the fear of being ordinary

For the past eighteen months or so, I have felt like the life I wanted was on the other side of a door, located across the Waiting room I was sitting in. I’ve had a revolving list of things that needed to happen before I could walk through the door, back into my life and feel like my happy self. My friends and family mostly knew that I was not content, but what they didn’t know was what to say or do to help. If they did have anything to say, it was usually one of a few Baptist favorites: “This is just a season”, or “God won’t give you more than you can handle”, or my favorite, “This too shall pass”. My husband was present for too-many-to-count heartfelt breakdowns where, by the end of each one, I was holding a soggy Kleenex and promising to try to start slowing down and finding ways to enjoy my life. I couldn’t tell anyone why I wasn’t happy or what would fix it, I just knew that I didn’t feel like myself. And no matter what hobby I tried, or what book I read, or how many times I committed to reading my Bible every morning, I would look up and find that I was still in the Waiting room, staring at the door.

Waiting to make one more friend, so that I could feel a sense of belonging in our town that still felt temporary. Waiting to find a new job that would be less stressful. Waiting to take a trip so I could feel adventure. Waiting for my kids to get older so they could be more independent and stop asking for things 1,000 times a day. Waiting for my house to be clean enough or cute enough to have people over. Just… waiting.

And then, yesterday, something found me while I was browsing Pinterest. I wish I could say I was deep in a quiet time talking to God himself, but that’s not always how it works. 

So, I was on Pinterest looking at interior decorating tips when I came across a pin about “hygge”. I’m not going to go into hygge, but if you don’t know what it is, then it’s worth Googling. Apparently, part of the hygge manifesto is gratitude. Not just “give thanks” gratitude, but “take it all in, this is as good as it might ever get” gratitude. 

That hit me like a Sam’s-sized jar of Nutella, dropped on my head.

You see, it had not actually ever occurred to me that the days I spend wishing away, waiting for a better tomorrow, might actually be the very best days I have on this Earth. We hear people says things about not taking life for granted and enjoying the little things, but it’s usually in the context of something terrible happening. Someone will say “Be grateful. You could wake up tomorrow and it could all be gone”. The problem is, we know that probably is not going to happen, so it does very little to put things into perspective. When I was in this slump, I knew my life wasn’t terrible – I just kept thinking it could and would be better after I got “x”. I know I’m not alone here. After all, wasn’t that man’s original sin? Eve had everything she could want and need, but as soon as the serpent held up the bright, juicy piece of fruit and told her she could be godlike with a bite, she was fangs deep in that apple. Adam too. It’s just so easy to fall for. Then, and now.

For one, we live in a constant state of comparison, thanks to social media. Just when we feel like our life is a tad boring and ordinary, Instagram is there to remind us that the 5′ 10″ blonde blogger we started following last week is currently in Santorini enjoying Mediterranean food and getting a tan. If you’re level headed enough to remind yourself that it’s not your full-time job to strike poses on the beach, you’ll still be reminded of your short-comings among your fellow common man. It’s unwritten that we’re all only sharing things we actually want the world to see, which means we’re all displaying the like-worthy highlight reel, not the real reel. I’m guilty of it, too. Still, it’s easy to forget when *every* picture, even from your closest friends, is of them enjoying an artistic latte, or a girls’ trip to a vineyard, or their perfectly clean kitchen in the middle of a Tuesday morning when you left three half-empty bowls of cereal on your counter before you ran out the door with your messy-haired kids, late to work for the second day this week. Yeah, the pictures posted by our friends can be pretty unnerving, and even crushing, if we aren’t careful about the comparison game.

Second, remember the blonde blogger in Santorini? She’s also in a $200 bathing suit that makes the one I ordered from Old Navy last week look like one of my Mom’s homemade gymnastics leotards (sorry, Mom). So, not only are we constantly reminded that we live unremarkable lives, but we’re being sold something in our weak moments of feeling less than. I realize this is a very cynical view, but as someone who has used retail therapy as a remedy for the uncomfortable feeling of being aware of my own ordinary-ness, and as someone who also ended up with hundreds of dollars of secret credit card debt at the end of one particular bender, I can attest to the drain of spending money to feel better about life. It’s an empty suck that leads to more empty sucking. I know this. I even tried bucking this with my own lean wardrobe and co-opted minimalism, but that wasn’t really as much about understanding that material things don’t make us happy as it was about spending hours looking at different white shirts, stressing that I might pick something I ended up hating or that didn’t last at least two years – all of course for the sake of living a simpler life.

So, just like you, I get that comparing myself to others is useless and that “more” is not the answer, either. Yet there I was, still waiting for that something. What exactly was the something that I thought might pull me out of the Waiting room? That’s just it. I didn’t know, but I spent plenty of time chasing somethings that showed promise. Work, a healthy lifestyle, learning Spanish (don’t laugh, I am muy serious – I also didn’t make it very far on that one); I’d been dabbling in all of them, figuring eventually I’d find that thing – that thing that made me/my life less boring. Then I wouldn’t have to face my greatest fear: the fear of being ordinary. To live an ordinary life, doing ordinary work that won’t change the world, taking regular family trips, living in an average looking home – this was my fear.

Then I read that silly little hygge pin. “Take it in. This might be as good as it gets.” Wow. To get right to the point, I don’t want to be laying on my deathbed with my boys by my side, talking to them about my life and saying, “I was always waiting for something better to happen… I missed the whole damn thing.” In a sense, that is how I feel about the last year and a half. I’ve spent so much time waiting for the extraordinary moments and new opportunities, that I’ve missed so many of the wonderfully ordinary ones. Don’t get me wrong, I am probably as ambitious as they come. I don’t think there is anything wrong with dreaming and hard work. But, when our ambition becomes horse blinders that keep us from seeing the bounty of blessing around us, we might have a problem.

So I had to ask myself yesterday, “If this is it, if this is all your life amounts to – living in this town, with your husband and your two boys, driving to work every day, having modest means – if this is as good as it gets, are you going to be okay?” I knew my answer immediately. It was yes. It I was actually absolutely yes. I’ve got a healthy family, enough to live comfortably, and people who love me. If this is as good as it gets, I will be fine. And if it is as good as it gets, and I spend my whole life waiting for it to be something else, I will have wasted it all. And if there are terrible hardships in my future, if there is illness and death and heartbreak and loss, then I will be able to look back and know the peace of not having squandered those beautiful, precious, ordinary days when all was well. However, if God has something better in store for me, and I live every day taking it all in with gratitude, then I will have lived a very full life. The way I see it, there is only one obvious choice.

I heard recently that perspective is the only thing that changes an outcome without altering a single fact. The glass isn’t half full, or half empty, it just is what it is, and what we make of that is up to us. “It is what it is”. I used to hate that saying because, quite honestly, it seemed to be lacking intellectualism – but I think I actually get it now. Yes, we have control of our lives to a certain extent. We make choices about who we marry, what town we will live in, and where we will work. But there are also some things we won’t be able to change, and if we let those things affect our happiness then we’re going to miss out on most of what life has to offer, whether extraordinary or not.

So I have decided to take it all in today. This is it. It’s my life. I get to either live it, in all of its ordinary and imperfect glory, or wish later on that I did. I’m leaving the Waiting room. I’m going to take it all in, the good and bad. I hope you’re doing the same.

xo,

Katie

edited: July 17, 2017 9:03 am CDT

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One comment

  1. Mariah Stowe · July 17

    I know we don’t talk much, but this is very inspiring to me. And is definitely something I needed to read, with where I am in my life right now. Thank you for writing this!

    Like

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