Monday, July 21, 2014

In defense of normal

As I write about leadership I feel like that perhaps I should explain that I'm coming from a very pro normal perspective. In an age where it feels like we need to be extreme and sold out and special and amazing I really do believe in normal. I'm certainly not the only one who feels this way either, and it's possible that I'm writing more about how things worked when I was high school than what people are experiencing today. It's also possible that I'm mainly reacting to mega church dogma as filtered through literature and social media. Either way, I want to make plain that when I talk about leadership and the mundane realities and duties of life that I'm really talking about the normal life that most of us pretty normal people lead.

When I say that a woman's primary job is to love her husband and her kids I'm saying that normally this is how a woman experiences life and that, precisely because it is normal, it should be a woman's goal. Ditto for men. It's normal and good for men to get job training (college or vocational), find a wife, and settle down to raising a family and working for the man. Now, as various authors have pointed out, this mundane life actually does involve radical (read: continued and faithful) obedience in dealing with snotty bosses, snotty noses, and snotty t-shirts that never quite make it to the laundry basket. But even this obedience is pretty mundane and typical. Start a load of laundry. Wake up and go to work even though it's a beautiful day. Read that book to your kid for the tenth time today even though you'd really rather read your new novel. Refuse the temptation to snap at your child, spouse, or friend. There's not a lot of heroics involved. People don't call you to write interviews about the mom who hasn't said a cross word to her kids for three days. No one gets his name in the paper for getting to work on time and with a good attitude for six months. It's just stuff that people do because we're human beings with jobs and manners and social/familial obligations.

Leadership, though, sounds kind of glamorous and exciting. We get to be important and have influence and perhaps display extreme competence. I'd be lying if I said I didn't have tiny daydreams about being a rock awesome babywearing momma on tv or having an interview with someone where, with graceful wit and authority, I sparked a more general resolve to improve postpartum care in the US. My slightly grander daydreams involve me babywearing while I speak on a panel about mother care at a health professions conference :D I'm completely serious. When I'm folding laundry I sometimes run away in my head to a place where people respect my opinions and look up to me and don't know about the dust bunnies in my closet or the expired food in the back of my fridge. If human nature is as universal as they say it is I'm guessing that you've had those daydreams as well where you get to be spectacularly competent in front of an attentive if not adoring audience. The main problem I have with these daydreams isn't that they inspire us to do something but that they can distract us from what we actually need to do. Too many times when I'm caught up in some head trip that involves me being generally awesome I'm not particularly attuned to what Jacob and Allen need. I'm over there building air castles and folding laundry (or poking at facebook) while Jacob is pulling at my leg and fussing for my attention. The air castle is much less demanding and therefore often more attractive.

My second problem with these sorts of dreams and aspirations is that we can easily become a wee bit puffed up over our supposed abilities. When you see yourself as the natural leader of a church wide or national movement it can be hard coming down to planning next week's menu. Conversely you could plume yourself that such an important person does take time to plan menus and cook homemade meals. Instead of approaching our tasks humbly we start elevating ourselves in our minds and rejecting the normal life right in front of us.

I also want to point out that when I talk about normal life I'm talking about the middle of the bell curve. I'm not talking about the people who really are called to do strange and wonderful things. Instead I'm trying to reaffirm that most of us really aren't called to do those things and need to be content with the glorious mundane. I feel like that's a bit cliche, but that really does describe my life. I'll be trotting along through my week planning meals (or road trips!) and changing diapers and meeting with some mom's group and not feeling that life is anything to special and then find myself cooing over some funny gesture Jacob made or reveling in the absolute rightness of listening to Sunday's sermon with Allen. I don't really need a whole lot of bibble babble about managing people and gaining influence because my life is small enough to not really need much of that. The main thing I need to work on is remembering names and getting into conversation with people. It's a thing leaders do, but it's also a thing that gracious and mannered people do. At any rate, if you're living outside the normal, all I want to say is "more power to you." Be a dedicated missionary or doctor or teacher. Live a rambling and unusual life. I don't want to guilt people whose feet God has set on different paths. That's the catch though - until God indicates that you should be doing something unusual you should assume that your life is going to be normal and that this a good thing which in no way insults your talents or intelligence. You should plan on having babies and washing dishes and hanging out with your family on holidays and those sorts of normal things.

The point I'm trying to make is that normal isn't particularly special or exciting, but it's also not beneath our abilities or dignity. Whereas I feel special leader culture encourages us to overestimate our importance I believe that normal life humbles us while simultaneously giving us the skills we need to help those closest to us. Normal gives us a quiet place to practice the more unpretentious virtues like patience and diligence. Normal gives us a way to quite literally be faithful in the small things. It's the way we refine who we are and grow as humans. And, for some people, it's a staging area for moving on to bigger things. All I'm asking though is that you start with normal and that you start small. If it's tweet worthy question it. Do a gut check - "Am I doing this/dreaming about this because it really does fulfill and enrich my life (art classes, jogging, writing a blog, etc) or because it makes me feel all puffed up and righteous or competent?" Don't put yourself on a pedestal. Do put yourself in community with people you love and who love you and with whom you can live a normal life of service and fellowship, and just maybe God will take that and turn you into a leader. You don't start there though. That's all.


Well, perhaps not quite all. I want to really, really affirm that there are people who are given different directions in life. This is all well and good. There was a time when I thought God was giving me a different direction in life - namely infertility. I know that these "normal" expectations can feel painful and confining. I know that they can make you feel as though your purpose and goals in life must always be second rate. That's not God's Word though. I think we should seek God's will for us first in the obvious places - marriage, jobs, familial relationships, etc. I wish to make plain that by "seek God's will" I don't mean that you need to do an inordinate amount of soul searching and second guessing. Has God given you a job, a supportive family, and a girlfriend? Yes? Hurray - you might be having a typical Christian life! If the answer to one of those of those is no then start looking around for where else God might be leading you. Explore your passions and your opportunities. Don't ever assume that you should just wait for your life to start because it doesn't look like what your mom or uncle or grandmother or best friend thinks it should look like. Ideally we can all of us on our different paths help and support each other. The family with 2.5 kids should be inspired by the lessons God is teaching their older, single cousin, and their cousin should appreciate the fidelity his cousins display in raising their kids. I hope that they would both hold tight on their ends of the Gospel and see how each of them carries the will of God forward in the world.

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