The Beauty of a Commonplace Life

May 13, 2008 |Nathan Zacharias

We don't have to make headlines to be a success in life.  

I lead a pretty normal life. Every morning, Monday through Friday, I get up and go to work, but only after an epic battle with the alarm clock. At work I quietly go about my business, making phone calls, sending e-mails and so on. At 4:30 I shut down my computer, get in the car and go home. My evenings are spent with family or friends, and by watching a little TV. Somewhere in the day I'll find time to visit Chick-Fil-A or Starbucks.

On the weekend I'll stay up a little later and sleep in a little longer. I'll attempt to do some writing, relax with friends and family some more, and I'll still visit Chick-Fil-A and Starbucks. I guess what I'm trying to say is this: I'm not exactly making global headlines. And that, at times, has been something I've struggled with.

It's not that I have this huge desire for fame and fortune. Well, the fortune part would be nice, but that's beside the point. I've always been someone who is a little more comfortable when I'm behind the scenes. I've also been someone who longs to be able to try and make a difference in this world. But I'm not speaking to packed auditoriums, I'm not a CEO, I'm not a star athlete, and I'm not putting my life on the line by defending my country in hostile settings. I've witnessed the way God can use those gifts and positions to help change the world. And there have been many times where I've struggled with feeling like my simple life is not accomplishing very much in the big picture.

In his essay, The Poppies in the Corn, F.W. Boreham finds inspiration in a poppy field he saw as a boy in Beachy Head, UK. As he recalls the field, he talks of the strikingly crimson poppies splashed upon the backdrop of the cornfields. In a beautiful and vivid way, Boreham beautifully describes the scarlet color of the poppies and the way they catch the eye of anyone passing by.

But then he draws a powerful lesson from this sight. Yes, the poppies are the ones that seem to make the biggest impact on those taking in the scenic view. But quickly the viewer realizes that the poppies' color is made radiant because of the golden color of the cornfields. Their strengths compliment each other. They are "equally lovely," in Boreham's words, and they both need each other. Alone, they both lose some of their radiance. Together, they cause people to simply stop and look.

The same holds true for the roles God gives each one of us. Some of us are the poppies that make the initial impact. Some of us are the golden cornfields that surround, support, and help the poppy stand out. Neither side belittles the other, but rather, they help the other shine.

It's a beautiful and powerful illustration from the English preacher. But sometimes, it can still be a difficult truth to believe. My grandfather was one such doubter.

My grandfather, Lindsay Reynolds, was a good man. To say that is probably one of the greatest understatements anyone could ever make. But it's difficult to find the words to adequately describe the man who is my hero.

Grandpa was small in stature, but big in courage and loyalty. He fought bravely in World War II in his early 20s, and when he returned, he worked hard and served at the same company until he retired. He was quiet with his words, because he let the twinkle in his eye and the strength of his character do the talking for him. He didn't make millions, but he had a heart of gold. He served my grandmother and their four daughters every way he knew how, and they meant more to him than anything else in the world. And before he passed away, he made sure my grandmother knew that when he spoke his last words: "I love you."

Perhaps the most surprising thing about my grandfather is that he had no clue just how wonderfully he led his life. In fact, in many ways he felt himself a failure. But nothing could be further from the truth. And as he battled cancer in the final months of his life, God used that time to help him see just how much he meant to so many people.

He received numerous letters and cards from those who wanted to let him know just how much his example, his friendship, and his life had meant to them. Some were from people he knew very well. Others were like the woman from the church he and my grandmother attended, who thanked him for helping her with her coat by the entrance one day as she prepared to go out into the cold.

We don't have to make headlines to be a success in life. It's not the news we make or the attention we get that determines whether or not we are making a difference in this world. It's the cause we serve. God has created each and every one of us, and he's given us very specific gifts that He will use to help further His kingdom. For some, it's the responsibility of success and using that to represent the Faith in the public eye. For others, it's the duty to support and encourage those on the front lines. As Boreham said, one is not greater than the other. It is a team effort.

And ultimately, each of us has the chance to make a difference every day. It's not in the awards we win; it's in the character we hold to in our day to day lives. My grandfather helped me see that professional achievements aren't what make the difference in the world. It's living a life that strives to honor the Lord, even when no one else is watching. When you help someone put their coat on, you may be helping them with a lot more than you realize.

A commonplace life, we say and we sigh,
But why should we sigh as we say?
The commonplace sun and the commonplace sky
Makes up the commonplace day.
The moon and the stars are commonplace things,
And the flower that blooms and the bird that sings;
But dark were the world and sad our lot,
If the flowers failed and the sun shone not.
And God who studies each separate soul
Out of the commonplace lives makes His beautiful whole.
— Anonymous

Copyright 2008 Nathan Zacharias. All rights reserved.

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