I am at my desk preparing to share our testimony with a group of Christian women, and I am wary of a very specific trap: ‘the exciting story’. My husband and I are on a journey of exploring God’s call to move from the UK to North Africa. And in vocalising that into a microphone in front of a group of (hopefully) attentive people, I can feel the insidious pull of conceit. The dangerous risk of pride. It taps into a culture that can persist within our communities and churches of glamourising certain callings, certain jobs, certain lifestyles. We espouse the value of all service – but we give some things a little extra shine.
Jesus’ Life of Obscurity
But I have also been reflecting that there is a particular truth that saves us from this tempting snare… Jesus’ life of obscurity. It can be too easy to make Jesus a bit weird, skipping from his birth to the start of his ministry at his thirty as if he spent the years in between in some kind of suspended animation. But the reality is that the majority of Jesus’ days on earth were spent undocumented, doing ordinary things in an unremarkable town.
The son, eternal, always in existence…. became flesh. Became Jesus. He had a common, human body. He slept. He ate. Jesus was part of a family. Mother. Father. Younger siblings. He lived as a refugee for a time. He was single, child-free. He apprenticed in the family business, worked with wood and tools.
Jesus lived a quiet life. For decades. He wasn’t just waiting to appear on the banks of the river Jordan at age 30. He was living. A full, earthly life, largely unrecorded. Given the omnipresence of our phones and social media these days, that last notion seems practically unthinkable. And yet that is what the son, eternal, glorious… did.
Meaning in life
And I have been reflecting on how Jesus living for decades in obscurity cuts through two potential lies, saves us from two traps:
- the over-inflating of our own life’s importance. The desire to make our mark for Jesus can slip into our conversations, our worship songs… an unconscious (or maybe even conscious) centring of ourselves in the narrative. But we don’t create meaning for Jesus. We find our meaning in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
- diminishing our life too much. To feel that our life is too fleeting, too small, too trivial, too quiet or too unseen to count. But because Jesus lived, our lives have meaning.
I am particularly provoked by this as my husband and I explore our call to move to another country. After years of being a possibility, it is now shifting to a probability. And hopefully, in a couple of years, a reality. To be honest, I feel that tug of the lie of ‘the exciting story’. But the reality of Jesus living in obscurity for decades cuts through all of that, and reminds me that we don’t make meaning for Jesus. Rather, because Jesus lived, my life has meaning.
And as we learn from others around us, and begin to turn dreams into something more solid, I feel sobered by the apparent opposite. What I seem to think of as ’the mundane reality’. I am becoming acutely aware that we are in the honeymoon days of fun visits to our promised land, of conversations without the really hard graft consequences. But that is imminently coming. And after we – God willing – land in the city we’re dreaming of, we expect but are probably not at all ready for the grind of daily life. The practicalities of just taking care of our human bodies, of managing to buy food, of jumping through the latest admin hoop. Of trying to love those around us, sometimes seeming to succeed, sometimes seeming to fail. But Jesus’ earth life speaks of the meaning that we can find in such daily living.
I am (slowly, imperfectly) learning that Jesus living saves me from the agony of trying to redeem my own life.
There is a quote I love by the writer, Annie Dillard:
“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour and that one is what we are doing.”
It can be too easy to think that we are just passing time, waiting for a big moment, or a change, or a milestone…something when life or we will be different. When we’ll be really doing what we’re meant to be doing. But the reality of Jesus’ lived life is that it means this hour, this day is what I am doing in worship. And no task is too small or routine or familiar to reflect God’s glory and worth.
It’s an unpopular truth in the culture I live in that most of us will live quiet, unremarked upon, out-of-the-headlines lives. The very ordinariness of our days struck me in September when Queen Elizabeth II died. This was a significant national moment. And yet I read the news announcement on my phone, then I went to the supermarket to buy milk. I naively thought that perhaps people would be stood on aisle corners discussing it. But it was no different to any other trip to the supermarket. A moment that dominated the UK’s media for weeks, and I still had to sort out dinner.
Meaning in eternity
There’s another quote I find myself thinking about, this one from neurologist and writer, Dr David Eagleman:
“There are three deaths. The first is when the body ceases to function. The second is when the body is consigned to the grave. The third is that moment, sometime in the future, when your name is spoken for the last time.”
He’s talking in very human terms – but it hammers home the reality that the vast majority of us won’t have names that persist amongst human generations for centuries. We will experience that third death. But it doesn’t mean that our lives are meaningless. Because in Jesus, they find their meaning.
And in him, there is another way in which our names can persist: in his book of life. So as I attempt to gather my thoughts on this very ordinary Monday, I am glimpsing a little of how Jesus’ life, so much of which was spent in obscurity, is an invitation for us to live humble – which means ‘of the earth’ – lives. Forever. With him.