Welcome to the first issue of A Quiet Life! If you were forwarded this letter by a friend and you enjoy it, maybe consider signing up so it will come to your inbox next month?
Why did I start this second newsletter? Because I needed a space to work out and share my thoughts and lessons I’m learning about faith, slowing down and simplifying, stewardship, and ordering my priorities to put God and people first. None of that’s really fitting for my fiction author newsletter, and a blog hasn’t been working for me. Maybe that’s because there’s too much pressure to post frequently, and I just don’t have room for that in my life.
But I can do a monthly newsletter. And if I get so busy that I can’t fit in a monthly newsletter, then that’s a sign I need to step back and slow things down.
The title is from one of my favorite memory verses, one that has become something of a life verse in this season of my life: Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life — 1 Thess. 4:11 (you’ll be seeing more of this verse in this month’s essay below). After spending most of my adult life striving to prove myself worthy by constantly overfilling my plate and running after a sense of accomplishment that would mean I’ve earned my keep, all the while running from a feeling that I was undeserving, God has been working on me in this season to get me to slow down, trust him, put his things first, and stop trying so hard.
And that’s a message that a lot of people in this day and age need to hear.
Each month in this newsletter, you can expect an essay (or rant, as the case may be) about something I’ve been dealing with or that has been on my heart, along with practical tips and helpful links aimed at helping you slow down and make more room for the things that matter most, and then showing up and doing your best at those things.
Without further ado…
Let’s All Stop Denigrating “Ordinary”
There’s this ministry for working women I follow on Instagram, which is committed to helping women keep their focus on the Kingdom and not get too wrapped up in earthly pursuits. Normally, they put out some really great teaching, which is why when they put out a New Year’s study plan on the Bible app, I dove right in.
And for the most part, it was the good teaching and exhortation I’ve come to expect from this ministry. But there was one thing they said that didn’t sit well with me. They said, essentially (I’m not quoting directly because I’m not here to call anyone out), that if your goals aren’t so big that you need miraculous, supernatural help to reach them, then you’re not thinking big enough, and that if you’re not thinking and planning on that scale, you’re wasting your life.
I’m just going to come right out and say, I hate that message. There’s this pervasive idea in our culture that if you’re not setting huge goals and chasing after big dreams, if you’re not hustling to live up to your potential, then you’re wasting your life and your spiritual giftings. That if you’re settling for mediocrity, if your life is just plain ordinary, you’re basically a loser.
Sadly, this idea is so pervasive that it’s seeped into Church thinking. It’s prevalent in Christian self-help books and spouted by Christian motivational speakers and even Bible teachers, as you can see by my example above. So let’s talk for a bit about how toxic this belief is, and how it’s at odds with Biblical truth.
For starters, it’s very much the opposite of what Paul wrote to the Thessalonian church when he said:
Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands as we commanded you, that you may walk properly toward those who are outside, and that you may lack nothing. --1 Thess. 4:11-12
Catch that? According to the apostle Paul, whose life was anything but quiet or ordinary, Christians who aspire to live quietly and to faithfully carry out their assignments are able to walk properly as ministers of the gospel to “outsiders,” and also lack nothing that they need.
According to Paul, an ordinary life is a good, proper and productive life. According to 21st century Western culture, an ordinary life is a wasted life.
Who are we going to listen to?
According to this modern way of thinking, if you’re not out there doing Big Things for God--if you’re not writing books, or building ministries, or launching businesses, or giving talks, or planting churches, or podcasting, or preaching to thousands of Instagram followers and chasing that swipe up, etc., etc., you’re a bad Christian who is failing to use your gifts and talents to bring God glory. You’re just like the wicked, lazy servant who was only given one talent and buried it.
But here’s my question: according to whom? Who is our judge in these matters (it ain’t Judge Judy!)? Who is it we’re obligated to please?
Are you really burying your one talent, or are you doing the best you can to be faithful and obedient in your small, non-flashy, ordinary, mundane assignment?
The point of that parable is that whoever is faithful with little can be entrusted with much.
I want you to hear me now: there is nothing mediocre about the Christian life.
Before you get caught up in what the world values, always take a step back and remember that in God’s kingdom, everything is upside down and contrary. And in the Kingdom, even the smallest, most mundane and mediocre of tasks can produce gold, silver and precious stones (and the most impressive jobs can produce nothing but wood, hay and straw if not carried out with the right heart). Heck, even something as small and mundane as brushing your teeth can reap eternal reward if you’re doing it faithfully as unto the Lord!
How many people in the Bible were just living their ordinary, mediocre lives when God chose them to do big things? God selected them BECAUSE of their ordinariness, because that’s what the world least expected. But they weren’t out there getting after it, trying to make big things happen.
Joseph wasn’t looking to become the Prime Minister of Egypt. He was just trying to encourage his fellow prisoners.
Moses wasn’t looking for a burning bush. He was just looking after his father-in-law’s sheep.
David wasn’t trying to become a king. He was just trying to be a good shepherd.
Peter and John weren’t looking to found a worldwide religious movement to bring salvation to the gentiles. They were just trying to catch some fish.
All of them were just going about their daily business, doing their jobs, helping their families, fishing, tending sheep -- ordinary, everyday business. But the thing is, there was nothing ordinary about their hearts. They loved God and they were faithful in their small, ordinary, day-to-day assignments, doing it all as unto Him, treating it all like it was vastly important. Because it was.
If you have big dreams, if you’re going hard after big goals because that’s what you feel led to do, that’s awesome. Some of us are made for accomplishing big things and carrying out big assignments. Some of us are wired well to steward 10 talents. Please don’t think I’m saying it’s sinful or wrong to have and work for big dreams.
But it’s also not a sin to NOT have big dreams.
Some of us are only made to handle 5 talents, and some of us are only made to handle one. It’s not the size of the assignment, but what you do with it that matters.
It’s perfectly okay to be content with your small, ordinary assignments. In fact, the Bible has a lot more positive things to say about being content and joyful right where you are than it does about pursuing ambitious goals.
If your ONLY goal in life is to be faithful and pleasing to God, your life will NOT be wasted.
Stop letting the world--or Christian culture--tell you your ordinary, everyday life doesn’t have value, that your small circle of influence isn’t enough, that your mission field can’t simply be your home and the people right in front of you, that your goals of simply raising decent human beings or having a loving marriage or just getting through another day as a functional person aren’t big enough to be used by God or bring Him glory.
It’s a lie, friend. Your life is beautiful, and valuable, and if you’re giving all you’ve got to God right where you are, He’ll use that for His glory. You can leave the big, amazing part to Him.
We’re already halfway through January! I set a goal at the start of the month to be more consistent in three areas — writing my novel, writing non-fiction I’m not getting paid for, and taking care of my health. The first week, things went great. This week, however, with the shine of the new year wearing off and all that energy I racked up over my holiday break starting to wane, showing up consistently has been more of a challenge.
Part of it, too, is something I realized toward the end of last week — in planning out my daily rhythms, I forgot to leave myself space to just sit and think. I’ve learned that this is crucial, not just because the time I spend just sitting and staring out a window or noodling in my journal is when I get all my best ideas, but also because I’m simply wired to need time to be still and quiet in order to process everything. If I don’t get that on a fairly regular basis, I don’t tend to function as well as when I do.
So this week (today, as a matter of fact) I’m trying something new. As far as my work schedule will permit, I’m going to give myself a day in the middle of the week that’s dedicated to thinking, praying and planning. This will also be a free writing day — meaning I can write the things I want to write but have been setting aside in favor of the things I need to write.
I know not everyone has the luxury to take an entire day to devote to thinking — and realistically, I probably won’t have that luxury often. But if you’re like me and need time and space to just sit with your thoughts, maybe you can find an hour, or even just half an hour, a week to dedicate to this. I find that even taking 10 or 15 minutes a day to just sip some tea and look out the window or sit on my porch swing can help when I’m in a busy season.
I’m probably being optimistic thinking I can do this weekly, but I’m hopeful. We’ll see how it goes, and I’ll let you know next month.
Until then, if you have any questions or comments relating to this letter or anything else, just reply to this e-mail. I read every reply and do my best to reply back, and if your question isn’t too personal, I’ll answer it in next month’s newsletter.
Stay tuned for some recommendations and links below, and I’ll be back in your inbox around this time next month! Until then, I hope you have a blessed and spiritually productive month.
PS - slow clap for me for getting through this entire letter without once bringing up the Enneagram.
This interview with James Clear, combined with this eposide of Tsh Oxenreider’s new podcast, basically distills down everything you need to know about Atomic Habits, and has been hugely helpful in achieving my goal to be more consistent.
This Creative Penn interview with Nir Eyal, author of Indistractible, has a lot of good info about not just reducing distractions in your life, but reducing your own tendency to be controlled by them.
Finally, I want to give a shout out to some godly, smart, Biblically literate women who are fighting the good fight on Instagram, speaking out against hustle culture and other false gospels and heresies that have worked their way into Christianity and combating them with solid Biblical teaching and truth. In no particular order, they are:
I hope you enjoyed this first issue of A Quiet Life! If you did, would you mind sharing it? Feel free to forward it to a friend or share it on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. And if you post highlights in your Stories on IG, I’d love it if you tagged me @jean_of_the_hills!