“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?
- We are a globally-oriented generation.
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.
- 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:
- The perspective flaw: The greater needs in the world are across the 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?
- 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.
- 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.”
How do you define a great life? What are some areas of need in your everyday life to which you can respond with love?