“In times when life feels mundane or disappointing, it’s hard not to look at other people’s lives––the ones that appear so polished––and wonder if we’re missing something in our walk with God.”
In the Bible, our lives are described as pots of clay. This is not necessarily a desirable image––we don't aspire to be something so mundane and ordinary. Pots of clay can be quite boring and break easily. I don’t want my life to be unadorned. I don’t want to be fragile. If I were scripting my life, I would want it to be flashier, cleaned-up and "hashtag-ready" for Instagram or Twitter.
Scrolling through the highlight reel of everyone’s lives on social media has created an environment where it’s easy to think that our journey of pursuing Jesus should be effortless and adventure-filled (at least if we’re doing it right). In times when life feels particularly mundane or disappointing, it’s hard not to look at other people’s lives––the ones that appear so polished––and wonder if we’re missing something in our walk with God.
That’s why I love the way Paul writes to the church in Corinth. Appearing to have it all together is not on his radar. He doesn’t try to push the contrast bar all the way to the left, pick the best filter, or crop out the struggles that result from his following Jesus. In fact, he makes a point of sharing his hardships:
“We ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves. We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies.” (2 Corinthians 4:7-10 NLT)
Reading Paul’s words, it’s clear that his walk with Jesus didn’t always play out like a compelling drama. I am often tempted to sanitize Paul’s ministry down to the highlights and successes, neglecting to consider his day-to-day realities. Imagine the angst and boredom of idling in a prison cell. Picture the physical demands of beatings and shipwreck.
Was his life of faithfulness dangerous? Yes.
Important? Very, very much so.
But was it always glorious?
Well-regarded or Instagram-worthy? Apparently not.
In fact, when we read the previous chapter (2 Corinthians 3), we are reading Paul’s conversation with former friends and mentees who have turned their back on him in favor of more skilled communicators. Imagine the pain this had to cause for Paul, to pour out your heart into a community at the expense of your safety only to be dropped and discarded for the latest influencer-driven and trendsetting show in town.
Paul’s faithfulness to Jesus brings him to the point of needing to defend his reputation to his former friends. I used to read this passage with the tone of a spiritual father rebuking his children. After walking with Jesus through my own struggles, I also hear a profound, relatable heartbreak.
Since the beginning, disappointment, struggles, and relational drama have been a part of the Christian life. Often in our attempt to make ourselves or our faith attractive, we are tempted to pretend times of hardship don’t exist. If Paul experienced failure in his faith walk, why would my life or my work be exempt?
To follow Jesus means having our hearts broken and that our investments may return void this side of heaven. But those disappointments don’t negate the legitimacy of our faith. We know disappointment is not the end of Paul’s or Jesus’ story. God’s hand never left Paul, and his trials expanded the community of God to include Gentiles. Jesus’ fair-weathered friends became courageous disciples who carried his story to the rest of the world at the expense of their own lives.
Faith looks like holding out the hope of Jesus in the midst of our unadorned and ordinary lives. We need to see the hope of Jesus in the very ordinary moments of our lives, not in a manicured Christianity where we have it all together.
We need to see the hope of Jesus in the moments that feel like failure.
It’s easy to experience and proclaim God’s goodness when life’s going great, and our social media is “on point.” But compelling witness is determined in how we handle the ordinary. Good news is filled out in how we handle our failures. Can we experience the mundane moments of our lives with grace? Can we hope beyond hope even when we’ve failed? On days when our lives feel like clay pots, we can’t forget that God’s hands have formed us. As humans, we are built for this life. We have a role to play, dreams to dream, hopes to hope, stories to tell and redemption songs to sing.
Words: Ashley Eure
Ashley Eure runs the HIV&AIDS Initiative and the global side of the Orphan Care Initiative at Saddleback Church. A licensed minister with a Masters in Public Policy and a passion for serving the vulnerable, she also helps consult nonprofits on how to grow their impact in the world.
Photos: Bryan Chung