Is it okay to not make a splash by doing something recognizably great that leads to acclaim and social media notoriety? Why is there so much pressure on girls and women today to be powerful, to start and lead a cause, or to stand out above everyone around them by their success? Are you letting yourself down if you are just an ordinary woman letting God be the one who is extraordinary? Is it okay to be ordinary? That is what we will explore in this post.
Not Accomplishing Anything?
Several years ago, I read an Engage blog by Tiffany Stein called “Next Steps.” Tiffany wrote about the pressure she felt looking at what her friends were doing—writing books, launching blogs, receiving promotions, and founding ministries. She was tempted to think about herself, “I’m not accomplishing anything.” I felt for her and for other women who are faithfully serving God in their own ordinary spheres of influence and not making a splash across the social media pages. Is it okay to be ordinary?
I looked up the definition of ordinary:
1. with no special or distinctive features; normal.
2. uninteresting; commonplace
I like “normal,” having nothing that draws immediate attention to me. But the second definition included the word “uninteresting.” Uninteresting to whom? If you are ordinary, you are definitely uninteresting to the fame-crazed world that pressures you to perform in order to be considered valuable.
The Pressure to Perform
The book Dwell: Life with God for the World by Barry D. Jones talks about how to have a balance between personal spiritual growth and outreach to the needy world. Dr. Jones quotes a much-discussed blog post by theology professor Anthony Bradley criticizing the pressure put on young adults to be “amazing” and “extraordinary.”
I continue to be amazed by the number of youth and young adults who are stressed and burnt out from the regular shaming and feelings of inadequacy if they happen to not be doing something unique and special. Today’s millennial generation is being fed the message that if they don’t do something extraordinary in this life they are wasting their gifts and potential. The sad result is that so many young adults feel ashamed if they ‘settle’ into ordinary jobs, get married early and start families…For too many millennials their greatest fear in this life is being an ordinary person with a non-glamorous job, living in the suburbs, and having nothing spectacular to boast about. (Anthony Bradley, “What Is Your Salvation For?”)
His comments hit me like a rock and saddened me. I have had the same observations. That pressure to have something “spectacular to boast about” is not just affecting young adults but really all of us.
The message conveyed in the media (social, news, and print) is that it is not okay to be ordinary. It seems to be “in your face” all the time. After all, how often do you receive invitations to like someone’s new Facebook business or social action page or to pre-purchase a friend’s new book? I bet I get at least 3-5 of those every month. For several issues, our local community newspaper highlighted teens (one as young as 12!) that had started their own non-profits and were raising huge amounts of money to address a specific social issue. How does that make the rest of their school friends feel who are just trying to navigate the jungle of teenage emotions and hoping to pass their high school courses this year?
Jesus Christ calls every Christian to follow Him faithfully. The New Testament does not equate faithfulness with worldly success, fame, or have something spectacular to boast about. Instead, we read this,
“Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” For it is not the one who commends [herself] who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends. (2 Corinthians 10:17-18)
Paul quoted from Jeremiah chapter 9, which says this,
This is what the Lord says: “Let not the wise boast of their wisdom or the strong boast of their strength or the rich boast of their riches, but let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 9:23-24)
Our God desires “ordinary” faithfulness and not self-boasting.
Consider the book of Ruth. It is a remarkable narrative about two ordinary women. They were not prophets, priests, kings, judges, or anyone else of prominence. Yet, God chose to showcase them in a short book included in His Scriptures. Why? They experienced God’s grace in their lives and responded with faithfulness to Him. The same can be true of a woman in any role. Consider just the following three areas of “ordinary” faithfulness.
A faithful mom
The day before I read that quote in Dwell, one of the young moms (late 20s-early 30s) in my morning moms’ group said almost the same thing. She just blurted out to the group that she was feeling like a failure because she was not doing enough. She has two small boys. She has taken a break from her previous career to dedicate her time and energy to rear those precious children in a loving home in which they can learn how to love God well and hopefully grow up to be responsible adults. Yet, she hears the message that if you are not doing something “extraordinary in this life” you are wasting it.
I felt for that mom. As the group’s “mentor mom,” I assured her that her seemingly “ordinary” life right now was very valuable to God. Our God values faithfulness over worldly success.
As a mom of three children, it was a very busy time for me when they were all at home. We took advantage of some service opportunities whenever possible. But my focus was raising children who loved the Lord and wanted to serve Him more than the culture around them. Is it okay to focus on serving your family well and not feel like you need to take care of the whole community also? Is it okay to not have a career outside of home and family while raising children? The answer to both questions is, “Yes!”
I have always loved this verse. I have adapted it to apply to me as a mom:
For I have chosen [her], so that [she] will direct [her] children and [her] household after [her] to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just.” (Genesis 18:19)
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. (Deuteronomy 6:5-7)
Be a faithful mom who loves the Lord with all your heart and spends your energy training children (yours or others) to follow God’s way of living life rather than the world’s way or their own way. You can do this whether or not you have a career outside of your home and family.
If you are in the midst of raising children, read the blog, “Jesus Understands Moms.” Jesus understands what you are doing and is your cheerleader.
A faithful leader
Have you been a small group leader or Bible Study leader? What an opportunity to be a God-dependent woman and demonstrate that to those in your groups! Is it okay to continue as a small group leader and not aspire to be in charge of Women’s Ministry at your church? The answer is, “Yes!” Teach the Word of God faithfully. That pleases the Lord.
I am a Bible Study teacher and author of 24 Bible studies. Not one of them is in the Lifeway catalogue. I offer each of them as a free download that anyone can print. That download includes the whole study, not just one lesson. Is it okay to teach the Bible well to other women without being an acclaimed published author? The answer is “Yes!” My goal is to please the Lord, not the world.
So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. (2 Corinthians 5:9)
Be a faithful teacher of God’s word or leader of a small group. Show them what it is like to be a God-dependent woman rather than a self-dependent woman.
A faithful employee
Is it okay to work hard at your job without aiming to be the CEO of the company? Is it okay to work hard at your job without being socially popular at work? The answer to both questions is “Yes!”
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. (Colossians 3:23-24)
Work is a way of worshiping the Lord and being His witness to those in our work environment. Our witness includes our employers. So be the best employee you can be. As God said in Jeremiah 29 to Israelites now leaving in Babylon,
Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” (Jeremiah 29:7)
Substitute “employer” for city. The principle still applies.
Read the blog “How to View Work as Worship—Not a Curse” for more encouragement about that.
It Is Okay to Be an Ordinary Faithful Servant of Jesus Christ
When Jesus commissioned His followers to go everywhere and make disciples (Matthew 28:18-19), that declaration was not given specifically to ordained preachers, hired church staff, or missionary organizations. He gave that commission to ordinary, everyday women and men like you and I are. Some did extraordinary things and are written about in the book of Acts. Others just were proclaiming the good news of the gospel wherever they went.
Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. (Acts 8:4)
They are unnamed. They were ordinary! They told about Jesus to their families, friends, and neighbors in the context of their ordinary, everyday lives.
Is it okay to be ordinary? As a faithful servant of Jesus Christ, the answer is “Yes.”
I am reminded of a saying I heard years ago when I was a young Christian woman represented by this picture.
Even an ordinary woman living an ordinary life can be a beautiful bloom in God’s garden when she is faithfully following Christ and willing to let Him live His life through her. She will hear Jesus saying to her what He said about Mary of Bethany,
“She did what she could.” (Mark 14:8)
It is okay to be ordinary. To be normal. To do what you can. And let God be the one who is extraordinary as you depend on Him!
The God-Dependent Woman Bible Study (read online)
The God-Dependent Woman Bible Study (download pdf)