Michael Reneau, in his review of The Little Way Of Ruthie Leming, says the book’s message speaks to the dilemma many serious young Christians have about vocation. You know the saying, “Everybody wants to save the world, but nobody wants to do the dishes”? That:
That decision embodies the message echoing throughout Little Way: sometimes our highest calling is simply to be with our spouses, children, friends, family, and communities. Sometimes the biggest way to live is to do the small, hard things of a quiet life spent trying to relate to — and reconcile with — those who know us best. Some will be called to rush toward those doomed buildings and leave others behind, like many did on September 11th. But many more of us are meant to return to our homes, go about our non-romantic jobs, and love no less faithfully those whom we see each day.
Little Way is about dying, too. Some of us will die in moments of great heroism and sacrifice. But others of us will die like Ruthie: in our own living rooms coughing up the cancer that has ravaged our last days and seared the memories of our children. We will have lived our last days within earshot of the same good people who saw us into the world, who sent us money at graduation, who stood beside us at our wedding, who sent us flowers at the birth of our children, and who will carry our caskets to our graves. And that is no less heroic.
These are messages we need to hear more of these days, especially we Christian millennials. Between Matt’s dustup with the Radical Movement, Anthony Bradley’s provocative thoughts on the “new legalism” of the change-the-world ethos, and Keith Miller’s pushback against suburb critics, it’s pretty clear we’re still tempted by the one-size-fits-all lifestyle that will unleash all the social, spiritual, and cultural capital Christianity offers the world. Little Way reminds us that no such universal lifestyle exists outside the call to live well-ordered lives devoted to Christ. That requires one big thing: knowing where on the big way/little way spectrum we fall. It requires each of us to know our various callings (vocation, family, place, etc.), to know that others will have different callings, and to respect (if not appreciate) the diversity therein. That’s a freeing message, and by the end of the book Dreher begins to grasp what that freedom looks like.
On this trip to Holland, I had a conversation with some old friends who, like me, are in middle age, raising kids. We talked about how satisfying daily life is, and how none of us, when we were young and just getting to know each other, would have been able to conceive of it. I mean, we would have imagined that we would have been bored out of our minds with the kind of quotidian lives we lead. In my case, Kinder, Küche, Kirche [kids, cooking, church]is about 80 percent of my life (my friends don’t have the kirche part, but otherwise, it’s them too), and, if you add in Bücher [books], boy, does that make me content. I wish it were possible to travel back in time and let 22-year-old me know that this kind of life is better than my stunted moral imagination back then could have conceived. It’s hard to accept that God might be calling one to live an ordinary life, but one infused with faith, hope, and love. That we might do more for saving the world (and our own souls) by committing to doing the dishes — a lesson that I’m still learning, by the way, so don’t give me that look, wife.