The mundane

“The essential thing ‘in heaven and earth’ is that there should be a long obedience in the same direction; there thereby results, and has always resulted in the long run, something which has made life worth living.” {Friedrich Nietzsche}

Why did you move to South Korea?

I get this question quite often, and I normally don’t give much thought to the answer. It’s an easy conversation starter with other foreigners, and I always enjoy hearing other’s stories of what brought them to Korea. Typically, my answer coincides with other’s. Something along the lines of: I wanted to take a gap year between undergrad/grad school in another country. I wanted to get out of my life in the States. I wanted adventure! I wanted a job with easy money and the ability to travel at the same time. When I first moved here, I put pressure on myself to have a more exciting answer to that question. The first time I explained to someone, “Well, I’ve wanted to live overseas somewhere for at least a year after college, so I moved here for the international experience but mostly for the money to pay of my student loans ASAP,” I was so embarrassed. What a lame reason to pick up and move halfway around the world by yourself for 365 days. I found consolation in other’s stories that were similar to mine, but still, deep down I wished I had come here under a different set of circumstances.

That’s where this problem began;

this problem of not feeling good enough; for my reasons in moving to Korea, in the work that I do, by the life that I have here. I started comparing my experience early on with other’s I knew who also moved far away from their homeland for a year.

“Her experience is so much more culturally rich! Her blog is better than mine. He’s already learning more of the local language than I am. They have such a strong sense of community with locals, I bet they’re already thriving in their new country! She has more native friends than I do. He’s making better relationships. They’re actually making a difference in their community.”

I started to think all these deadly threads that cut through my brain and my heart and soon, my experience turned into shards of phonics worksheets and halfway learning the Korean alphabet and only having eaten kimchi a handful of times. By comparing my life in Korea- my job, my relationships, my amount of cultural immersion and language studying- to other’s international experiences, I was watering my experience down to nothing but a mundane job and halfhearted cultural exchange. After all, I thought, I only moved here to work and pay off loans.

Waking up every day to my mundane life in Korea started getting harder and harder. It became increasingly more difficult to do my best at work when I would just ho-hum flip through the textbooks to prepare lessons and constantly think to myself: “This job is so boring. I’m teaching phonics… PHONICS of all things. I have a bachelor’s degree in English Literature. This is the most unfulfilling position.” And it got worse when I started to view my students and co-teachers with this same distain for the mundane: “They don’t even speak my language, how am I supposed to build relationships with them? It’s impossible and pointless. I have them for a 45 minute lesson every day then they run home. Their lives are fine, I serve no purpose and I’m doing nothing meaningful here.”

One evening after my classes were finished and I was finding something to do to fill my *long, drawn-out, pointless, waste-of-time office hours* I logged into my dad’s kindle account to see if he had recently downloaded any interesting books. I scrolled through the options and stopped at one titled, The God of the Mundane. Hello.

I inhaled those words over the next few days. It’s such a treasured experience for me when I find words that meet me right where I am and feed my soul the nourishment it needs in that moment. Such was the case with this book, and it pulled me right out of my pitiful rut.

I think it’s hard to tell people you’re moving overseas for A YEAR and not feel the pressure that comes with people’s gasps and exclamations of shock and awe and wow’s and “you’re so brave”‘s, and while I am eternally thankful for those who have prayed for me and sent notes/texts/emails telling me so, there is sometimes a hint of misunderstanding.

Yes, it took a shit ton of courage to pack up my life and head to Korea alone, but that courage was not of myself.

I will always have the draw towards believing I can do all things through myself and my own strength, so when people start praising my bravery I start applauding right along with them.

Yes, I came here deeply desiring to make a difference in whatever community I found myself in, but I will only make a dent of disappointment if I try anything on my own.

Once people start sharing how proud they are of me for serving or living missionally or spreading the love of Jesus, I can actually start piling up burdens on myself. Out of the well-meaning wishes from friends and family I build up a weight of expectations that I simply cannot carry, and then I grow disappointed in myself for not living in a way I think other’s think I’m living.

I’m not a missionary by the technical standards.

I’m not really changing anyone’s life by being “Jesus” in it.

I can’t see any aspect of which I’m changing or “making a difference” by any means.

And the most profound reality I’ve learned in all of this is that it’s ok. 

It’s liberating to know that I don’t have to live under the pressure I tend to put on myself.

The pages of Scripture itself, under a heading “Living to please God” say:

But we urge you, to excel still more, and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands. 

Who says living in this way is a bad thing? If more of us cared less about living celebrated lives, imagine how much farther we could possibly move towards doing more good. I know I struggle with this deeply! I want my life to be magnified and significant by everyone noticing how good i’m doing, but the truth is I’m not doing anything good if that is my intention.

From the book I read, I wanted to share some words that really struck my life right where I needed them to.

Ponder.

“Our hearts burn for our deeds to be noticed and celebrated. We want to do something big and have it thrust into cyberspace for all to read. Those who follow the Man of no reputation pine for one, resume’s ready. There are dark and dusty corners of our heart that will fight tooth-and-nail against ever being known to exist.”

I believe it is possible to excel more and to live with ambition by leading a quiet life.

There is much more freedom in being driven by a grace that compels us to live quietly.

This is my prayer for the next six months- I will only continue to be burnt out and discouraged and heavy with pressure and expectations if I keep trying to make my life something that it’s not. As I said earlier…right now, it’s ok to not be changing lives or being fluent in Korean. God has me in this place, I believe, to work on me more than I am able to do anything else, and I’m finding freedom in relinquishing the task of changing the world to Him. But what’s not ok is thinking this life is all about me. Believing that because I can’t do everything that I shouldn’t do something. Understanding that I don’t have to accomplish great feats, therefore not accomplishing anything.

I’ll probably always struggle to make my life bigger and better for all the world to see, but I know this year, this time in Korea is teaching me how to have a perspective that is not limiting by finding myself in the mundane. Because God is in it all, and no matter the width or depth, that is enough.

“And yet I decide, every day, to set aside what I can do best and attempt what I do very clumsily–open myself to the frustrations and failures of loving, daring to believe that failing in love is better than succeeding in pride.” -Eugene Peterson

quiet afternoons
quiet afternoons
Brunch taken literally (breakfast + lunch), favorite cookbook found, and a crepe the size of my arm
Brunch taken literally (breakfast + lunch), favorite cookbook found, and a crepe the size of my arm
Finding the moon
Finding the moon
Friends are the greatest reminder's of life's goodness!
Friends are the greatest reminder’s of life’s goodness!

Peace, friends. Here’s to living simply, quietly, and knowing that is no less significant. Here’s to this life, this long obedience in the same direction.

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One thought on “The mundane

  1. There’s a lot of heart in this post- but your brilliant wisdom is evident. Lets make the most of our final 6 months by appreciating more and being kind to ourselves! Life is full of possibility, and we really can’t say when or where it will show up. I think you’ve got something special babe. Keep the words comin! :)

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