God is as present in the mundane as He is in the most extraordinary moments
By Claire Collins
Have you ever been to a big retreat, a Catholic conference, or had a larger-than-life spiritual encounter that left you forever changed?
Often deemed “mountaintop experiences,” these moments can be incredibly impactful for opening someone’s soul to the grace of God. But what happens when the moment ends and you return back to your ordinary life?
Is God as present now, in the mundane and everyday moments, as he was then?
When we come down from the mountaintop and return to the ordinary routine of life, we can start to forget what it was like to be so very close to God. We forget the resolutions we might have made in those big moments of grace, slip back into old habits, and start to question whether we really encountered God in the first place.
The odd and wonderful thing about this, however, is that God does not wait to come to us only in big and extravagant moments (though he does tend to come in those moments as well) and then abandon us. It is also in the ordinary, everyday, somewhat boring experiences of life that God is so very present.
And it is in these ordinary life events, too, that God wants to show up in big ways and do incredible things.
When the Word of the Lord comes to Elijah in a cave, Scripture says that God was not present in the violent wind or the earthquake or the fire, but in the “light silent sound” (1 Kings 19:12). Though the Lord is capable of doing great and mighty deeds, he also is gentle, tender, and meek.
When a soul is in a state of grace, His presence is characterized by peace in the discernment of spirits, while the evil spirit is characterized by fear and anxiety.
God uses the most ordinary, hidden, and unassuming moments of our lives to reveal Himself and His love to us, and He is inviting us to be ever present to Him so that we can be aware of these realities. Throughout salvation history, we can see God using ordinary means to reveal His love and to invite others to believe in and follow Him.
When God became man, He came not as a mighty king or ruler, not as some “other” being, but as a human, as an infant. The most humble and vulnerable of all of humanity, easily overlooked and forgotten in society, He grows as a small child dependent fully on his mother and father “in wisdom and in grace” as Scripture tells us (Luke 2:52).
He makes Himself seemingly ordinary, just like every other human, His divinity hidden behind flesh for the overwhelming majority of His life.
After He begins His public ministry, He continues to use very unassuming moments to bring about His great work. When He calls Andrew, Peter, James, and John to follow Him, He comes to them in the place where they spend many hours every day: their job catching fish.
Would they have been expecting to meet their Messiah in such a familiar and normal scene?
He later calls to Peter from the shore as Peter and the other Apostles are fishing following the resurrection, and Peter is so overcome to recognize the Risen Lord that he jumps into the water and swims to shore.
Jesus elevates the routine job of fishing for these men and makes it one of the most memorable and important experiences of their lives; it is the place where these men were called and chosen.
It’s not just the Apostles who experience this. Jesus meets the woman at the well on her usual outing to get water. He meets the blind beggar, Bartimaeus, in the place where he sits and begs every day. Those in His hometown cannot believe He is doing the miracles He does because, well, they know Him and they know who He is.
So, how could He, the son of the carpenter, possibly be the Messiah? Jesus sits down for meals with sinner and Pharisee, entering fully into the human experience as the God-man.
Jesus also refers to Himself as many seemingly ordinary things—a gate, a vine, water, a shepherd. In our churches today, we see many ordinary materials—marble, stone, wood, paint, bread, wine.
And yet it is God who takes these very ordinary and humble substances and makes them holy.
As we can see, God is a God of elevating the ordinary, of making the simple sacred. If it is true that Jesus is capable of making the ordinary into something much more, then how does He want to do that with our lives? Should we have the eyes to see, we can become aware of the many opportunities we have to see God in the most menial of tasks and circumstances, serve Him with greatness, and have our lives radically changed by Him in the process.
St. Thérèse of Lisieux knew this well. She was known for articulating the “Little Way” of holiness. She didn’t think she was capable of the same great things the saints did for God, so she was determined to find the “elevator” that would lift her up the stairs of perfection that she could not climb herself.
She would fold napkins and set the table in the convent as if she was doing it for Our Lord Himself, seeing in each Sister she served the opportunity to serve Christ.
And she was convicted that this was the holiness she was being called to. She allowed her ordinary, everyday experiences to be elevated into something holy and sacred for the Lord.
And for that she was made a doctor of the Church.
Still wrestling with a heart seeking God and a love for many worldly pleasures, St. Augustine tripped and dropped his Bible while on a walk in a garden.
He heard a child’s voice say, “take up and read,” and as he did, he found the following verse from the letter to the Romans, “Let us walk properly, as in the day; not in revelry and drunkenness, not in licentiousness and lewdness, not in strife and envy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts” (Romans 13:13-14).
And upon reading this verse, recognizing its particular application to his own life, he changed everything. A simple stumble and an awareness of the presence of God led to one of the most influential conversions in human history.
St. Teresa of Calcutta also knew well the power of the humble and ordinary circumstances of life. As she encountered the poorest of the poor in India, she received a deeper call from God to go and love them, to take care of their sicknesses and wounds and to be with them even in the moment of death.
This was no glorious gesture, but one that would, by these people’s standards, make her an outcast in society. Ironically, it instead made her famous around the world and a household name, even for those with no faith at all.
“There is something holy, something divine hidden in the most ordinary situations, and it is up to each one of you to discover it.” St. Josemaría Escrivá, the founder of Opus Dei, is a champion for the great realities hidden in our ordinary days.
He points us to this truth that all of us are invited to see God doing incredible things every day, should we open our eyes to see.
It is not just the great saints who get to experience this—the ordinary moments of life being elevated into something so much more. It is true for us, too.
We can love our families, change diapers, clean our homes, and serve our spouses, children, parents, and siblings knowing that these specific vocations are how God has ordained that we experience holiness. We can go to our jobs every day asking God how He is calling us to love and serve our coworkers and to bring about the kingdom through our work.
We can suffer with courage and hope, sacrifice out of love even in the smallest of ways, and bring joy rooted in love of God to those we encounter every day.
In The Book of the Foundations, St. Teresa of Ávila writes this encouragement that has been making its way through many of my Catholic circles. She says, “…but when obedience calls you to exterior employments (as, for example, into kitchen, amidst the pots and dishes), remember that Our Lord goes along with you….”
She knew that, even in the most humble of duties, God is there present with us, making them holy and sanctifying us through them. Brother Lawrence’s Practice of the Presence of God also reveals this beautiful secret: that God is present everywhere in every moment of our days, just waiting for us to make the space to recognize it.
Sometimes it can be discouraging to read the lives of the saints or to look out into the world and see the great things others are doing. Am I supposed to be doing all of those things, too?
Maybe you are. But we cannot know if we aren’t, first and foremost, doing the simple and ordinary tasks with great love and faithfulness. We’ll never know where God is calling if we aren’t trying to open our minds and hearts to His promptings every day.
We can see so many places where God wants to show up in the ordinary—doing the dishes, taking care of those in need, in our stumbles and failings, in our day job, in the midst of our daily duties, in our simplest and greatest needs. It is different for each of us.
But with the eyes of faith and prayer, aided by the grace of the sacraments, we can all be made more aware of how God is already working big things in these little ways. And when we recognize His voice, we can have the faith to follow where He is leading.