Sometimes we can grow frustrated with life, wishing we were somewhere else but feeling stuck in the same unglamorous grind of everyday life. Like plot points in a movie, we wish every moment could be jam-packed with excitement, that we could fast-forward and skip over the mundane, ordinary details of day-to-day living — things that seem so insignificant.
I discovered I had a strange fear of the mundane. I wanted everything in my life to be meaningful, to know that every task I did contributed to the betterment of the world or to myself in some way. I felt frustrated or drained if I couldn’t see the immediate value in the tasks on my plate, things that seemed to be stripped of anything ‘profound’ altogether.
But I was wrong. Sometimes the path to holiness is the one that seems to be mundane, the one that looks awfully drenched in ordinariness. As many saints can attest, significance can be found in the seemingly insignificant.
- “Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies.” – Mother Teresa
- “Not all of us can do great things. Only small things with great love.” – Mother Teresa
- “Do your ordinary duties extraordinarily well.” – Saint Don Bosco
- “Our Lord needs from us neither great deeds nor profound thoughts. Neither intelligence nor talents. He cherishes simplicity.” – Saint Therese of Lisieux
I will never forget what a priest once told me. It was something like this: “Stop thinking of your vocation as something that’ll just unfold in the future. Your vocation starts now. If you are student, a daughter, a friend, then your vocation right now is exactly that: to be a student, a daughter, a friend — and do so excellently. The key to the future is the present. Live well in the present. Be faithful in small things, do your ordinary duties extraordinarily well — that is the pathway to holiness.”
As Saint Therese of Lixieux once said, “If I did not simply live from one moment to another, it would be impossible for me to be patient. But I only look at the present, I forget the past, and I take good care not to forestall the future.”
Think about it: Mother Teresa’s life looks epic in hindsight, but it consisted of ‘unpleasant’ day-to-day activities like cleaning toilet bowls or puss-filled sores of the sick. Saint Don Bosco spent many days simply playing games with children to lead them to holiness. Saint John Paul the Great earned several doctorate degrees, which also meant years of rigorous reading, studying, writing papers, etc. (those of us preparing for midterms/finals right now can totally relate! LOL).
The point is that these saints (or soon-to-be saints) were not immune to the unattractive, day-to-day grind of everyday life. In fact, they were fully immersed in it. But they were immersed in it for the sake of loving God.
As it says in the book called Imitation of Mary:
- “The greatest of perfections is to love one’s own state and to carry out its obligations, however ordinary they may be.”
- “God wants of us a continuous series of little actions, but you want to do some great ones. The only result, if you follow your own way, is that you will do neither the small nor the great well.”
- “Manual work and even occupations that are burdensome and irksome cannot distract a spiritual and interior man from union with God … You can taste [God’s] sweetness in any occupation.”
- “You can become a great saint simply by doing ordinary things, but doing them in no ordinary way.”
It’s easy to wonder what our part-time jobs or boring electives have to do with our vocations, but really, they have everything to do with them. The exams that need to be written, the dishes that need to be washed, the difficult customers that need to be dealt with — all of these mundane details of life can be powerful prayers offered to God.
It’s just a matter of remembering Him from day to day, and acknowledging Him … even in these little things.