Before school started this semester, I watched Lord of the Rings. Extended Edition, of course. If you have known me for any length of time, then I should hope you might understand my deep affinity for all things Lord of the Rings. It’s just a great movie series. That’s it. Nothing else really needs to be said. I mean, actually a whole lot more could be said, but for time’s sake, I’ll move on.
Near the end of the third movie, when Aragorn charges the Black Gates of Morder, followed closely by Merry and Pippin all the while Sam and Frodo have an epic struggle with Gollum to destroy the ring, my thoughts become flooded with grandiose ideas. I dream of what life would be like if I were Aragorn, or Sam. Wouldn’t life be amazing if only I could have a story like theirs? And this usually happens with other movies too, not just with Lord of the Rings. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is another great example, as is Saving Private Ryan or Harry Potter. I watch the hero in his greatest moment and long for that kind of life. When the credits roll, my mind wanders through all the possibilities of living like the characters in those great movies.
Have you ever dreamed of being extraordinary? Surely I’m not the only one… Have you ever taken the time and considered how you might actually go from point A to point B? As I mentioned, I often lie awake at night after watching such movies, and think about what it would take to be extraordinary. I figure out all the steps I need to take, such as buying a sword, finding a time machine, and growing some amazing locks of hair (striving to be Aragorn, if you couldn’t guess), and then I fall asleep with a vow to follow through on all my late night resolutions… but I wake up the next morning and I’m still the same person I was when I fell asleep.
I often fall prey to the idea that in order to be extraordinary, I have to do extraordinary things, and logic seems to agree with me. I mean, we see movies filled with valiant heroes who rescue the world from impending doom. Or we look at great men and women of history, scientists and presidents, scholars and philosophers who changed the way we see the world. Or maybe, we watch in awe as our favorite athlete pulls off an incredible comeback and scores at the last moment to win the game. The people of great stories are great for a reason. They do great and extraordinary things, and so we decide that we must do the same.
The only problem is that, for most of us, our life is not extraordinary, at least in the sense of the word that most of us take it to mean. I’ve noticed in my own experience that the moment I begin to seek and to yearn after the extraordinary, something happens. That something is actually nothing. As soon as I make my commitment and prepare myself mentally for the change that I hope to occur, nothing big occurs, because that’s just the way life works for most. And in that awkward space between my dream of a fuller life and its coming to fruition, my falling asleep with lofty ideas and my waking up bleary-eyed, I lose hope. I doubt that I can be anything other than just ordinary; however, there is hope! As Gandalf the Grey so eloquently stated in the Hobbit in response to why he invited Bilbo Baggins on the adventure:
“Saruman believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love. Why Bilbo Baggins? I don’t know. Perhaps because I am afraid, and he gives me courage.”
So where’s the hope?
Our hope lies in the very fact that we are not meant to be extraordinary; that is, we don’t have to do something radical to make an impact for the world. God prefers to use ordinary people over extraordinary people, so that his strength is made more manifest (refer to my post Carpe Diem for more on that). In that we find courage and hope to do, as Gandalf said, the “small everday deeds… small acts of kindness and love.”
So take heart! There is hope for an extraordinary life! I once heard it said that we are free to be a nobody, because Christ was a somebody. We don’t need to change the world in a radical way, because the truth is that Christ already changed the world, in the most radical, unthought of, and scandalous way possible! All we need to do is be present where we have been placed. Love those around you with a fierce and startling love that causes them to wonder! Care for those who can’t care for themselves! Don’t be afraid to tell people about the hope you have! In essence, “Wherever you are – be all there,” as Jim Elliot, that famous martyred missionary, once said.
You see, these are the small, everyday acts of kindness, love and courage that Gandalf talked about. There is no need to find a venture as big as the world and pursue it to make yourself extraordinary. Step by step, act by act, choosing to do the courageous and wise and kind and, oftentimes, the hard thing will eventually lead you to the extraordinary. But these new extraordinary things will not really be extraordinary to you. They are exactly as they appear, extra – ordinary; or in other words, simply a lot of ordinary things done that lead you to a place that causes others to wonder at your “extraordinary” deeds.
Ultimately, we seek and attain the extraordinary through Christ, knowing that the most extraordinary thing about our life on earth is that Christ sought us out, even in our rebellion, and became the way through which we may know God. You see in the end, it’s not about us being extraordinary. It’s about Christ and His extraordinary work on the cross!