“This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”
- Psalm 118:24
THE BIBLE TELLS US TO REJOICE IN EACH DAY, but that’s a teaching that many of us overlook. Sometimes it’s because we feel overwhelmed by our responsibilities - or because we simply take our blessings for granted. Or maybe we believe there is nothing special about our ordinary day-to-day lives. But that belief couldn’t be further from the truth!
So many aspects of our ordinary lives are actually extraordinary when viewed through the eyes of faith, wisdom, and gratitude. So how can we better open our eyes to these truths?
Take Time to Look at One Another
Thornton Wilder’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play Our Town has been a staple in American high schools for decades. It explores the human condition by looking at the hopes, dreams, and shortcomings of the citizens of the fictional small town of Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire. We also witness the love story between George Gibbs and Emily Webb, a young couple torn between the responsibilities that come with growing up—and wanting to hold on to the freedom of youth just a little bit longer. George and Emily get married, though their happiness is short-lived when Emily dies during childbirth. Wilder writes that “there’s something way down deep that’s eternal about every human being,” so Emily’s spirit asks to relive one happy day before she moves on. Her wish is granted, an she returns to the morning of her 12th birthday,
where she is astounded at how young her mother and father look—and by the simple beauty of her childhood home and routine.
Wilder highlights many small details about ordinary life here, imbuing them with a richness and depth we don’t usually notice while we’re living them. Emily comments, “I love you all, everything. I can’t look at everything hard enough.” But she also feels disheartened at how she- and everyone else - missed the extraordinary nature of an ordinary day. After witnessing the scene for a few more minutes, Emily exclaims, “I can’t go on. It goes so fast. We don’t have time to look at one another. I didn’t realize. So all that was going on and we never noticed…Oh, earth, you’re too wonderful for anybody to realize you.”
Do Emily’s observations resonate with you? Maybe you saw your family at breakfast this morning, but just rushed through your brief time together because you were already focused on the day ahead. Or perhaps you haven’t made time to see some old friends lately because you’ve been busy.
Or maybe it’s been a while since you saw your parents or grandparents. These things may sound routine, but they are the small, rich moments of which life is made.
Luke’s mother suffers from dementia, so before Christmas he decided to go through old pictures and put them into an album to help jog her memories. As he looked through boxes of photos, he was reminded of all the parties his parents used to host, the friends and family they invited, and the good times had by all. Everyone in the pictures, many of whom had already passed away, was smiling, hugging, clowning around, and laughing. There was so much happiness present in these photos, but Luke doesn’t think he fully recognized it at the time he was living through these experiences. Though he had begun this project for his mother, he himself was reminded to live each day in gratitude for the people and situations we often take for granted.
Be Grateful for Ordinary Miracles
Author Chris Lowney’s mother was seriously injured in a car accident and required physical
therapy in order to walk again. At the rehab facility, Lowney watched as a therapist encouraged his mom to push herself up from her wheelchair and grab the pair of parallel bars at her side. With intense effort, wrote Lowney on the website Aleteia, “She stood up out of the chair the way a few billion of us do every day. She stood unsteadily for a few seconds and looked around, taking in the world from a perspective she hadn’t enjoyed for more than two months. Then she slumped back down, exhausted.” His mother’s struggles prompted Lowney to reflect
on the ordinary miracles we experience every day: “We take so much for granted. So many of us can walk, button our own shirts, stand up unaided after sitting in chairs, read a newspaper, hear birds sing…Shouldn’t we feel profoundly grateful for these extraordinary blessings, even though they happen daily? Gratitude is core to most religious traditions and spiritual practices. Christians, for example, are exhorted to, ‘rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances’ (1 Thess. 5:16-18).”
“As I think of all I have and all I’ve been given,” concluded Lowney, “I’m certain of this much:
I haven’t been grateful enough. Chances are,neither have you. Don’t wait for extraordinary moments to remind you of the manifold, ordinary ways in which you are blessed. Be grateful now, tomorrow, every morning, and every evening.”
The Last Ordinary Hour
On February 22, 2013, Christopher Award-winningnauthor Kathy Izard (The Hundred Story Home) received the shock of her life when her husband Charlie was rushed into emergency heart surgery, just a few weeks after a cardiologist had given him a clean bill of health. During a Christopher Closeup interview about her memoir The Last Ordinary Hour, Kathy recalled, “[Charlie had] a rare disease… called Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection (SCAD), and it caused the artery in his heart to collapse for no reason…It actually can happen in any artery in your body. It can split and dissect at any time…Our life went from relatively ordinary to radical uncertainty on how we were going to live with this disease, with the fear that it could happen again at any moment.”
In addition to quickly realizing how special her ordinary life had always been, Kathy also questioned how God could let this happen to her family. After all, she was a Christian who worked to help the homeless and mentally ill in Charlotte, North Carolina. She thought she would be protected from this kind of heartache because she was a good person. Kathy observed, “I had come from a place of little faith. Then, working with the homeless…I thought I’d found my way home to a real belief in God. But I realized I believed in the Sunshine God, the God of the miracles that were showing up for the homeless. And really, I didn’t have a faith in the God that was going to be with me in the dark.”
One of the sources from which Kathy’s beliefs about God started evolving came through the
writings of Father Richard Rohr. He helped her realize that tragedies occur in every life. Kathy explained, “When we’re putting our lives back together, growing deeper in our faith, allowing
people to help us, and realizing we’re not alone—that we’re in this together, and we’re here with God and grace—that is a much deeper way of living. And it points to a lot more of the important things in life.”
Though there were ups and downs with Charlie’s health, Kathy progressed in her journey of faith and now realizes there is no such thing as an ordinary hour. She concluded, “[Charlie] miraculously survived in 2013…He’s been allowed to be here for the graduation of all four of our daughters, a wedding of another daughter…I say a prayer every night and morning: ‘Thank You for this day. Thank You he’s still here. Thanks for all the extra time we’ve been given.’”
In our fast-paced world, the key to seeing the extraordinary in the ordinary might be slowing down long enough to appreciate the people and gifts that God has put in our lives. Starting today, open your eyes and your heart, and learn to appreciate your extraordinary, ordinary days.
Lesson From a Two-Year-Old
“You’ll miss the best things if you keep your eyes shut!” That’s a line from the Dr. Seuss book Oh, The Places You’ll Go. It was also the quote on the front of two-year-old Rose McGrady’s favorite T-shirt. Her
mom, Catholic author and radio host Katie Prejean McGrady, reflected on those words in a column for Catholic News Service.
Katie wrote, “[They remind] me to keep my eyes open rather than turned down at a screen...to pay attention and to look for the wonder, especially in the quiet, mundane, ordinary moments that could
pass by entirely unnoticed.”
For Katie, watching the way Rose lives brings that message home. She said, “[Rose] runs through the house and yard with endless energy...She watches TV, reads books, eats meals, dances and plays games with a committed joy...Her eyes are wide open, and her desire to soak in life is unmatched. She has, in a very tangible way, an unalterable, unassailable, visible, obvious and even enviable spirit of hope because her eyes are open. She isn’t missing the best things, but soaking them all in.”