At the Bottom of Your Vanilla Life

For me, this could not have come at a better time—the opportunity to sit down […]

CJ Green / 5.22.19

For me, this could not have come at a better time—the opportunity to sit down and read the newest publication by Chad Bird. Chad is a writer/speaker (and frequent Mockingbird contributor), and the book is the friendly-looking Upside-Down Spirituality: The 9 Essential Failures of a Faithful Life. What a title! Keep your eyes on this site for a full review coming soon, but what I’ll say just for now is that it is full of down-to-earth illustrations and Chad’s usual poetics; with these he conveys the realities of a spiritual life. For Chad, spirituality is not a stairway to climb, not a “nicer version of the world we live in” but an utterly backward, upside-down thing. The world is not crying out for my (and your) extraordinariness, and this “upside-down spirituality” offers resounding relief in light of that.

The following excerpt holds just a sliver of the wisdom inside. I chose it with myself in mind and all the ambition/panic that comes with being a twenty-something navigating the prospects of the rest of his life—but I imagine anyone will appreciate this decisive uncoupling of ambition from the good life. This comes from a section called “I’ll Meet You at the Bottom”:

We are free in Jesus to fail at being extraordinary. We are free in Jesus to fail at being ambitious, at making a name for ourselves, at ruling the world. We are free not to be supermen and superwomen, breaking barriers, earning trophies, and rising above our competitors. As the Father’s children, as those who are secure in his love and acceptance of us in Jesus, we have nothing to prove to anyone. We have the approval of God himself. And, as Paul says, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom. 8:31).

True greatness is found in being the Father’s son or daughter. True freedom is found in serving others, considering them more important than we are. And true success is found in the failure to find meaning and purpose in something we do, accomplish, build. Rather, our identity, our meaning and purpose, is not something we work for but receive from the hand of our Father.

What drives our ambition is, at its core, a hungering for love. If we do enough, if we accomplish great and extraordinary things, we will be loved. Like children in large families, we think we have to stand out to get our parents’ attention. So we push past our coworkers, outperform our peers, leave everyone else in the dust—all to be noticed. That may make sense in the eyes of the world, and that may be the way to garner attention and even generate a following, but that’s the exact opposite of what attracts God’s attention.

Michael Horton writes, “While the first Adam launched a ‘meet you at the top’ philosophy of life, Jesus Christ says to the world, ‘I’ll meet you at the bottom.'”

Jesus says, I’ll meet you at the bottom of anonymity, in a life hardly anyone notices and no one will remember once you’re gone—no one, that is, but me, the only One who truly matters.

I’ll meet you at the bottom of a vanilla life, plain in its predictability, dull to most, but suffused with love for the unfortunate, sacrifice for those you love, and mercy toward the neighbor. I’ll meet you in an ordinary nine-to-five job where every house you build, every engine you repair, every field you plow, every lesson you teach, is a good deed in which I rejoice.

I’ll meet you at the bottom of a life of service, of considering others more important than yourself, of always asking what you can do for them instead of what they can do for you, of laying down your life for your friends. I’ll meet you in this life patterned after mine, for “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28).

And, Christ says, I’ll meet you at the bottom when you fall from the top, when the throne of ambition crumbles into dust and you shatter into piece on the rock-hard ground of humility. I’ll meet you there too, for “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Ps. 34:18). I’ll meet you when your sycophants have deserted you for another idol, your fans have moved on to the next rising star, your reputation is trashed, your future is dark, and your great accomplishments are but dust in the wind. I’ll meet you there and love you back to wholeness, to humility, to a life in which you’ll one day thank me that you failed so miserably at being great.

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2 responses to “At the Bottom of Your Vanilla Life”

  1. Wendy says:

    Wonderful! Amen!

  2. Pierre says:

    “Uncoupling ambition from the good life” is so hard to do! Thanks for this reference and reminder. I’m headed to my tenth college reunion next week and I’m really curious to see how this perspective will help me stay afloat in that sea of early-career ladder climbing, social positioning, and ambition. (It’ll be fun, too.)

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