I am a person easily swayed by novelty. I think this is one of the reasons I get along with Freshmen so well. We will both try anything once. Cartoons, puppets, candy thrown into the crowd, tweeting as Romeo, singing Taylor Swift. My department head has learned to brace himself a little when he walks into my room and trust that I have the pedagogical chops to back up whatever fun I am trying to have in there, that learning is really taking place. (Have I mentioned lately how grateful I am for bosses that trust me?) Planning my first few months of instruction is like going through the mall on someone else’s credit card. Let’s try this! How about that!
The beginning of summer is like that too. Perhaps this is why teaching suits me, everything is perpetually new. New school year! Christmas Break! New semester! Summer! Those first weeks of summer are always the best. When I feel like there is something new to be done every single day. Go to the park! Sonic happy hour! The pool! The Sprinkler! Out for Ice cream! How exciting. Always exciting.
Until of course, the novelty wears off. Like a cheap ring out of a quarter machine, that shiny patina of new and exciting lasts sometimes only moments. I teach 5 classes a day. By the end of the day it is no longer new to me. And did you know that summer goes on for twelve weeks! TWELVE WEEKS! In between ice cream and slides there are things like diaper changes, laundry, feeding the children who are hungry at least three times a day, breaking up fights over a cheap piece of plastic the other girl didn’t even want until the first one picked it up.
I call it the grind, the inevitable moment when the shiny newness wears off, and I sludge through the day thinking, “we’re doing this again?” Because as hard as I try, it isn’t always fun. Jonathan Martin, in his book Prototype, calls it obscurity. The space where you are hidden from the world, away from display, the seasons in your life when it is just you and God. He uses the example of King David, not yet king, sitting in the fields tending sheep. On my Sunday school felt board little boy David was always portrayed as perfectly clean, resting quietly by a tree, playing the lyre and loving on the sheep. He seems happy, and rested, like every day was some sort of country vacation.
Sheep tending, from my understanding, doesn’t work like the felt boards. It smells bad, you get dirty, it is heavy lifting and gross bodily fluids. And it is boring, the same thing every single day with same sheep who make the same stupid mistakes. They need fed, they need water, they need their wounds tended from going through the same thorn bushes and re-opening the same wounds every single day for weeks on end. It is boring, it is exhausting, but that is where God met David.
And increasingly, I am realizing that God meets me there too, in the grind. In the grind of the paper grading, the diaper changing, the pajamas and bed time every single night. In the mopping up milk from the spilled cereal for the third time in one morning. In the grind of my commute, in the grind of showing up to write every morning at 5:30. Sometimes, even the things I love aren’t fun. They just need to be done, and well. The grind is more important than I realized.
You always think this big God of ours is going to show up in a big way, at a big time. Why should God do anything in secret when He could miraculously change us in some showy public miracle? Until very recently there was a piece of my heart that was still waiting for that miracle everyone would witness.
I spent this weekend with my extended family, remembering my grandmother and my grandfather who passed away earlier this year. We keep talking about the little things, that are actually big things. The cooking, the sewing, the cleaning, the showing up to the baseball games and dance recitals, the school plays that were twelve hours away. We don’t really talk about the public accolades they received (and there were many). That pales in comparison to the years they served homeless people at the open door, or the fact that they served meals on wheels well past their eightieth birthdays.
The grind. I used to hate it, to run from it, to complain loudly that it was boring and when was God going to show up and do something already. But the grind is the space where God meets me, shapes me, shows up every day and asks for me to join Him in his work. The grind is the touch of the potter’s hand. I have seen the way it shaped my grandparents. I am learning to lean into the grind. I am learning to embrace it. I am understanding that our God is big enough to reach us in obscurity, to hold our hand every moment of the grind.
What an Amazing God I serve, that He would care even about this. Hallelujah.
Kelley Nikondeha is a truly incredible lady who just happens to have a book club. Transit lounge (#transilounge on twitter) read Prototype this month. I highly recommend everything that was mentioned in those last two sentences.