The beauty of the ordinary

Originally Appeared in : 9801-1/4/18

One morning last Advent, I was having breakfast in a restaurant and going over my To Do lists. At one point I remember looking up and noticing two women sitting at the table across from me. Eventually I caught on that their conversation was growing more intense and was moving into something that resembled a fight.


What I picked up from the body language and tone (I didn’t stare, I promise!) was that these two women, one older than the other, were trying to hash through some hurt and agitation. Neither seemed to be able to extend an olive branch. Finally, one of the women had grown more upset than the other. She stood up quickly and walked away. The other woman sat for a few more minutes, looking down at the table and trying to compose herself.


Of course I was not privy to any of the words or details, but what I saw was hurt. And anger. It was two people who had met up in the weeks before Christmas to try and resolve something, and it didn’t work.


I was so struck by that interaction, and throughout the rest of Advent whenever I thought of it, I would say a prayer for those two women. I assumed they were family members, and I was sad for that level of hurt. 


I think many of us can relate.


Family can be a great field where we learn human emotions, where we are cared for and loved. But it can also be a petri dish for sadness, for bruising and wounding. 


Moments of grace, it seems to me, separate one from the other. 


How many times have we had a real misunderstanding and had the good sense to apologize? When that happens, we can change the world. 


When dealing with people, hurt happens. Even the most sensitive people, trying to be aware of someone else’s feelings, can end up hurting. Add to that all the times when in our own sin (or tiredness, or woundedness) we hurt others on purpose and that’s where, over time and with that habit, family can cause pain.


One of the most heroic things I witnessed this past Christmas was an older gentleman apologizing to a family member he had hurt. He could have used his own stress and sadness as an excuse ­— Christmas is hard for me, get over it. Instead, he had a moment of grace where he realized even though his actions were based on some sadness in his life, what he did was hurtful. He apologized.


The simple ability to look past our own feelings and see how we impact others —that is life-changing behavior. “I’m sorry that what I did was hurtful. Please forgive me.” That’s humility, and when we operate at that level of love within the family, we can indeed change the world. 


“If you want to change the world,” said Mother Teresa, “go home and love your family.”


Can you imagine any better use of your time and energy than loving the people God went out of his way to put in your care? We can think in terms of evangelization and mission work and spreading the faith, but if we have no love for the people right in our own home, we have nothing.


“The most extraordinary thing in the world,” wrote G.K. Chesterton, “is an ordinary man and an ordinary woman and their ordinary children.”


What makes family so extraordinary is all the goodness that can come when we learn to love. We die to self in saying we are sorry. We grow in virtue when we focus on the needs of others instead of ourselves. 


I am struck, overwhelmed, lately by the pure gift I have been given in being a wife and mother. Preparing food for my family, creating a home that is welcoming and cozy, redirecting arguments among my children, setting a good example in my relationship with Paul —what an incredible task God has set before me! There is no better use of my time than to do this ordinary work. 


To love these people, through my actions and my attitude, is at the heart of radical evangelization.


Rachel Swenson Balducci is a freelance writer and member of Most Holy Trinity Church, Augusta. She can be reached at

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