Risking a Normal Life

“What if your greatest risk is living a normal, average life?”

That question from an insightful chapel speaker wrecked me in my final semester of college. It’s proven to be one of the best things I’ve ever heard. Especially as it was directed at a large body of young adults steeped in a Christian culture that emphasized global outreach. Overseas missions, anti-human trafficking measures, and anti-hunger initiatives were the focal points of many individuals’ dreams and ambitions, including mine.

As Christian young adults, we need this question. It’s a burst of cool wind that wakes us up to truth. How and why?

  1. We are a globally-oriented generation.world map

Our backyards aren’t limited anymore to the places in which we grew up. Internet and technology have given us a profound, overwhelming knowledge of the world and its needs. There are a lot! We feel deeply the desperation and want to respond.

  1. Our definition of living a full life has shifted

Living a full and great life means, for many in young adult Christian circles, involving yourself heavily in global, formalized ministries. We don’t want to settle for an average life as a Christian without ever having poured ourselves into something greater than a vanilla, middle-class existence.

I’ve noticed this rising out of a pattern in Christian culture. Often, organized and global ministries are presented solely as opportunities to influence the world with God’s love. Overseas missions teams or organizations like Campus Crusade for Christ are talked up and given the spotlight. The ministry opportunities arising in normal life (“normal” defined as middle-class experience of owning a house, paying bills, having a family) aren’t discussed. Or thought of much.

I rarely hear things like forming relationships with neighbors or cooking meals for tired moms in the community glorified. They almost seem to fall through the cracks of our consideration. Pastoral ministry, teaching English as a second language overseas, and anti-poverty measures flash brightly in our vision. Simple acts of kindness (like making efforts to chat with that one co-worker who sticks to themselves) are tacked on as an afterthought – “Oh yeah, those are good too.”

In my mind, the emphasis on global ministry polarized global activism against everyday living as a Christian in America. I thought to excel in following Jesus, and live my life to the fullest, I had to jump on board the missions track. I couldn’t serve Him best by living an average life. A year of working through this speaker’s startling question brought me to three conclusions:

 

  1. The perspective flaw: The greater needs in the world are across the ocean

bridge across ocean

When we focus on global issues so heavily we can develop tunnel vision to the needs encircling us. Dare I say it, we can idolize global ministry. We can forget about the equally vital day-to-day ministries of family, friends, local community, and church.

Our friends and family need our love. So do our communities. Just take a stroll through Wal Mart and you’ll find people oozing exhaustion, people with disabilities struggling to maneuver through the crowd, people who won’t make eye contact. It’s so easy just to offer a smile, or ask if you can help a disabled person reach something from the top shelf.

Desperate needs exist all around us When we meet them, we repair our societies and pour good into the world from wherever we live. But first, our hearts must be open to identifying those needs and humble enough to meet them. Wherever people are in our lives, how can we give them kindness? Affirm their value? Be a friend?

Funny-Perspective-cartoon_zps3aa62091

  1. What’s the value of a normal, average life?

The value of a normal, average life comes from the reality that everyday ministry is on the same level as global missions work or formal ministry. We in our humanness place the last two as greater in our minds. Most overseas missionaries are doing the exact same thing we are. They’re living their everyday, normal lives, just in another country under another flag and culture. And meeting the needs they find. We have the same opportunity.

Sure, it sounds glamorous having a life resumè studded with missions trips and supporting orphans in Africa. And those are good things! However, what we do, no matter how good or admirable, doesn’t mean we are living life well. If we are neglecting relationships and overlooking hurting people in our lives, that life resumè is better used as a piece of scratch paper. Action based in love, genuine care, and compassion infuse meaning and value into the world from any corner.

  1. A risk worth taking?

Absolutely! Ordinary life is perhaps riskier than a life of full-time missions in a foreign country. It depends on how you define a great life lived for God. An average life sounds second-best if you believe overseas ministry is the highest way of fulfilling your Christian calling. You may even dread the idea of an average, normal life because it means missing out on your full potential.

That’s a cage of fear we create for ourselves, however. God desires we live out the ordinary things extraordinarily, no matter where we are. That requires trust on our part that He will multiply our efforts and bring outcomes greater than our independent abilities. It makes an average, normal life a risk of faith. But it also makes it the greatest source of adventure. There’s a quote by Seth Godin that speaks to this: “If it scares you, it might be a good thing to try.”

one grand adventure

How do you define a great life? What are some areas of need in your everyday life to which you can respond with love?

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Back Home: The Final Round

A more recent life development has been one that as a teenager I promised myself would never happen. After graduation, however, it appeared inevitable.

Here it is (deep breath):

I moved back to my parents’ home.

Perhaps it’s not glamorous, but it’s the truth. I didn’t graduate with a job lined up in my field. One week after graduation, I moved to Shenandoah National Park and worked with A Christian Ministry in the National Parks for the summer. But that ended, and I had to face the music of returning home and job-searching.

I know I’m not alone. Conversations with friends who are in my same boat prove that. It takes time to establish financially, make a living, find affordable housing. Leaving the nest might be more of a process than we first expected, and certainly desired.

Moving back home may feel like a step backwards in independence. Technically, perhaps it is, but only as much as we allow it to be.

John Eldredge (one of my favorite authors) says, “We must have life, but we cannot plan for it.” It is possible to thrive where we don’t plan to be, if we choose to find the full life our situation offers.

So here are some thoughts for how to flourish if you find yourself in a final round of living at home:

1. Stay in touch with your family
Even if you’re in the same house, it can be easy to pull out of the loop of what’s going on in parents’ and siblings’ lives, especially once you land a job. Take time to find out how your family members are doing. Spend time together—do game nights with them, have lunch dates, go to siblings’ school events.

If you have extended family members, how can you connect with them? Make an intentional effort to visit relatives and help them if they have a need.

2. Be an active family member
Every family has a never-ending list of chores and projects related to the house. Put yourself out there to pitch in and help even before your parents ask. Offer to take over painting the stairway, ask if there are groceries you can buy on your way, wash dishes, take care of pets.

3. Have patience
Butting heads with parents may be a real concern. Patience may become your best friend as you wade the momentary frustrations together. Realize that you’ve essentially established yourself as an adult, and that your living habits have shifted some. Communicate with your parents about the changes you’ve adopted, and don’t assume they know what you’re thinking.

Being patient with yourself will also spur you on in establishing as a full-fledged adult. Set realistic goals for jobs and finances. Be responsible, but avoid putting unnecessary pressure on yourself so that you’re discouraged when you fail to meet your expectations. Give yourself the needed time, and don’t rush the journey.

4. Be a part of community
How can you give to those in your neighborhood, town, or church? Volunteer with a cause. Get to know your neighbors, the elderly, and those from other countries in your hometown.

On the flip-side, let yourself be poured into. If there are people in your community who show interest in investing in you over coffee, take them up on it. Don’t shy away from building new relationships.

5. Set good habits now
This goes beyond regular exercise, healthy eating, and consistent sleep schedules. Think about your social sphere, how you’re using your time and finding space. What balance have you struck between spending time with family and friends and having personal time? Have you made a physical space where you can rest? Explore yourself outside the context of college life, and find living habits that allow you to thrive.

What are some ways you’ve adapted to becoming an adult while living in your parents’ house? What can you think of that promotes thriving in this situation?