“We nurse within our hearts the hope that we are different, that we are special, that we are extraordinary. We long for the assurance that our birth was no accident, that a god had a hand in our coming to be, that we exist by divine fiat. We ache for a cure for the ultimate disease of mortality. Our madness comes when the pressure is too great and we fabricate a vital lie to cover up the fact that we are mediocre, accidental, mortal. We fail to see the glory of the Good News. The vital lie is unnecessary because all the things we truly long for have been freely given us.” (Alan Jones, Journey into Christ, Page 57)
All of us, I am sure, know what is meant by those words. On the one hand, we sense that we are extraordinary, creatures under divine providence, precious and significant, irrespective of our practical fortunes in life. We intuit that we are not mere evolutionary accidents, simple victims of fate, chance, luck, randomness, and accident, doomed to disappear forever. Deep down there is the feeling that we are God’s children, under God’s providence, loved and called to a birth, life, meaning, and significance that is unique and infinitely precious. We sense too that we are precious not on the basis of what we accomplish or achieve during our lives, but simply on the basis of being created and loved by God.
But this intuition, however deeply felt, normally wilts under the pressure of trying to live a life that is unique and special in a world in which billions of others are also trying to do the same thing. Can billions be infinitely precious and utterly unique? In the end, mediocrity, anonymity, and mortality overwhelm us. We begin to fear that we are not precious, nor under divine providence. There is, instead, the sense that we are merely mediocre hacks, trying to make the world believe that we are something different. One among billions of others, clawing and scratching for a little uniqueness, meaning and immortality! When we feel like this, we begin to believe that we are precious and unique only when we accomplish something which precisely sets us apart and ensures that we are remembered. For most of us, the task of adult life is that of guaranteeing our own preciousness, loveableness, meaning, immortality, and sanctity.
In the end, we do not believe that we have these, independent of our own accomplishments. Hence, we cannot, without bitter frustration, live ordinary lives of anonymity, hidden in Christ. We try, instead, to stand out, to leave a mark, to accomplish something extraordinary, and so ensure the fact that we will be recognized and remembered. Few things torment us and are as destructive of our peace and happiness as is this problem: We have set ourselves the impossible, frustrating, task of assuring for ourselves something which only God can give us. Because of this ordinary life does not seem enough for us, and we live as restless, competitive, driven persons, who are forced, precisely, to fabricate a lie to cover up the fact that we are mediocre. Why is ordinary life not enough for us? Why does it always seem that our lives are small-town, small-time, too insignificant, not exciting enough? Why do we habitually feel mediocre, dissatisfied, unhappy at being like everyone else?
Why the propensity to leave our mark? Why is there such a torment in the insufficiency of everything attainable? Why does our own situation so often feel oppressively domestic? Why, like Jonathan Livingston Seagull, do we want to fly above the rest, to leave the pack behind, and to somehow be more special than others? Why can we not embrace each other as sisters and brothers and, in humility and gratitude, rejoice in each other’s gifts and each other’s existence? Why the feeling that the other is a rival?
Why the need for masks, for pretense, for hype, for all kinds of lies that let us project certain images about ourselves? Because we are trying to give ourselves something that only God can give us, ultimate uniqueness, significance, and immortality.
Protestantism has always proclaimed that the central part of Christ’s message is the statement: “Faith alone saves.” We are justified by faith alone. They are right. That simple line reveals the final secret, namely, that God gives eternal life. Preciousness, meaning, significance and immortality are free gifts from God. If we could believe that we would become a whole lot more restful, peaceful, humble, less competitive, grateful, and happy. We would no longer hopelessly pursue the search for the holy grail. Ordinary life, in all its domesticity, shared with billions of others, would contain enough to ensure our preciousness, meaning, and significance.
As Thomas Merton once said: “It is enough to be, in an ordinary human mode, with one’s hunger and sleep, one’s cold and warmth, rising and going to bed. Putting on blankets and taking them off, making coffee and then drinking it. Defrosting the refrigerator, reading, meditating, working, praying. I live as my Fathers have lived on this earth, until eventually I die. Amen. There is no need to make an assertion of my life, especially so about it as mine, though doubtless it is not somebody else’s. I must learn to live so as to gradually forget program and artifice.” (John Howard Griffin, Follow the Ecstasy, Pages 37-38)
Ordinary life is enough. Preciousness and significance come from being loved by God, not from what we can achieve. In the end we are not mediocre, and there is no need to fabricate the vital lie.