Who among us has not been worn down to the nubs by the mundane routines of life? Another dish, another diaper, another day, another dollar. And so it goes as each 24-hour wave of life washes over us with alarming regularity. We may find ourselves asking: Does today really matter? Will the tasks I accomplish have any long lasting significance?
Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.
– Ephesians 5:15-16 NIV
I considered these questions as I stood in the 18th century silence of the Bush River Quaker Cemetery. Just off Dennis Dairy Road in Newberry, South Carolina, this cemetery was the former site of the Friends’ Meeting House and remains the final resting place of hundreds of early American Quakers. Its hallowed ground is dotted with leaning grave markers, eroded and bleached by the elements, and hemmed in by lofty pines. Oaks and hickories stand stiffly guarding this quiet landscape, and somewhere, in an unmarked grave beneath my feet lays Sarah Wood Haworth Ruble, my sixth great grandmother.
Sarah lived quite a life. Born in 1720, in colonial Hopewell, Virginia, she married James F. Haworth, and together they had seven children. James died when he was just 38 years old, leaving her with six remaining children under the age of 12, 227 acres to manage, and the constant threat of attack by the surrounding Native Americans. Eventually, Sarah married Peter Ruble, and was apparently disowned by her Quaker Meeting in the bargain. Ultimately, the couple and their children relocated to Newberry where Sarah died in 1769.
As I toured the grounds, ankle-deep in last fall’s brown leaves, I was struck by the significance of retracing the 248-year-old footsteps of a woman whose DNA is tightly wound into my own, and who could have never imagined my presence here — a woman whose existence makes mine possible. Although her genetic contribution has been watered down by generations of Shackletons and Hansons, I can’t help but wonder if I resemble her any way. Perhaps she bears the blame for my problematic pores, or maybe I inherited my rebellious streak from her. (I read in the minutes of a Quaker Meeting that the Haworths received discipline for “consorting with Baptists” and dancing!)
Continuing to wander the field of mossy memorials, I reflected further: What if her birth had been earlier or later or elsewhere? What if she had not married James, but rather one of his brothers, Stephanus or Absolom? What if she had not reared a son, also named James, who would continue the family line through his own children? Finally, I came to this dizzying conclusion: Had any of the ordinary days of Sarah’s life been different, I might never have been.
Could it be possible there are no ordinary days, only crucial ones right under our very noses, unfolding the decrees of providence, the results of which we can’t even imagine? If so, then today, this day is crucial. As Dr. Clyde Kilby, an American Tolkein/Lewis scholar, put it, “I shall not fall into the falsehood that this day, or any day, is merely another ambiguous and plodding twenty-four hours, but rather a unique event, filled, if I so wish, with worthy potentialities.”
Scripture bears out this idea that all of our days are crucial to the grand design and filled with “worthy potentialities”, at the very least because of their Author: For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them (Psalm 139:13-14, 16 ESV). These days of our lives, given to us graciously by God, come pre-inscribed with meaningful employment for his creatures:
What we consider ordinary or mundane may very well be God’s prescribed “good works” for this crucial day.
For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in Him.
– Ephesians 2:10
It’s a sobering thought to me that Great Grandmother Sarah was exactly my age when she lived the final page of the days written for her. As I consider the brief nature of life, I mourn all of the days that have slipped through my fingers, unrecognized as gloriously ordinary, crucial, good works-opportunities. Too often I’ve complained about the weather, which didn’t suit, circumstances I thought beneath me, and service, which I believed, smothered my true potential.
Today, whatever my hands find to do, I will do with all my might (Ecclesiastes 9:10); I will redeem the time in these evil days (Ephesians 5:16); and above all, every endeavor, whether large or small, will be for God’s glory (I Corinthians 10:31). By God’s grace, may I never again fail to see his wondrous, world changing plan at work in and through every day.
Pam Anderson is a Navy wife, home-school mom, writer, and musician. Although a Wisconsin native, she currently makes her home in Blythewood, SC, where she aspires to learn the art and graces of all things southern.