Finding Holiness in the Ordinary

For my sixteenth birthday, one of my best friends at the time, Colleen, gifted me a  little pink notebook with rainbow polka dots on the cover. She wrote on the inside of the hardback a note about filling the book with poetry and words that matter to me, and that’s just what I did. A couple of years after receiving the journal, I had filled it with quotations and poems that had caught my attention, and to this day, I love to flip through the collection (as well as its “sequels,” as I’ve kept up the practice of recording inspiration of this variety and have amassed multiple journals at this point).

One quotation that I often find myself returning to is a line from the American author Annie Dillard’s nonfiction narrative book Pilgrim at Tinker Creek: “How we spend our days is how we spend our lives.”

I can’t remember how these words resonated with me back when I originally wrote them down in my late teenage years, but it’s easy for me to pinpoint why they continue to matter to me as a thirty-something mom of young children, therapist with a 9-5 office job, and home-owner in the town in which I grew up.

In many ways, my life could appear to the outsider as mundane, tedious even. I wake up each morning when my kids patter into my room or shout from their beds, hopefully no earlier than the six o’clock hour. I change diapers, read story books, butter toast, French braid pigtails, referee squabbles, and wash dishes until it’s time for me to prepare myself for and head into work. I spend my day sitting in a ten by ten windowless office helping individuals and families navigate their emotional, relational and mental health struggles, one 45-minute session after another. When I head home, I return to the diaper changing, dish washing, boo-boo kissing, and book reading, plus the ordeal that is toddler bedtime, until my five-year-old, three-year-old and one-year-old are peacefully snoring. I take about an hour or two to connect with my husband and do something relaxing — my go-to choices at the moment are going for a walk, calling a friend, reading, or taking a bath — and then I hit the bed so that I’m energized to begin the cycle over again the next morning. On Wednesdays and weekends when I’m home with my kids, the entire day looks much like my morning and evening on work days, though we usually go to a park or see my parents or do something else outside of the house.

While I can see how this is not an existence that would be desirable to everyone, I can honestly say that I love my life. I feel enormously blessed to have met a good man to marry, been able to conceive and carry children, found meaningful and interesting work, and ended up living just minutes away from my parents. I wouldn’t want any of this any other way.

And yet…

Sometimes the days do get boring. Sometimes I do long for a little more excitement than life at this stage naturally presents. Sometimes I do feel like I have to drag myself out of bed in the morning and the thought “this again?” crosses my mind.

That’s when I remind myself of Annie Dillard’s words, and it’s also when I turn to the wisdom of the liturgical season Ordinary Time. Dillard tells us that “how we spend our days is how we spend our lives,” which reminds me to seek beauty, extend kindness, practice gratitude and share love with intention and attention every single day. And Ordinary Time reminds us that we don’t need constant infusions of the big and the grand — the great solemnities of the Nativity of the Lord and the Resurrection of the Lord are just one day each, after all — to learn and grow. Indeed, Ordinary Time, according to the United States Council of Catholic Bishops, “is a time for growth and maturation,” a “time of conversion,” a time for “living the life of Christ.”

We can fill our ordinary days with the extraordinary.

We can kiss our baby’s soft and delicious tummy every time we change a diaper.

We can light a candle so the house smells good, even if we’re the only person home.

We can notice how truly satisfying that first sip of cold water is after a walk outside on a hot day.

We can wear our favorite jewelry, no special occasion required.

We can notice the iridescent afternoon light streaming through our west-facing windows.

We can write a note of gratitude to someone who extended an act of kindness in passing.

We can fold laundry fresh from the dryer, because isn’t it just so much more pleasant when the clothes and sheets are warm and fragrant?

We can utter a prayer of praise, or recite a decade of the rosary, instead of mindlessly scrolling on our phones when we have a spare five minutes.

We can make our kids laugh with a silly voice or made up song about putting jammies on, and lock those giggles away in the tabernacle of our heart.

We can put on the beautiful apron when we’re making a regular old Tuesday supper.

We can look deeply into the eyes of our nearest and dearest and tell them that we love them.

When we are able to see the small delights, the moments of connection, the glimmers of light, the deep breaths of fresh air for what they truly are — remarkable, extraordinary — our ordinary days become days making up a life that (I hope and think) I’ll look back on, at the end of my earthly days, and be able to say, “that was a good life.”

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