In her recent piece for The Well Blog, Tish Harrison Warren writes about her transition from the radical Christianity of her youth to the less exciting, dish-washing, diaper-changing monotony of life as a settled-down mom. Warren grew up in a fairly wealthy Texas community (and all that that entails). She was “the girl wearing WWJD bracelets and praying with her friends before theater rehearsal.” After college, Warren writes that she “[hung] out with homeless teenagers” and attended, barefoot, a church that was actually called “Scum of the Earth.” Warren confesses that now, some ten years later, she still finds “mediocrity dull” and she still “fret[s] about settling,” but she has come to realize that quotidian monotony often requires a more revolutionary heart than the excitement of a more outwardly radical lifestyle.
Now, I’m a thirty-something with two kids living a more or less ordinary life. And what I’m slowly realizing is that, for me, being in the house all day with a baby and a two-year-old is a lot more scary and a lot harder than being in a war-torn African village. What I need courage for is the ordinary, the daily every-dayness of life. Caring for a homeless kid is a lot more thrilling to me than listening well to the people in my home. Giving away clothes and seeking out edgy Christian communities requires less of me than being kind to my husband on an average Wednesday morning or calling my mother back when I don’t feel like it.
We had gone to a top college where people achieved big things. They wrote books and started non-profits. We were told again and again that we’d be world-changers. We were part of a young, Christian movement that encouraged us to live bold, meaningful lives of discipleship, which baptized this world-changing impetus as the way to really follow after Jesus. We were challenged to impact and serve the world in radical ways, but we never learned how to be an average person living an average life in a beautiful way.
But I’ve come to the point where I’m not sure anymore just what God counts as radical. And I suspect that for me, getting up and doing the dishes when I’m short on sleep and patience
is far more costly and necessitates more of a revolution in my heart than some of the more outwardly risky ways I’ve lived in the past. And so this is what I need now: the courage to face an ordinary day — an afternoon with a colicky baby where I’m probably going to snap at my two-year old and get annoyed with my noisy neighbor — without despair, 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.
But I’m starting to learn that, whether in Mongolia or Tennessee, the kind of “giving my life away” that counts starts with how I get up on a gray Tuesday morning. It never sells books. It won’t be remembered. But it’s what makes a life. And who knows? Maybe, at the end of days, a hurried prayer for an enemy, a passing kindness to a neighbor, or budget planning on a boring Thursday will be the revolution stories of God making all things new.