Intentionally Ordinary

– by Andy Wade –

More with Less CookbookFor several years I’ve worked to simplify my life. Sometimes successfully, other times, not so much. The journey really began nearly 30 years ago when my wife, Susan, and I discovered the More With Less cookbook.  (Susan and I would also become part of a growing crowd of “cookbook converts”, people who first discovered the Mennonite Church through this wonderful book.)

In typical fashion, I picked up this book in a bookstore, browsed through its pages, bought it, then came home and announced, “From now on, we’re only cooking out of this cookbook!”

I was impressed not just by the great, simple recipes, but also by the theological insights sprinkled throughout the book. I had no idea that there was any spiritual connection to eating!

It was also around this time that I began to realize that faith in Jesus was much bigger than going to church and baptizing my lifestyle with some minor tweaks and some well-placed Christianese – that God desires every aspect of our lives to be transformed, fully integrating with the whole purposes of God – the healing and reconciling of all things to Christ. (Colossians 1:15-20)

So we began making changes, simplifying, and discovering new and amazing possibilities for living more fully into the purposes of God. But after awhile these new routines became so normal that I lost touch with the deeper spiritual purpose and implications of those actions. In many ways, I began to take the radical act of simplicity for granted.

Please don’t misunderstand me, we have in no way reached some nirvana of simple-living. We have a long way to grow! But the changes we have made became so natural that they lost their spiritual edge.

And herein lies the first lesson as I re-awaken to the “simple life”: it’s all about being intentional.

What were once intentional acts, had become habits. Habits are not bad, but to be intentional is to be fully aware and involved in the actions we take. Why is this important? If our goal is just to live more lightly on the earth, or to reduce our carbon footprint, intentional acts turned into habits are just fine. But when we introduce the element of faithfulness, habits without intentionality lose their deeper, transformational nature.

As I cultivate awareness of my actions, not only do I positively affect the world around me, but those very conscious actions further reinforce and deepen my relationship with God, with others, and with all of God’s creation.

Drying LaundryTake, for example, the simple act of line-drying your laundry. I began drying laundry outside for several reasons:

Those reasons alone are enough to make one consider avoiding the dryer. When I began, I had to be deliberate. My habit was to take the load out of the washer, dump it in the dryer, and turn it on. I had to break that habit.

Because hanging the laundry takes more time, I had to not only remember to do it, I had to remind myself why I was doing it. As I hung up the laundry I thought about the energy savings, the carbon savings, and I meditated on God’s purpose to redeem all creation and the part I’m blessed to participate in by being a good steward of what God has given.

What I Discovered

Week after week, as I hung the laundry outside, and later took it down, I discovered that this simple action was not only good for God’s creation, it was good for me.

  • it caused me to slow down and reflect on all that God has blessed me with
  • it caused me to remember that I am also part of God’s creation, that the wind of God that blows my laundry dry is the very wind of God that breathes life into me.
  • it caused me to see, once again, that every moment, even the very ordinary ones, can be transformed into holy actions, infused with worship, meditation, renewal, and a deepening comprehension of God.

But after awhile I stopped reflecting. Drying the laundry outside became a habit without consciousness. Sure, I was still living more lightly on the earth. I was still making a difference. But the difference I was making was no longer making a difference in me.

In our busy and chaotic world it’s easy to become overwhelmed. Not only do daily spiritual practices often suffer, finding God in the ordinary becomes nearly impossible. In my next several posts I will be exploring the spiritual practice of intentional, ordinary actions.

I also invite you to join with me in this ordinary exploration and share your stories. It would be great to have your stories as “guest posts”:

  • What ordinary actions have become spiritual practices for you?
  • What have you learned?
  • How do these simple actions draw you closer to God? To others? To God’s creation?

Email your stories to me (800 words or less and, if possible, include a photo) Or leave your shorter comments below.

Read the second in this series HERE

* Your clothes dryer is one of the biggest contributors to global warming in your house, just after your refrigerator. The average family of four does 4 to 6 loads of laundry each week. For an electric dryer, that accounts for about 100 kWh of electricity used each month at a cost of $100 to $180 each year. All told, 88 million clothes dryers in the United States account for up to 6% of domestic electricity usage.”