This has been a weird month.
About a month ago, I had an ovarian cyst rupture. It caught me completely off guard—I was driving to the library when, suddenly, my whole lower abdomen was seized in indescribable pain. For almost three weeks afterward, I continued to just feel off, whether it was more painful spasms or discomfort from the free fluid in my abdomen. Around the time that resolved itself, I realized that all of my makeup was giving me various skin reactions. This did have a precedent, thus at age 23 I officially joined the scores of women in my family who have sensitive skin. And, finally, this past week I somehow managed to accidentally poison myself with too much magnesium. I thought I had developed some kind of stomach problem overnight, but instead I had failed to compare the contents of the vitamins I take and managed to overdose on a supplement. I’ve never had this rapid a succession of health problems—albeit relatively minor, in the grand scheme of things—and it’s all left me a little self-reflective, unsurprisingly.
It was Thursday. I hadn’t been able to enjoy my regular tea-and-toast for breakfast or mid-day snack all that week. I began to think that maybe the worst of my stomach problems were over, but really, I just couldn’t take it any longer: I was going to have my tea and my toast. My hypothesis was correct—I was fine—and I called my mom.
As I recounted my little experiment to my mother, I broke into tears out of nowhere. A little embarrassed, I explained, “I just really missed my tea. I’ve been so sad!” (Of course, the lack of caffeine was probably also not helping, but really, the warm goodness of tea itself was the main thing, I promise.)
Going through a makeup routine. Having tea and toast. Sitting upright, alert and pain-free. These are all things I do everyday and think nothing of. But they’re also all things that were, however briefly, snatched away from me in the past month. And when they were restored, I realized a little bit more clearly the preciousness of this blessing. These common little habits and abilities, though with varying degrees of essentialness, all gave music and meaning to my day. Their absence was grief; their return was treasure.
“Our Lord God has made His greatest gifts the commonest.”Martin Luther
Martin Luther once said “Our Lord God has made His greatest gifts the commonest.” I think about that quote a lot, especially now with how chaotic my life—and everybody’s lives—has been lately. I get so distracted thinking about all the “big” things I need to do: how I need to catch up on this book review, work on that chapter in my thesis, figure out the next big thing to do after I graduate, whatever. And though I’d rather have it another way, I’ve been repeatedly bonked on the head and reminded not to ignore the precious blessings right in front of me.
I think that our culture has rigged us to dream so big that we miss out on reality. I think our sinful nature tricks us into hating what is truly good, right, and beautiful in this world. We spend our daily lives chasing after things like prestige, the acceptance or respect of others, fame, money—all the while missing out on those precious moments of quiet, normal, peaceful, beautiful human life. I’ve spent a good portion of my young life in the pursuit of the uncommon—surely if I just do something big and important enough, I can fill that aching hole in my chest. I just have to find and do that big, important thing. But the things got bigger, more important—more stressful, more challenging to achieve, and always less and less fulfilling. Like a junkie, the highs of uniqueness started to wear off and the common became unbearable. But in chasing after mountop experiences, we miss the cool, sweet-smelling shade of the vale below. Those sweet things given to us to treasure—husband and wife, children, neighbors, house and home, community, church—become a nuisance, a distraction, a thing that prevents us from getting what we want.
And then life smacks you in the face and you realize that what you wanted wasn’t as good as what God had already put in front of you. That a quiet afternoon with tea and toast was better than anything you would have designed for yourself. That you’d cry with quiet, humbled joy when your silly little routine was restored.
I have been trying to take my days slower. That’s in part for my health—this month’s issues are likely brought on from several years of grinding myself down with work and anxiety, a method that, though productive in the short-term, was completely unsustainable in the long term. We’re meant to be gardens, not factories. But, I’ve also just found myself so much more joyful when I’ve slowed down and enjoyed the understated, slow beauty of common blessings. When I stop treating common things like distractions unworthy of my time and effort, but recognized that they were blessings—whether it was a breakfast of tea and toast, an interruption from my husband during homework time, a Saturday afternoon of housework, a walk from the apartment to the compost pile on a breezy fall dusk—I realized anew my smallness (and silliness) and our Heavenly Father’s goodness. I was driven, once more, to the commonest experience of all: to repentance, for looking so fixedly at myself that I stopped looking at the people and things that God had placed around me to bless me and be blessed by me.
I’ll end with this thought: I don’t think it’s a coincidence that, as Christians—especially as Lutheran Christians!—our faith is a collection of wildly common things. Bread and wine. Water. The spoken word. Music. Our redemption was accomplished by a human man being nailed to wood. God uses, loves, and redeems common things. Christ Jesus became common in the incarnation, taking on normal flesh-and-blood in order to save us. I think by taking time to be thankful for the common things in our lives, we can always remind ourselves that God loves common things—that God redeems common things, and so they are not to be scorned, but cherished.