Illustration of woman staring up at the sky with snow shovel in her hand. She is wearing purple pants and mustard top. Shadow of birds are reflected on the ground.
The pressure of sacrificing everything for the Kingdom of God left Sarah Bessey feeling burned out. (Illustration by María Hergueta)

Topics: Ethical Living, June 2024 | Society

As Easter approaches, I’m learning to embrace joy in ordinary life

"The regular resurrections of our lives are just as miraculous as the big, showy, attention-getting ones," writes Sarah Bessey

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I grew up and came of age in the western Canadian neo-charismatic movements of the 1980s and ’90s. Small happy-clappy churches of misfits who gathered in the community leisure centre for Friday night services, followed by floor hockey tournaments (families were organized into 12 teams named for the 12 tribes of Israel — it was a whole thing). We clapped and fasted; we prayed, sang and danced, and were so overwhelmed by the Spirit that we fell to the ground. We read the Bible quite literally and simply. And we expected a big “move of God” in our lives and within our communities.

We loved big testimonies of healing. We rejoiced in transformation. We cherished dreams of a big, big God with big, big plans for our lives. And listen, I’m nothing if not a broadstroke painter but basically, oh, we loved a revival. We spoke in tongues, expected miracles, demanded much of ourselves and God, and spoke easily about things like calling, resurrection, healing, powers and principalities.


My original faith provided many gifts. To this day, I am grateful for the sincerity and earnestness, the emphasis on the goodness and faithfulness of God, and our wide-open doors to so many folks who were on a first-name basis with renewal and restoration.

But one of the unforeseen consequences of this approach to God and a life of faithfulness to the way of Jesus was the expectation that our lives had to count — spectacularly — for eternity. It demanded singular focus on sacrifice and heroics. It equated the “move of God” with big numbers, big demonstrations, big movements. We were fed a steady diet for years that we were meant to change the world! To be heroes! To be different than everybody else! To be radical and set apart! To prepare for victory!

Ah, the doctrine of exclamation points(!).

We had to be great because God was great. We had to work hard and harder because there were souls on the line. We were taught to put people who sacrificed everything — their families, their health, their safety, their lives — on a pedestal of faithfulness. We couldn’t do things for fun because we had to do things for The Kingdom of God. We were earnest and sincere and serious from a young age, dedicated to the cause.

There is a lot to unpack there but it also left us tired, burned out and convinced we were always failing to live up to our potential. It created a false boundary between what is sacred and what is ordinary, setting churchy things apart from our daily rhythms. My husband and I jokingly call it our “evangelical hero complex.”

And so perhaps unexpectedly, I found myself decades later grappling with the truth that there are diapers to change and bills to pay, toilets to clean and laundry to fold, timecards to punch and late nights to work. It felt too humble and too altogether ordinary to possibly be God’s will for us. What place did something as frivolous as the daily work of my life have in the midst of God’s glorious plans? What sort of resurrection existed here in my home, on my street, within the routines and rhythms of our life? How do you learn how to find joy in an ordinary sort of life? What does it look like to set down heroics for faithfulness?

Much ink has been spilled and content created around the idea of deconstructing faith. I’ve worked for almost 15 years in that space myself, journeying alongside folks who are holding up their formative experiences with faith — their origin stories — to evaluate what is worth keeping, what needs to be tossed and what needs to be reimagined. It’s hard work, worthy work, and I think it is deeply faithful work.


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Despite the hand-wringing of some folks about whether deconstruction leads to doubt, questioning and critical thinking, I believe this re-evaluation serves us well. It also serves the church and our communities well. It is far from an act of faithlessness; in my experience, folks often find themselves in some sort of deconstruction wilderness precisely because of their faith. They were the faithful ones who really, truly believed. And when they ran out of road or the answers didn’t work anymore or the prayers weren’t answered or they peeked behind the curtain, rather than walk away entirely (which, let’s be honest, is sometimes a wise and good call), they decided to dig in, wrestle with God and hope for a blessing. I love the courage of this, the ordinary stubbornness of holding on to Jesus, asking for companionship in the wilderness of our cynicism and grief, our longings and hope.

In the scriptures, the word for resurrection is usually a Greek one, anastasis. Often used in reference to the resurrection of Jesus, it’s somehow a physical sort of noun to me. After all, it means a rising up, a raising up, a standing up. After a time in the dirt, after our falling, after taking a seat, lying down, even after our collapse, our seeming end — anastasis is our rising. Like Jesus, we are raised up to new life. We find life out of death, water in the desert, hope out of grief. I’ve begun to see a multitude of resurrections hiding in plain sight in my life, far from traditional understandings of revival and grandiose demonstrations.

The journey of an evolving faith, one that has adapted in order to survive, has given me many gifts. But this Easter, I’m feeling particularly thankful for the gift of everyday resurrections. After a formative experience within charismatic movements centred on big “moves of God” with major miracles and revivals, it has been deeply healing to nourish, glorify, notice and bless the ordinary things. The regular resurrections of our lives are just as miraculous as the big, showy, attention-getting ones. This has been a revelation, one that has helped reset and open my heart to God’s goodness already abiding around us, particularly in difficult times.

I began to think more earnestly about how resurrection can hide in our daily lives when I was getting my youngest ready for bed. Our bedtime routine involved a story, a good night song and an old nursery and folk song, Lavender Blue. Then we held each other for a while. Maggie’s eyes would grow heavy, and her muscles relaxed until she fully surrendered to sleep. Perhaps because she was my desire-of-the- heart baby, my unexpected miracle, my last little one, I would sometimes stay and just breathe with her for many ticks of the hallway clock.

Because it’s Easter, I’ve had my head in the story of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. Our world is crying out for peace and wholeness right now, so I’ve been combing the air for signs of resurrection. And I remembered the feeling of singing to Maggie and how resurrection has also felt like this to me. Like hearts beating as one, like peace in the night, like the trust of a surrendered child in the arms of her mother despite the gathering darkness.

Sometimes resurrection can surprise us in its ordinariness. I want to be more open to this, especially in these heavy days, to keep searching for signs of compassion and faithfulness, glimpses of hope.

In the mornings of our Alberta winters, we wake in the darkness. I suppose we could throw on every light in the house — and I’ve not been above that to rouse teenagers — but instead, I usually move quietly through the house, turning on gentle lamps, sometimes lighting candles. I wait for the day’s light to join us and until then, we have enough light to see by.

Resurrection has not been like throwing the light on in the middle of a dark night for me. It hasn’t been a surprise party for my faith with jumping and champagne. Instead, it has been like that winter experience of waking up and starting with one small lamp and a candle, of searching steadily, of going about my work in the midst of my rather unspectacular life until the daylight arrives. It has been seeing the artificial light of the lamp become so unnecessary to the daylight and then raising my head up to see that the day has dawned and somehow, I missed the moment of transformation but here we are anyway.

If we weren’t surrounded by death, the good news of Jesus wouldn’t be quite so good. It’s our dark night, broken. It’s the reason we rise when it is still dark to proclaim the coming light.

Sometimes resurrection feels like the arrival of spring. The disguising blankets of snow have melted and everything is a disastrous mess of mud and muck and leftover salt on the edges of the roads. The world is grey-brown and frozen ugly, a resolute barrenness. And then one day, a little brave first flower pokes up from the brown hard ground. You catch sight of it and point it out to the neighbours and to your children, and you grin like a fool all day because look, a little flower is up! Spring is almost here! We watch for the next few crocuses, their lavender and white and gold cups reaching out of the tundra of our long winter, the sun’s weak warmth just enough for them to emerge.

Sometimes resurrection feels like walking slowly with a toddler. You have to stop and examine each new flower or leaf or blade of grass; every gum wrapper and cigarette butt has to be swept away from little fingers. It feels disorienting to be noticing everything, to be moving so slowly. It seems like it would be easier to sweep that toddler up and just stride quickly to where you want to go, but this is how we learn and this is how we teach. As we wander at this pace instead of our stride, we find ourselves walking right into who and where we were meant to be all along. Our lungs are strong and our feet are on the ground and a child keeps saying to us, “Look! Look!” and you are beginning to finally see. Who knew an acorn was such a wonder?

Sometimes resurrection feels like a good deep clean of the house. First we have to admit to the dirt and the mess and stomp around asking if the people who live here think they live in a barn. We have to scrub and scour, our hands growing tired, but we’re setting things to order and to beauty. The whole time we’re working, the windows are wide open and the curtains are lifting with the breeze and everything in the house feels like it’s waking up. We’re breathing well and remembering how far something simple like soap and water will go to making us feel a bit more ordinarily grateful.

Sometimes resurrection feels like growing up. You think it’s taking forever but then you’re out on your own in your grown-up life, and you realize how short your childhood really was in the scheme of things. Now you’ve got all this life ahead of you as the person who you were always headed toward becoming. Everything that came before this moment felt like everything that ever would be, but now you know it was just the beginning: look how much life is on the other side.

Sometimes resurrection feels like standing in front of the table of the Lord at church, before someone who loves Jesus, too. It looks like holding your hands open, cupped to receive without striving or grasping. It feels like the goodness of bread and the movement of dipping that bread into a cup of wine. It feels like lowering your head to hear them remind you again and again that this body is for you and this wine is for you — even you.


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Resurrection feels like tracing the sign of the cross on your head or heart and then walking back to your seat. It feels like that moment when you are among the people again and your knees buckle and the presence of God sweeps into your body like a reminder: there’s a rushing wind here; there’s a power, a wonder-working power.

Sometimes resurrection is like being in love for the first time or for a beautiful, choice-filled long time. Sometimes it looks like good food with good friends telling stories on themselves, laughing until they lay their head down on the table and wheeze. Sometimes it looks like a therapist’s office and a box of tissues and learning to tell the truth about your own life. Sometimes it looks like church, and sometimes it looks like the wilderness. Sometimes it looks like a mountain, and sometimes it looks like the ocean. Sometimes it looks like a small creek in your backyard, the one the kids float leaves down and pretend are boats, but then you next find resurrection in the prison handing out diplomas and in the hospital rocking babies and in the hospice quietly humming It Is Well With My Soul under your breath while you say goodbye.

Sometimes resurrection can look back at the origin stories of our faith and imperfect communities and still find much to love even as we walk away. Sometimes resurrection can be a new path with ancient friends and disruptors of the peace. It can be protests and policy-making. It can be wide-open tables and misfits and possibilities of healing. Sometimes resurrection can be reclaiming, other times a renunciation. Sometimes resurrection can enfold our beginnings into our evolution. Sometimes resurrection can take the scraps of our life and somehow create a quilt of warmth and beauty and service. Sometimes resurrection surprises us in the cancer centre with kindness or the school fundraiser or the picket line. Look at all the ways we are rising to the questions of our time with resolution and hope.

Sometimes resurrection looks like standing outside the tomb of the one you love, weeping without consolation only to find yourself in his presence. Sometimes resurrection speaks your name right at the tomb of your greatest loss. It looks like not recognizing him but then seeing him clearly. And it looks like being told to go tell the story.

It looks nothing like what you expect, and it looks like everything you ever wanted. It looks like scars where there were wounds, and it looks like so much light and hope that you even feel afraid of your joy. Resurrection always surprises us: who could expect it?

Resurrection is a whole new ground beneath our feet; it’s new air to breathe; it’s new eyes to see and ears to hear and feet to dance and hearts to understand. This is why it’s a testimony — this is what we have seen and what we have heard and what we know.

We’re improvising resurrection now. We’re learning to embody a new life in the power of the Holy Spirit. I wonder if noticing resurrection in our everyday lives can become a sanctifying practice?

Open up your heart, my friends. If the big, gorgeous displays of resurrection, restoration and revival show up, I imagine we won’t miss it. But don’t be surprised if resurrection creeps in like the sunrise. Resurrection may be hiding in your life already. Look at all the ways you are standing up, rising up against the odds. Look for the sometimes ways of resurrection and then give thanks to God for this renewal, too.

***

Sarah Bessey is a bestselling author and co-founder of Evolving Faith, a community of people reimagining their faith. Her latest book is Field Notes for the Wilderness: Practices for an Evolving Faith. She lives in Calgary.


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  • says:

    Love everything about this!