You Aren’t Extraordinary

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My generation is inundated with living an extraordinary life. Books, blogs, and films are based on the premise of how to get an individual to live a life that defies normalcy. I’ve read and seen many of these things. I operated under the belief that if I follow these certain steps, then I could, too, live an extraordinary life.

But I think it is all a lie.

Recently, I have been reflecting upon how many of us want to live someone else’s life. Or how many of us want to live a life that is worthy of a film adaptation. There is an imaginary set of standards that we must meet in order to live that kind of life. Be innovative. Be creative. Be a risk-taker. Be spontaneous. Be more.

We are obsessed with this idea and believe that unless we live this kind of life, then life is meaningless. Everyone wants to make their mark in the world. I wanted to make my mark in the world. I wanted to live an extraordinary life.

But I’ve stopped wanting that.

pippin_615x400This past weekend, I went and watched the musical Pippin. I knew nothing of the show going into it. Part of me thought it was a show about what happened to Pippin after Lord of the Rings. It wasn’t. Instead, it was this beautiful and yet depressing look at an existential crisis. The show is set up as if we are watching a group of players tell a story. They do amazing acrobatics and all play a role in helping Pippin find his meaning. He goes to war, he fills his life with sexual pleasures, he becomes a revolutionist, he becomes powerful, and he seeks love. Each thing he does still leaves him feeling empty or trapped. [Spoiler — as if I need to do this…most of you probably don’t want to watch it] It ends with the lead player coming out and telling Pippin that if he wants to live an extraordinary life, then he needs to have an extraordinary death. Suddenly, everything makes sense. The group of players mentioned at the beginning that they needed a new protagonist for their production. You realize that this group of players isn’t a group that puts on a show. It is a group that lives in each of us, urging us to live an extraordinary life. Pippin contemplates life and almost kills himself but decides to spend the rest of his days with a love interest and her son. The lead player asks Pippin how he feels about his decision and his response is, “Trapped…but happy.”

It gets more depressing after that, but I’ll spare you the heartache I endured (don’t get me wrong — it was a great show). Pippin wanted anything but an ordinary life; but when faced with death, an ordinary life is all he wanted.

For me, the ordinary isn’t extraordinary so I constantly long for something more. I look to people who are living extraordinary lives and try to figure out what I can imitate so I can achieve the same level of happiness. Our search for extraordinary is rooted in our desire for happiness.

More and more, I am learning that God does work through the ordinary. The ordinary isn’t something to be looked down upon. God does His work through the ordinary fishermen, tax collectors, prostitutes, and the like. Many of us are trying to live extraordinary lives and God is calling us to let Him work through our ordinary lives.

I will admit that sometimes I feel life is bland because I’m not living my best story or whatever else is trendy right now. I live in a suburb…not in Chicago. I travel periodically…but not a lot because I’m frugal. I haven’t written a best-seller (although, I have one on parenting that I’m certain will become a runaway hit). I am not the leading innovator in youth ministry…I’m probably not even an innovator in youth ministry. I look around and I wonder, “Is this it? What happened to my best life? What happened to accomplishing great things? What happened to being amazing at living?”

I’m not extraordinary. I’m ordinary. And I have to be okay with that. You aren’t extraordinary. You’re ordinary. And you have to be okay with that.

Everyone is not going to become president. Everyone is not going to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Everyone is not going to end world hunger. Everyone is not going to be a NYT best-seller. Everyone is not going to be an Academy Award winner. Everyone is not going to be an NFL, NBA, MLB, or NHL star. Everyone is not going to win a Tony.

But those things don’t make them extraordinary. We do not have to achieve this to live a deep and meaningful life. God works through the ordinary and to me, that’s pretty extraordinary. It seems like He could accomplish more if He worked through those who are in the public spotlight or who have accomplished a lot. But He works through the ordinary.

Our search for an extraordinary life may be one of the most prime example of our selfish attempts at happiness. What we have isn’t good enough. The community around us isn’t good enough. Our families aren’t good enough. The people God has placed in our lives aren’t good enough. The job that God has given us isn’t good enough. In reality, many of us think that God hasn’t given us a good enough life.

I don’t know how to make sense with all of that. But I am learning to be content in the ordinary. I may never be extraordinary but I  am learning that I can live a pretty fulfilling life letting God use my ordinary.

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Life: Just a Bunch of Perhaps and What Ifs

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Sometimes I wish that I lived a different life.

That thought makes me feel like a horrible person. Even writing it out makes me cringe a bit.

I would say that many of us think this. It creeps into our minds when we are in a dark place. It whispers to us that there is a better life than the one we are living. It convinces us to stay discontent with our life.

So then you question yourself: What would’ve happened if I chose differently? What would’ve happened if I was raised in a different home? What would’ve happened if I went to this college instead of the other? What would’ve happened if I chose a different internship? What would’ve happened if I hung around this group of friends rather than that group of friends? We give ourself all of these “what if” questions — and deep down we know that they cannot be answered. But they keep gnawing at us. They keep tearing away at any self-confidence we might have had.

I have thought about these things quite a bit the past year. I do not say this so you’ll comment something sympathetic or say something kind to me. In fact, I do not want that at all. I say this because it’s true. I have wrestled with these questions several times. I have thought about what would be different if I didn’t do ministry.

I joked about that once to someone and that person said to me, “But what you’re doing is meaningful. What I’m doing isn’t.” Interesting, isn’t’ it? There is a mindset that we have that says: “I could be more meaningful elsewhere.” It says a lot about human nature. We desire to have meaning somewhere. But, at the same time, we do not feel like we have enough meaning in our current situation. We always think we could be more meaningful elsewhere.

If I had planted a church there…
If I had worked at that church…
If I would have went to that college…
If I would have married that person…
If I was a teacher, doctor, lawyer, musician, actor, manager, etc….

We live our lives longing for something else. We live our lives wishing we would have chosen differently. Yet all the while, we are too afraid to take “that leap of faith.” Perhaps we are living the wrong life. Perhaps we would have more meaning doing something else.

But instead of doing something, we sit there and allow those “what if” questions to gnaw at us. We sit there and regret the life we never lived. We sit there and refuse to live the life we have.

Sometimes I wish I lived a different life. I really do. Sometimes I think that my life could have more meaning. Sometimes I think that the reason I haven’t found a job yet is because God does not want me to do ministry. Sometimes I fear that I made the wrong choice. And if you’re honest with yourself, sometimes you do, too.

I wish there was an easy answer to this. I wish that I could say something sentimental that would tie everything up and leaving you feeling confirmed in your occupational choice. But I can’t.

Here is what I can say: In my life, I have felt affirmed in ministry and at times I haven’t felt affirmed. There are times I wish that I did something else and there are times that I’m happy that I will never do anything else. Perhaps I’m bipolar. Or perhaps I realize that humanity seeks meaning. And humanity always thinks that there is more meaning elsewhere. And by always looking elsewhere rather than where you are now, you miss your life. In longing for a different life, you lose your life.

Don’t get so caught up in longing for a different life that you miss your own life. If you want to do something different, either do it or stop daydreaming about it. Make a change or live your life. But don’t waste it.