and engagement, truth and reality usually take a back seat to the sensational and entertaining. Truth and reality are often pretty boring, and boring never goes viral.

In a world that increasingly decides what is valuable and true based on what is most entertaining, to be boring is a big no-no.

A. W. Tozer in Defense of the Ordinary

I’ve been reading through a lot of A. W. Tozer for a work project. I spent much of the last week reading his daily devotional Mornings With Tozer. He writes for the June 30 devotional (emphasis mine):

Today more than ever we Christians need to learn how to sanctify the ordinary. This is a blasé generation. People have been overstimulated to the place where their nerves are jaded and their tastes corrupted. Natural things have been rejected to make room for things artificial. The sacred has been secularized, the holy vulgarized and worship converted into a form of entertainment. A dopey, blear-eyed generation seeks constantly for some new excitement powerful enough to bring a thrill to its worn-out and benumbed sensibilities. So many wonders have been discovered or invented that nothing on earth is any longer wonderful. Everything is common and almost everything boring.

When the whole moral and psychological atmosphere is secular and common, how can we escape its deadly effects? How can we sanctify the ordinary and find true spiritual meaning in the common things of life? The answer has already been suggested. It is to consecrate the whole of life to Christ and begin to do everything in His name and for His sake.

The last couple years, as I’ve gotten a bit older not only in years-lived but also in stage-of-life status, I’ve had the opportunity to have some conversations with college students or young people just getting out of college who struggle with where they’re headed and the feeling that they should be someplace in life decidedly more exciting than where they currently find themselves.

Some of them have wanted to be married and having kids, yet found themselves single. Others found their jobs boring, however good the compensation, and hoped to be working in their dream jobs. Some others were upset at their financial state and wanted to take the vacations they always were able to take as children or that they saw their older or more affluent friends taking.

When I talk with these folks, they are aghast when I say things like, “It’s OK to not love your job and just see it as a means to do the other things you actually love.” Obviously hating one’s job or trying to survive a toxic work environment isn’t advisable, but for the pencil pusher or Excel dweller who punches the clock metaphorically and literally at the beginning of each workday, to simply serve faithfully in a boring environment is truly OK.

Not every part of our life needs to be entertaining and amazing. There is tremendous value in the ordinary.

To be discontent and bored with our ordinary is to wrongly assume that God is as obsessed with flash and entertainment as we are.