the power of the mundane


1. lacking interest or excitement, dull. 

2. pertaining to the things of this world, as opposed to things of the heavenly world.

Ordinary tasks fall into this category – mundane.  Google says synonyms include humdrum, dull, boring, tedious, monotonous, tiresome, wearisome, unexciting, uninterestinguneventful, unvarying, unremarkable, repetitive, repetitious, routine, ordinary, everyday, day-to-day, run-of-the-mill, commonplace, workaday. 

Give me extraordinary, imaginative, and heavenly any day!

Give me the mountaintop where the air is clear and where the view is spectacular. Keep me out of the humdrum valley of unvarying routine.

In the real everyday world, blood, sweat and tears are a reality. You don’t get better at skills or anything without practice.  Things break down and need fixing.  Things get dirty and need cleaning.  Things wear down and need to be replaced.

If only dishes could fly to their places like in the Disney movie,

or clean clothes could put themselves away, or dust didn’t settle so quickly…

If only paper didn’t multiply on contact with any horizontal surface in my home.

As one of my friends says, “Garbage does not take itself out.”  The “if onlys” are just that – a fantasy solution to uninspiring routine.

Those realities are part of living as a human being in our frenzied world. Ignoring them doesn’t make them go away; indeed, the accumulation of tasks undone creates a disorder that will steal attention and energy from those truly extraordinary pursuits.

There is that famous story of  a group traveling through a difficult terrain with native guides. The group leaders wanted to press on when the guides stopped and refused to move. And no offer was tempting enough to make them move.

“We must wait for our souls to catch up with us,” was their reply.

The pace had been brisk; they needed rest and space to take in all that was going on around them. I wish I could remember where I read that.

The mundane things of life give us space for our souls to catch up with the rest of us.

In the midst of non-stop information, tons of people and plenty of tasks, something as simple as washing the dishes gives me breathing room.  As much as I wish I could avoid some of them, they are part of my life.  They are part of my responsibilities as a person, as a created being.  They are part of my stewardship.

doing the dishes

I, too, need my soul to catch up with the rest of me. Without taking care of those seemingly mundane responsibilities, I deny my humanness.  I lapse into trivial pursuits (and I don’t mean the board game).  Escapist behaviors become super attractive and lure me into thinking they will provide rest.

Part of being a leader at rest is recognizing the necessity and power of the mundane to keep me grounded as a person. They are the reminder that I am not God. To live in the pursuit of the spectacular only feeds the temptation toward grandiosity and self- importance.

Now, where is that dish soap?

How do you stay grounded as a leader?

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4 Responses to the power of the mundane

  1. terry morgan says:

    I love the perspective that the mundane tasks of life give my soul space to catch up with the rest of me… there is purpose… and I can more easily appreciate those human responsibilities and rest in them. As I did some ironing and cleaning this evening, I actually enjoyed it more!

  2. Paul Cheese says:

    I’m sure the story is told elsewhere, but I read it in Gordon McDonald’s “restoring your spiritual passion”
    Thanks Andrea. Really helpful as always, as I sit here in denial about the breakfast dishes…

  3. You know, after I published the post, I googled it. there are a variety of versions- settings in Africa and South America, guides from a number of different backgrounds, and the leader who is pushing could be a business person, tour guide, or archaeologist! love Gordon McDonald’s stuff. thanks for the tip, Paul.

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