At Work & Theology 101

Seizing Both the Extraordinary and the Mundane in Our Callings

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Carpe, carpe diem, seize the day boys, make your lives extraordinary.

This is one of my favorite moments from Dead Poets Society, a favorite movie of mine. Robin Williams’s character, John Keating, uses the art of poetry to call a classroom of privileged, sheltered boys out of the rigid paths on which they have been set, and into the exciting and unconventional adventure that is living passionately.

We each need to strive towards this attitude of mindfulness, but it often takes an outside impetus to break us of our complacency.

As we reflect on the tragic losses of Williams and Lauren Bacall earlier this week, let us allow these extraordinary lives speak to the urgency of living up to our full potential – which, counterintuitively, sometimes means embracing the mundane.

Embracing the Mundane

Some days are just gray. We find ourselves doing tasks that, compared to our ideal job or our perception of others’ jobs, are simply mundane.

On days like this, projects come together more slowly, papers take longer to write, and meetings last for an eternity. It is difficult to remember why we set out to complete these things. Motivation is elusive.

Elise Amyx quoted this bit of wisdom from Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost for His Highest last week:

Many of us are no good for the everyday world when we are not on the mountaintop. Yet we must bring our everyday life up to the standard revealed to us on the mountaintop when we were there. […] We must learn to live in the ordinary “gray” day according to what we saw on the mountain.

If we choose to cultivate faithfulness in the small tasks, these slower days need not be so gray. Here are a couple things to keep in mind when staving off complacency:

  • All work God calls us to is valuable. In an opportunity society, we need mechanics and hairdressers as well as CEOs and physicists. As each of us specialize in the work we do best, we improve not only ourselves but those purchasing and benefiting from our creations.

Mr. Williams’s and Ms. Bacall’s work as actors provided entertainment and created a product made all the more valuable by the fact that we lack the talent to make the films ourselves. This can and does happen for Christians within the arts, whether it is discovering yourself through poetry or being moved by a powerful film.

As Christians, true flourishing comes with an outward focus. As we encourage others to improve in their work and demonstrate excellence in our own, we will experience greater flourishing. If we are focused inward, we will miss the opportunities in front of us, the chances to learn from others, the chances to innovate.

  • All work reflects God’s glory. Shortly after John Keating encourages his students to seize the day, he engages them in a discussion of the true value of poetry. We write and read poetry because we are passionate creatures. We go about our work because we are designed to create in the image of the One who created us. As Abraham Kuyper puts it in Wisdom and Wonder:

The motive of art comes to us not from what exists, but from the notion that there is something higher, something nobler, something richer, and that which exists corresponds only partially to all of this.

As they wrestled with the ideas and beauty presented to them, the boys in Dead Poets Society began to identify their passions and talents. They began to come into their own through this process.

The Immediacy of the Extraordinary

When John Keating told his students to seize the day, he didn’t tell them to theoretically seize the day or to seize the day tomorrow. He told them to start where they were at that moment. He called them to look around and see the opportunities that already exist. We should do the same.

The losses of Williams and Bacall remind us of the fragile and fleeting nature of life. We cannot wait for the “right” day to begin. We cannot put off God’s call to embrace the opportunities he has placed before us today.

Join me in honoring our calling by embracing the extraordinary and the mundane in each day.

In what ways have you learned to embrace the extraordinary and the mundane in each day? Leave your comments here

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  • Ellen

    Years ago, when I was a stay-at-home mom of very young children, I heard someone suggest that drinking my coffee out of a beautiful teacup and eating my lunch off a china plate (instead of standing up at the counter!) might help me to pause and appreciate my day a bit more. And it did! Bringing a touch of color and beauty into the everydayness of our routines lifts our spirits and helps us to look up and out, instead of down and in. Recently, during a long spell of cold gray winter days, I took a beautiful creamer and sugar set to work. One woman was especially brightened by that gesture. And her appreciation lifted my spirits. . . . Bird watching is another way that I can zero in on the beauty that is all around us. Birds are amazing and I am always thankful when I take a few moments to quietly watch them. When I practice AWE, I see God in the creativity of our world and I am so thankful!

    • Jo Chen

      I agree fully!

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