By M.R. Conrad, reposted from Rooted Thinking. (2020)
Bathe the children. Cook three square meals. Weed the garden. Repair the fence. Beat back the vines of the encroaching jungle. Unclog the outhouse. Patch the hole in the roof. Help the neighbors. Such was the life of missionary Mary Slessor. Far from the conveniences of her homeland, this Scottish woman found the mundane chores of daily life in Nigeria consuming her time. Is your life similarly filled with repetitive, mind-numbing tasks? Do you feel there is little value in the mundane?
Daily Monotony vs. Spikes of Excitement
As a child listening to missionary stories, I never saw this side of Mary Slessor. Yes, Slessor saved infants from being murdered. She rescued slaves and battered women. She calmly knitted while armed chiefs raged at one another. Most importantly, she introduced the gospel to areas few missionaries dared to go. However, biographies often leave out the boring parts of everyday life. They must, or you wouldn’t keep reading!
In her correspondence, Slessor candidly reported the mundane tasks that consumed most of her days. Summing up, she wrote, “So, you see, life here, as at home, is just a record of small duties which occupy the time, and task the strength without much to show for it.”1 Years passed, and her work remained a mostly domestic affair with no churches planted in her region and few converts to report.
Turning the Mundane on Its Head
Yet Slessor not only believed that results would come in time, she also valued the monotonous routine that filled her days.2 “The test of a real good missionary is this waiting, silent, seemingly useless time. So many who can distinguish themselves at home [their home country], missing the excitement and the results, get discontented, morose, cynical, and depreciate everything. Everything, however seemingly secular and small, is God’s work for the moment, and worthy of our very best endeavour.”3
A Question of Value
Why do we not value the mundane? Because we believe lies and forget God’s promises.
1. Lies about the Mundane
“I’m not making any difference,” our inner voice complains. “I see others setting the world on fire while I sit at home accomplishing tasks that will only reappear tomorrow.” The cycle of cleaning laundry and cooking food never ends. Each day, we wake up, go to work, come home, and then go to sleep. Where’s the value in doing things that will only need to be done again?
“Nobody notices me,” another voice says within us. “I’m trapped at home with my children. I’m trapped at work with this job. Nobody values what I do.” We feel ordinary and forgettable.
A lofty voice joins the chorus in our minds: “Vacuuming is unspiritual. Writing computer code is vanity. Why must I waste time washing dishes when I could be leading a Bible study?” We categorize our work as either secular or spiritual.
However, our thoughts do not match God’s thoughts regarding the mundane. God made man to work—to do mundane tasks. God intended Adam and Eve to care for the garden, to bear children, and to rule over God’s creation. Many of our mundane tasks today spring from God’s original mandates and are therefore valuable in His sight.
2. Promises about the Mundane
“But wait!” your inner voice continues to rebel. “I wash the same socks every week, sell the same product every day, and say the same thing to my children every other minute! How does this have value?”
God promises that those who are faithful in little can be trusted with greater responsibility (Lu. 16:10).4 These mundane tasks are God’s training ground. Has your daily faithfulness proved you are ready for the next step?
Furthermore, God promises that we reap what we sow (Gal. 6:7-9).5 Redwood trees do not grow overnight. Little tasks done faithfully over time bear fruit later on. That might not seem so obvious with dusting (unless you haven’t dusted for a few years), but the results are clear when it comes to matters like childrearing.
What if no one notices our faithful plodding in the mundane? That’s not our concern. Even asking the question tips us off to our own self-centeredness. We should serve for God’s eyes alone (Col. 3:23).6 We must not seek the praise of men. God promises to reward secret faithfulness (Matt. 6:4).7
Finally, the division between sacred and secular is a false dichotomy. Should we live for the eternal? Of course! Such a perspective should color our decisions and priorities. However, God does not denigrate the mundane tasks of work and family to a lower level of spirituality. They too count for eternity as we faithfully fulfill the responsibilities God has given us. As Mary Slessor attested, “Everything, however seemingly secular and small, is God’s work for the moment, and worthy of our very best endeavour.” Like her, we can also do the mundane for God’s glory, taking to heart God’s command in 1 Corinthians 10:31: “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.”
Bottom Line: The Value in Faithfulness
Is there gold in the laundry basket? You can check, but probably not. That’s not how you find the worth of mundane tasks. The value of folding the laundry, feeding the kids, and sweating your daily nine-to-five lies neither in what we get out of it nor in how we feel when doing it. The value lies in our faithfulness to what God has placed before us whether great or small.
Photo: Annie Spratt.
1 I recommend reading Bruce McLennan’s biography of Mary Slessor: Mary Slessor: A Life on the Altar for God. Greanies House, UK: Christian Focus, 2014. This quote, however, came from an earlier source: W. P. Livingstone, Mary Slessor of Calabar: Pioneer Missionary (New York: George H. Doran Co., 1917), 129.
2 Read more about Slessor’s testimony and how God brought results later in her ministry in my book, Daring Devotion: A 31-Day Journey with those who Lived God’s Promises. (available in October/November 2020)
3 Livingstone, 202.
4 Luke 16:10 “He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much.”
5 Galatians 6:7-9 “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. 8 For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting. 9 And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.”
6 Colossians 3:23 “And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; 24 Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ.”
7 Matthew 6:4 “That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.”
Dr. Conrad serves in urban Asia. He, his wife, and their four children squeeze into a 700 square-foot apartment where he seizes rare moments of quiet to write amidst homeschooling, a cacophony of musical instruments, and the steady stream of visitors they so enjoy having in their home. He enjoys birding, board games, and basketball. He is the author of Daring Devotion: A 31-Day Journey with those who Lived God’s Promises which will be available in October 2020.