In defense of a small, ordinary life
A couple of months ago, my twins celebrated their First Communion. It was a whirlwind day—actually, a whirlwind week leading up to it—and yet, when I finally fell in bed after it was all over, I felt deeply peaceful, light of heart and filled-to-overflowing with joy. I noticed it because I rarely feel that way. Most of life feels like relentless grind, endless chaos, laundry, paying bills, omg-when-was-the-last-time-all-you-kids-got-to-the-dentist?
But that night I felt a rare, priceless exhale of joy. Gratitude. It was worth it, I thought sleepily as I drifted to sleep. It's worth every bit of it.
When I pause to think about it, the discontent and frustration I experience in life is mostly my own doing. If I'm unhappy it's because I’ve always wanted more. If I feel that I've missed out, it's usually because I had unreasonable expectations. If I feel restless, it's because I'm always convinced that what I’m looking for is just around the corner, over the next fence, at the next gathering, with the right group of people, traveling around the world.
But it's not.
What I'm looking for is right here. Right very now.
I don’t need to understand everything in order to be happy. I don't have to travel to some exotic location to find God or myself or what I'm looking for. I don't always have to push the limits of what is possible or over-commit to ten bazillion projects to prove that I am worthy of love and good enough for approval.
I am learning the wisdom of a small, ordinary life.
I am learning to truly WAKE when I wake up in the morning. To listen for the birds, to feel the cool, deep quiet of morning. A few days ago I woke up early and went tip-toeing barefoot through my garden, plucking flowers. On a whim I set the flowers afloat in my pool and let my feet dangle in the water. I sank into a deep mediation, a kind of water-and-breath mediation. How simple, how silly? Yes, yes, all of it.
I’ve spent so much of my life rushing around trying to put everything in its place, getting everything in order, making backup plans in case the original plan doesn't work, always always trying to put stable ground under my feet. But all my efforts haven’t changed the nature of what IS. And what IS is that life changes. Nothing lasts forever. We are, as St. James says, “like a morning fog—here a little while and then gone.” (St. James 4:14).
Perhaps the core of our suffering is that we refuse to let things be NOT OK. I know that my own suffering is often caused by a relentless search for—what Tibetan Buddhist nun Pema Chodron calls—“constant okayness.”
But "Constant Okayness" is not possible, is it?
The gift of living a small, ordinary life is that I really have no choice but to just let things be.
I'm no longer trying to make things work that were not meant to work.
And I am finding that at the bottom of this "not okayness" is a breakthrough. It is what Fr. Jacques Philippe might call "radical nothingness" a state of being where we discover nothing less than “the inexpressible tenderness, the absolutely unconditional love of God.”
God is at the end of my plans not working out.
God is at the end of my broken dreams.
God is here right very now in this small, ordinary life.
And this is where I find my freedom.