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Why the Mundane Matters

Why the Mundane Matters

As New Year’s approaches, many of us are setting lofty resolutions. The humdrum of the everyday is easy to get sucked into, so the new year is a refreshing start for many. It’s a milestone to set some goals and focus on self-improvement.

While setting lofty goals is a laudable objective, looking at New Year’s as a grand new beginning—a blank slate—overlooks everything else that happens in our lives, all those little moments that make up everyday life.

Each ordinary day, we make hundreds of little decisions, and these actions make up the overwhelming majority of our lives. That’s not to say that big pivotal moments aren’t important, but if we only think about these instants, the rest of life will pass us by.

I’ve recently been reading Jordan B. Peterson’s Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life, and in it, he shows how everything has symbolic meaning: One of Peterson’s running theses through his work is that everything has meaning in it.

“You can only find out what you actually believe (rather than what you think you believe) by watching how you act,” says Peterson in 12 Rules for Life. “You simply don’t know what you believe, before that. You are too complex to understand yourself.” Each action we take is an outward representation of who we are in our hearts and what we believe.

In practice, this means that those seemingly everyday moments deserve our attention. While it’s not worth obsessing over the little things, we can take heart knowing our everyday lives matter.

Peterson, though, isn’t the first person to observe this truth. In fact, it was stated about two thousand years ago by the Apostle Paul. “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him,” reads Colossians 3:17.

For Christians, actions should be done “in the name of the Lord Jesus.” But more broadly, this means our actions should strive toward an ideal, a higher purpose. Washing the dishes isn’t simply washing the dishes. It may be a way to show appreciation to a spouse or roommate. It could be the path to breaking the procrastination habit. Or maybe washing the dishes is the one time of day you get to chat uninterrupted with your spouse. These are all things of untold significance.

Only a few verses later, Paul says, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men” (Colossians 3:23).

While this is an order, it can also be an encouragement. We should work heartily because God cares about what we do in our daily lives or because our actions have higher value and purpose. And thus, the work we do each day must matter.

The meaning in the mundane isn’t just an encouragement, though. Above all else, it’s a responsibility. Suddenly, inconsequential actions are serious. Washing the dishes becomes a task with monumental implications.

And it’s not a responsibility shirked without consequences. If what we do every day doesn’t matter, then why shouldn’t we go around lying and stealing? Dismissing the mundane is a turn toward entropy, emptiness, and evil. In other words, we can take heart knowing that what we do matters, but we are also warned that what we do matters.

By treating the mundane as meaningful, we can also gradually improve our lives. Instead of leaving those dishes for later, we can do them now and become a more proactive person. Or by being polite to the cashier, we can brighten someone’s day. We are gradually transformed into better people. It’s a simple way to create long-lasting habits.

So, as you set your resolutions this year, remember that those quiet, small moments—the things you do each day without a giant resolution—can be full of greatness.

Image credit: StockSnap-Suzy Hazelwood, CC0 1.0



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  • Avatar
    Loras J. Holmberg
    December 29, 2022, 12:04 am

    Truth is not every day is a vacation to Europe or receiving some sort of achievement award. Happy are they that are happy with the daily routine. And value all sorts of relationships.

  • Avatar
    Rodrigo Silveira
    December 29, 2022, 12:24 am

    I love the linkage of Mr. Peterson’s observations to the Apostle Paul’s writings. Although Mr. Peterson is a phenomenal philosopher, most of what he and his cohorts talk about has been reveled to us by God. It is up to is to go learn it.

  • Avatar
    Terry C
    December 29, 2022, 12:34 am

    A valuable bit of wisdom. Thank you, Jordan. Your column also reminded me that I’ve had Peterson’s book for some time now and have not started reading it. I think I will strike a blow against procrastination by getting started on the book. So, thanks again!

  • Avatar
    Daniel R
    December 29, 2022, 2:14 pm

    Nice article. "Persevere in the exact fulfilment of the obligations of the moment. That work — humble, monotonous, small — is prayer expressed in action that prepares you to receive the grace of the other work — great and wide and deep — of which you dream." – Saint Jose Maria Escriva, The Way

  • Avatar
    Chris Hughes
    December 31, 2022, 4:14 am

    Very grounded and motivating. Thank you


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