The following is a letter of encouragement written to my mother, whose physical limitations are a daily struggle. More broadly, this letter is a reminder for those whose bodies are failing, along with the rest of us, who sometimes forget just how much we can and should glorify God in the simple acts of living.
Do you remember, Mother dear, the way that ordinary rituals filled our lives in the early years? How each night you gently rocked us to sleep, singing the same simple hymns I pleaded you to repeat again and again. There were soiled diapers to change, never-ending laundry piles to fold, and incessantly dirty dishes to wash. You would grasp the counter’s edge as you clambered around the kitchen preparing meals—because even in those early years your body already waved a flag of disease.
“…this letter is a reminder for those whose bodies are failing, along with the rest of us, who sometimes forget just how much we can and should glorify God in the simple acts of living.”
There was nothing revolutionary about the tasks of those years; nothing world-shattering or life changing. Our lives would have never made the newspaper headlines. But even in those ordinary everyday moments, wasn’t the chief end of man being fulfilled? Wasn’t God being glorified and enjoyed?1 Yes, God’s glory shone even there in the midst of the ordinary.
You have always been an ambitious woman. Already in your early twenties your gospel-centered heart was determined to live out the Lord’s work. These ambitions were richly displayed in the long hours you spent fiercely loving and caring for the homeless who lived on the streets of Grand Rapids. Through your actions, God was glorified as the obvious Creator of your grace-filled love. In time, you envisioned an even grander God-fearing story for yourself, pursuing a natural calling into social work.
I can imagine then, that the transition from this radically good and God-glorifying work to the simple, ordinary tasks of those early years of motherhood may have seemed deflating at times. In his work Ordinary: Sustainable Faith in a Radical, Restless World, Michael Horton writes that “Facing another day, with ordinary callings to ordinary people all around us is much more difficult than chasing my own dreams that I have envisioned for the grand story of my life.”(p.10)2 For a woman who had so profoundly lived out her calling to seek shalom and justice in the world on God’s behalf, the ordinary moments of motherhood must have seemed mundane.
“I can imagine then, that the transition from this radically good and God-glorifying work to the simple, ordinary tasks of those early years of motherhood may have seemed deflating at times.”
Now the seasons have again shifted. As the multiple sclerosis slowly eats away at the myelin of your nerves, it is now us caring for you. In this new transition, we are learning once again to find God’s glory in each day’s ordinary rituals. There is nothing radical or ambitious—and certainly not romantic—when half of each day is consumed by bodily care – eating, drinking, peeing, pooping, and bathing. Can God really be glorified when there is barely enough energy to get into your wheelchair, when your body is physically incapable of performing daily tasks, when you need assistance simply to roll over in bed, open the door, or reach your cellphone? Could this truly be the life God has called you to use to honor Him?
God called His chosen people, the Israelites, to glorify Him in ordinary ways: “Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”3
It was precisely in their exile that God called His beloved people to live ordinary every-day lives, such as building houses to live in, planting gardens for their produce, marrying and having children, and praying for their communities. And God was indeed glorified in all of that ordinary living! If there ever was a time for extraordinary measures, wouldn’t it have been during an exile? Wouldn’t that be the moment in which God would call His people to live boldly, to be radical image-bearers of His name? Evidently not. It was a season in which He called them to bear His name by living in the ordinary.
Just the same, in your exile from the natural functions of your body, God has called you to glorify Him in the ordinary—in eating and bathing and praying and simply living in His name. Horton writes that “We’ve forgotten that God showers his extraordinary gifts through ordinary means of grace, loves us through ordinary fellow image bearers, and sends us out into the world to love and serve others in ordinary callings.”4
“…In your exile from the natural functions of your body, God has called you to glorify Him in the ordinary—in eating and bathing and praying and simply living in His name.”
Yet, this wasn’t just a command that God gave to His exiled nation in the Old Testament. It is a testimony that He himself lived out in the flesh. In her book Liturgy of the Ordinary, Tish Harrison Warren reminds us that “Christ’s ordinary years are part of our redemption story. Because of the incarnation and those long, unrecorded years of Jesus’ life, our small, normal lives matter…. If Christ spent most of his life in quotidian ways, then all of life is brought under his lordship. There is no task too small or too routine to reflect God’s glory and worth.” (p.11) And so even when much of our day may be wrapped up in the ordinary rituals of eating, and drinking, and caring for one’s own body, these often seemingly meaningless tasks “act as an embodied confession that our Creator, who mysteriously became flesh, has made our bodies well and deserves worship in and through our very cells, muscles, tissues, and teeth.”5. Even more so, this was a command given to the early church. When Paul wrote to the Corinthians, he told them that even our eating and drinking should be done to the glory of God.6
“There is no task too small or too routine to reflect God’s glory and worth.”Tish Harrison Warren
It is understandable that you, in all the beautiful complexity God has created you in, want more for this life than your body physically allows you to live anymore. And yet, I have had the privilege in these last many years of watching you glorify God even in the monotony of living in a deteriorating body. My prayer for you is that you may have the courage to face each ordinary day without despair; that you may have “the bravery it takes to believe that a small life is still a meaningful life, and the grace to know that even when I’ve done nothing that is powerful or bold or even interesting that the Lord notices me and is fond of me and that that is enough.”7 Oh Mother dear, simply because of Christ’s work in you, you reflect God’s glory more brightly with each passing day. And how much more radiant you will be by the light of God’s new creation!
This article is part of our ongoing series: Living with Intentionality. Our lives are a series of decisions of how best to love others, care for our creation, seek good, prevent harm, and glorify God. We will highlight these articles where fellow believers make very intentional choices that can expand our imagination for what the Christian life—and the life of the mind—can accomplish.
Westminster Catechism Q&A1 ↩
Horton, Michael. Ordinary: Sustainable Faith in a Radical, Restless World. 2014 ↩
Joshua 29:4-7, ESV ↩
Horton, Michael. Ordinary: Sustainable Faith in a Radical, Restless World. 2014. p.10 ↩
Warren, Tish Harrison. Liturgy of the Ordinary. 2016. p.15. ↩
1 Corinthians 10:31 ↩
Horton, Michael. Ordinary: Sustainable Faith in a Radical, Restless World. 2014. p.12 ↩