The day couldn’t have been more beautiful. The bright blue sky was radiant above my head, I had my favorite latte in hand, and I was spending a full day with my boys at the Zoo. It was their first day of summer vacation, and we were all looking forward to the slower rhythm that comes with our long summer days. The Zoo has always been one of my favorite places to visit with my kids. I love wandering around with my boys, sipping on my coffee, and enjoying a day free from work and chores. On this morning, I was almost glowing with contentment. I was, for a fleeting and precious moment, finding joy in a relatively ordinary day. The sound of my son’s laughter, the feel of a small hand reaching to grab mine, and the beauty of the sky are a few of my ordinary joys, and they are in no short supply. While my boys looked at the spider monkey exhibit, I picked up my phone to scroll Instagram, and in the briefest of moments, my joy was misplaced. I stumbled upon a picture of someone else’s first day of summer vacation, and suddenly, everything changed. The blue sky looked ordinary, and the sun felt hot instead of warm. My latte didn’t taste quite the same, and a free day with my boys didn’t seem so special after all. In the span of an instant, my joy had been stolen by comparison.
Recapturing My Wonder
Comparison is just one of many ways in which Satan attempts to steal my joy in my ordinary. So how do I get it back? The phrase recapture the wonder gives me a clue. The word recapture means to take back something that was stolen from me. It is an action that requires my attention and intention. The act of recapturing the wonder may look different for everyone, but one thing is constant: reclaiming my joy is first and foremost a choice that I make. In her book Earth Crammed with Heaven, Elizabeth Dreyer notes, “In a profound way our intentionality is a key ingredient determining whether we notice God everywhere, or only in church, or only in suffering or nowhere. It all depends on how we choose to fashion our world.” I get to choose the way in which I fashion my world, and when I choose to fashion my world around the beauty in my ordinary, everything changes. For me this intentionality means deciding every day to look for the Kingdom of God all around me–the Kingdom that is hidden in plain sight. In my own life, practicing this intention involves a few simple rhythms that help me reclaim joy in my most ordinary days. Prayer, gratitude, attention, and reflection are four simple yet meaningful practices that help me capture the beauty that surrounds me each day.
A Heart Postured in Prayer
Every meaningful endeavor in my life starts with prayer. Almost every morning of my life, I pray that God would open my eyes and my heart to the beauty that surrounds me. This prayer need not be fancy or extravagant. It simply needs to be an honest request. Father, open my eyes to the beauty that surrounds me. Help me find joy in my ordinary, I may pray silently to myself as I start my day. The act of saying these words aloud postures my mind and my heart toward what God wants to show me. Without this simple anchor it is easy for a million other things to consume my mind. When I surrender to God and ask Him to open my eyes, I orient myself toward Him and His kingdom in the world. When I find myself drifting during the day, I simply repeat these simple words again, and my heart is realigned. Prayer is a simple yet profound practice, that allows me to situate my heart toward the beauty and the joy that God intends for me to experience.
A Rhythm of Gratitude
One of the best ways that I have discovered to train my mind toward beauty is to keep a simple gratitude list. Keeping a gratitude list may feel a simple suggestion, but this seemingly small practice holds an immense amount of power. Keeping a list of the things that I am grateful for slowly rewires my brain to see the good all around me. In her article, “Take the Joy Dare” Ann Voskamp notes, “It’s habits that can imprison you and it’s habits that can free you. But when thanks to God becomes a habit — so joy in God becomes your life.” As my habit of gratitude began to form, I started to see the beauty in the most unexpected places. The daily drive to pick up my kids from school and washing a pile of dinner dishes become unexpected pictures of grace and glory. The pinks and oranges of the sunrise through my back window, the feel of a small hand reaching to take mine on a Target run, and a vase of flowers outside of my local coffee shop all become precious gifts. The practice of gratitude uncovers my eyes to the beauty that has surrounded me all along.
Attention as a Gateway to God
Beauty has an enemy, though, and it is distraction. In order for me to see the artistry in my everyday life, I have to pay careful attention to the world around me. In her book The Circle of the Season: Meeting God in the Church Year, K.C. Ireton says, “I’ve found…that the more closely I attend to the world around me…the more likely I am to receive a glimpse of the glory beyond this world. For in sharpening our physical senses to be more aware of this world, we are also quickening our spirits, opening them to the earthly beauty that surrounds us…” (113). When my mind is busy with other things it can feel like my ability to see and feel beauty is the first thing to go. Like many, I am guilty of spending too much time in a state of distraction. I am guilty of scrolling through Instagram, looking up a recipe for dinner, or checking my email instead of living in my present moment. These things seem innocent enough, but when they become my focus, I am no longer able to live in my present moment, and my present moment is where my ordinary joys are most likely to be found. God is gracious with me, though, and He is showing me little by little that when I when I lay down my distractions a whole new world opens before me. This world that has been here all along, if only I have the eyes to see it. If comparison is the thief of joy, then distraction is what makes our ordinary beauty invisible.
Finding Joy through Reflection
A final practice is that of reflection. Sometimes I’m only able to see the sacred in my ordinary when I take time to look back at the days that are making up my life. I’m learning that God’s presence doesn’t always come in the package I expect, and sometimes reflection is the only way that I’m able to see what He is up to. In her book Learning to Walk in the Dark, Barbara Taylor Brown says “While I am looking for something, large, bright, and unmistakable holy, God slips something small, dark, and apparently negligible in my pocket. How many other treasures have I walked right by because they did not meet my standards?” (131). The art of reflection gives us the unique opportunity to re-examine our days and see where God showed up—even if we may have missed Him in real time. Often as I jot down a few simple reflections throughout the day, I start to find evidence of God’s hand in my day even when I was too busy to see Him in the moment. A regular rhythm of reflection, whether daily, weekly, or monthly, is a simple and practical way to find God’s gift of ordinary joy.
A Slow and Beautiful Shift
As I began practice seeking beauty with intention through prayer, gratitude, attention, and reflection, I noticed that these new habits were beginning to change me. Tish Harrison Warren notes that, “We are shaped everyday whether we know it or not, by practices, rituals and liturgies that make us who we are” (29). My intentional and habitual practice of finding beauty in the ordinary was slowly but surely transforming me into a woman who sees beauty where I couldn’t see it before. Once I started to see God in one thing, I started to see His hand all around me. I realized that he has been here all along, and I am always surrounded by His Kingdom. The world would have me believe that The Kingdom of God is confined to heaven, but it is here with me even as I drive my kids to school and fold the laundry. When I started to believe and understand this, a new world opened before me, not unlike Lucy stumbling into Narnia from the back of on old closet. My appreciation of the smallest parts of my life became greater and more pronounced. Suddenly there was everything to be thankful for and my individual days become precious gifts. I moved out of the mundane and into the extraordinary, and this is exactly where God wants me to live. When I started to look with intention for the glory of God in my daily life, I began to realize that this life I’ve been searching for is already here. I already have what I need. When each new sunrise is a gift, I never feel true lack. I began to understand and believe that God hasn’t left me. He is here. He is here now. The evidence is all around me.
I had never noticed the flowers before, yet here they were in their bright, orange glory. My boys and I were at the Zoo, and I couldn’t help but think about how many times I have passed this exact same spot years ago pushing a stroller, and today with my sons a bit older. I told my boys to wait while I pulled up my camera app. As I took a few pictures I couldn’t help but feel a small sense of sadness. Why hadn’t I noticed these flowers even though I had passed this way countless times before. The answer was striking in its simplicity. I wasn’t looking for them, and now I was. An ordinary beauty that I will not miss again. Thanks be to God.