Last summer I spent a week in beautiful Southern California along the Pacific Coast Highway corridor between Laguna Beach and San Diego. This iconic highway boasts miles of impressive, breath-taking views of the vibrantly blue ocean back-dropped by mountainous landscapes and pristine beaches. Coupled with cloudless skies, the continuous glow of the sun and temperatures that wrapped around you like a warm blanket on a cold night, SoCal certainly is a majestic place – a wonderfully refreshing retreat from my normal. But it’s not my home. It’s not my normal. It’s not my constant. It was a momentary escape from the 100-degree humidity of Houston.
At the end of my time there I was largely conflicted. We’ve all been there – the dreaded last day of vacation – when the daunting reality of the return to, well, reality, begins to set in. I found myself wanting to see my daughters, sleep in my own bed and get back to my normal life, all without wanting to go home. I wanted the best of my normal coupled with the best of my vacation. We all do. Yet, while my time there was extraordinary, I knew it would only be momentary; it was never meant to satisfy me ultimately. It was time to go back home. Yet, I struggled to somehow not let my vacation breed discontent with where God has me, what He has called me to and who He has called me to. That one extraordinary week was not meant to cause me to question the other 51 weeks of the year but rather be refreshed and renewed to engage them with a new perspective and passion beyond which I had previously been living. This is the fleeting nature of the extraordinary experience - while it may be momentarily refreshing it is not ultimately satisfying. It cannot sustain us long-term. It must point us to something more.
Our culture idolizes extraordinary experiences. We look for the high, strive for the rush and pursue the romantic. We clamor for breath-taking breaks from reality that allow us to forget our world of responsibility and momentarily exist in the freedom of complete detachment. No bills to pay, no kids to bathe, no boss to please, no reports to file, no house to clean – and no email to reply to! NOTHING.
Life is a series of ordinary responsibilities momentarily interrupted by a set of extraordinary events. What makes life spectacular is not the transcendent experiences that are here one day and gone the next, but rather the ability to recognize and experience magnificence even in the mundane of the everyday.
Many of us worship the idol of the extraordinary experience, chasing a grass that is greener, an experience that is higher, a rush that is faster and a sense of purpose and meaning that is stronger and more compelling, while failing to see the beauty and magnificence and opportunity available to us in the normal constants of what our current reality offers. In a rebellion against the normalcy God has placed us in we detach into a pursuit of something that is ultimately unattainable and empty.
For some, faith has been minimized to a series of extraordinary events with God. The measure of true spirituality has become the quantity of extraordinary experiences we have with God rather than the quality of our faithfulness and commitment to Him in the ordinary. It’s the age-old “camp high” dilemma in which an extraordinary spiritual experience catalyzes dramatic expressions of faith but in the end is proven void of any real long-term sustainability. The assumed solution? Sign up for the next event so you can achieve another “camp high” experience. Thus begins the perpetual cycle of event-driven Christianity.
This form of spiritually exalts the exceptional and ignores the normal. It portrays the magnificent as something entirely separate from the mundane. It leaves little room for seeing and savoring God in the ordinary things of life because it is consumed with using Him to achieve the next big extraordinary experience. Often our hearts are discontent and disillusioned with where we are in life because we have been tricked and cheated into believing that where we are is not big enough, not extraordinary enough, not transcendent enough to really matter to God or have any lasting value in the Kingdom. This is a lie. An illusion of the Enemy.
Perhaps the greatest moments of our existence, and the most powerful encounters we have with God, are found not in the exceptions of the extraordinary but in the everyday ordinaries of the mundane. Perhaps we are regularly missing out on God because we are too busy looking for Him elsewhere and failing to see Him right where we are now, no matter what right now may look like. The truth is that when God redeemed our souls in salvation He also set in motion a life-long redeeming of our routine - that in all things now, big and small, we can see Him and know Him more.
What does this look like practically? Take moms, as an example - at times it will seem your moments of peace are but mere commas in a long, run-on sentence of tantrums, spills, leaks and tears. Yet God is not absent. He is not missing, but is magnificently involved in the mundane and the menial, turning the otherwise ordinary duty of mothering into an extraordinary occasion to see His favor and savor Him above all. God is extraordinary, not in spite of your chaos, but through it.
For men, the allure of the extreme is daily counterpunched by the staleness of the cubicle, the sales calls, the boardroom meetings and the bills that need to be paid. Yet God is not absent. He is not missing, but is cultivating occasions for the magnificence of who He is to be known by you and displayed through you in the mundaneness of your daily responsibilities. God is extraordinary, not in spite of the “rat race”, but through it.
And to the unmarried? Your singleness is not God's indictment on you, but His occasion for you to know and treasure the abundant and undivided affection He has towards you. God is not absent. He is not missing, but is magnificently present in the current reality of your yet-to-be-fulfilled love story. God is extraordinary, not in spite of your singleness, but through it.
Extraordinary experiences with God are an abundant expression of His grace towards us, and should be celebrated as such. God often uses them to stir our hearts affections and captivate His people to Himself in ways otherwise not possible. But the reality is they are not the normal constant of journeying with God. Underneath those experiences, and in between them, lies the more enduring realities of a life filled with normalities, responsibilities and often menial duties that are seemingly insignificant. Yet God is not absent, but very much present in them - bringing extraordinary purpose to our otherwise ordinary experiences - and turning our otherwise mundane realities into opportunities for His magnificence to be seen and savored in profound ways.