Be an Ordinary Person
The next of our reflections on Father Thomas Hopko’s 55 Maxims for Christian Living is a surprising one. We often think that the things we do must be as extraordinary as possible. I hear more and more about people living in a state of competition, not on an athletic field or a business venture, but what can be considered the cruel arena of social media. Too many of us feel the need to keep up with those around us, either in relationships, travel, even what we had for dinner. I don’t think it’s intentional, but perhaps we’ve all been swept up in one way or another into the pursuit of the extraordinary. Then comes Maxim #18, which advocates that we “Be an ordinary person, one of the human race”. Shouldn’t being ordinary be on a list of “minims” not “maxims,”? What could be so important, or even Christian, about that?
I originally didn’t plan on writing this week. I scoured the internet looking for an article on just being ordinary. Perhaps if I’d continued looking into the 10,000 results Google provided, I would have eventually found one. But after looking for half an hour, all I found were more and more articles on how to go from being ordinary to extraordinary, not the reverse. There are lots of reasons why I believe this is the case, and those reasons certainly would include pride, ego, and a host of other motivations for us to find greatness. But none of those include what I think is the most impactful reason.
Ordinary. We hear the word and the very sound of it evokes an impression of that which is not only common, but also small, unnoticed, unimportant. We think of ordinary as:
Unworthy of attention.
And if this is the case, is it any wonder that we would flee such a mundane existence? Yet flee we do. But in that fleeing, we don’t escape the insignificant, we miss the most significant; we lose not our smallness but our true greatness. That’s because our true greatness does not lie in some imaginary greatness that lives in our mind—in some form of greatness that we imagine should be ours. Rather, it is in the miracles that God has wrought in each one of us. It is in the miracle that God has wrought AS each of us. Every single one of us is a work of the Master, each one a true “masterpiece” in the correct understanding of the word. Each one, a wonder by the Great Wonder-worker. Everyone—at one and the same time—is both one of the billions of humans that have lived and still distinctly unique.
But let’s face it: that’s what scares us. As much as we appear to be striving for uniqueness and greatness, we crave to blend in—to fit in. If that were not true, explain the concept of fashion? Fashion is literally about dressing in a way that other people say is good. I’ve watched the suits in my closet go in and out of fashion for years–wide and short lapels to long and thin…then back again! Mark my words, even my double-breasted jacket will be considered the height of fashion again someday! Anyone else notices that fanny packs are back? Fanny packs?!
No, our greatness does not lie in conforming to some societal standard, that’s much more fluid than any of us like to believe. Our greatness remains where it began: recognizing the greatness we are as unique creations of the Most High God. It is in being ordinary that we discover both our true uniqueness and the joy of our true commonality with the rest of the human race.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to do great things; we should all seek to achieve the full potential that God has placed within each one of us. But our greatest accomplishments will not be extraordinary feats that set us apart, but the extraordinary and courageous choice to be ourselves, to be just who God created us to be. To be ordinary.