She didn’t know any of this would happen as she walked down the street that day.
In the movie Joy, a man named Neil, explaining the power of sales and television and the history of his empire to Joy, makes the statement: “In America, the ordinary meets the extraordinary every day.” This is what the movie is all about. It’s a movie that is “Inspired by true stories of daring women. One in particular.” And in that daring woman and her story we see the ordinary meet the extraordinary. It’s a historical story, but it’s also bigger than that. It’s mythic. It reminds us of things that are true for our own lives. And in that, it also reminds me of another similar story. A story of another daring woman in whose life the ordinary met the extraordinary… a woman from the Bible. Actually, it reminds me of a couple of them.
First, let me brief you on Joy’s story. Hers is a bit of a Cinderella story. Her parents divorced when she was young. Her mother spiraled into depression and retreated from the world. Her father went from relationship to relationship, desperately needing a woman’s love to keep him stable. Joy was the one who kept things going at home. Her parents relied on her to cook, clean, provide financially… they were the children and she was the adult for all practical purposes. The same became true in her short-lived marriage. Joy’s life was filled with the mundane. It was overwhelmed with the crushing needs of every day existence in a world where everyone depended on her and no one helped her carry the load. Dreams she once had were suffocated by the need to simply survive…
Until one day, she was cleaning up broken glass (while her family partied on, oblivious, and more than willing to let her serve them, as per usual), cutting her hands while trying to ring out the glass laden mop. It was the most mundane of moments. She was on hands and knees, cleaning up a mess. It was in this moment where the ordinary and the extraordinary began to mingle. She had a need for something more. She needed help and inspiration struck. She imagined a mop that could ring itself, without her having to use her hands and risk getting cut on glass (or simply getting dirty). She had to design the mop, get it patented, get it made, get financial backing, and fight like mad to get it sold…. But this was the birth of her empire. Not only was that mop wildly successful, but she changed the way things were sold. As Neil said, “This woman’s gonna be a whole new business. No way!” He was right. She appealed to the average American housewife, as an average American housewife. Instead of having celebrities sell her mop, she sold it herself…and she was appealing because she was average. She was ordinary. And yet, she was extraordinary. She went on to make another some hundred patents. She also went on to found/run a business that helped other ordinary people like herself who had ideas see those ideas into reality.
The story is amazing in itself, but it was told in an unusual way. It was told through her grandmother’s eyes. Her grandmother was the one person who had been a help and not a burden to her. Her grandmother was the one person who had always believed in her. She had been telling Joy all her life things like, “You are going to grow up and become a strong woman.” “You are the one who will carry this family to success.” And “I know that I will live to see you be the successful matriarch you were born to be.” Joy wasn’t quite sure she believed her grandmother, but the words were seeds, powerful seeds that began to take root. This was important because there were other seeds being planted by the rest of her family. When she had some setbacks, her father was there saying things like, “It’s my fault. I gave you the confidence to think you were ever more than an unemployed house wife selling plastic junk to unemployed housewives.” He could get excited about her success as long as things were looking good, but in reality, he never really believed in her. I say all this because it’s an important point, the power of our words for life or for death…but really, that’s another article in and of itself. What I was saying is that the story is told from her grandmother’s point of view. She narrates and we hear her thoughts, even after she’s dead, commenting on her granddaughter’s life. It was an unusual choice, perhaps, but it gives us a more insightful commentary. We aren’t just watching Joy’s life and left to make our own conclusions. Rather, grandma helps us see a few things we might miss, and one of the things she really helps us see is the potency, the pregnant possibilities, the extraordinary future that is possible to us, even though it is unbeknownst to us, in and through the dull, the mundane, the difficult ordinariness of life.
Towards the end of the movie, we see Joy walking down the street, relieved because she’s finally won a battle and has some hope that her mops will finally be able to make her a little money and give her some relief from the financial troubles she’s been in. And as she’s walking down the street, the movie pauses for grandma’s voice to offer some commentary, some insight. The movie makers could have simply shown us what was to come of Joy’s life and business empire, but they didn’t. They let grandma tell us about it instead. I think they did that so that we could have her perspective on it. So that they could make a stronger point, draw some conclusions, teach us a lesson from it—one we might miss without a little commentary. As she commented about what was to come, the big house Joy would have, the business she would run, the patents she would invent… she made a point of saying, multiple times, that Joy “didn’t know any of this would happen as she walked down the street that day.” She didn’t want us to miss the fact that Joy “couldn’t know.” She couldn’t know what extraordinary things would one day happen through the ordinariness of her humble beginnings. Is there anything more ordinary than a mop? But Joy took an ordinary mop, made it extraordinary, and then something even more extraordinary happened as she brought it to the masses. And then, this ordinary woman went on to help lots of other ordinary people meet the extraordinary in their own lives.
It’s a great story, but it’s perhaps not as unique as we might think. Certainly, the particulars are unique to Joy’s story, but the general storyline itself is less so. The Bible is actually filled with stories much like it, if not in particulars than in nature. I’ll point you to only two, but hopefully by then you can see how God loves this kind of story…and how maybe Joy’s life isn’t the exception, but rather the model by which we ought to be expecting God to work in our own lives.
Ruth. She was an ordinary girl from humble beginnings. When her husband died her mother-in-law, Naomi, urged her to forsake tradition and instead return to her own people because there was nothing for her if she chose to stay with Naomi. Ruth, however, chose to serve Naomi and go wherever she went. So, she found herself a foreigner in a strange land, hungry and needy. They were in desperate need of food, so Ruth went out to glean in a field behind the workers. (There was provision for widows in the scriptures, that farmers were to leave behind anything they dropped in harvesting the grain and allow widows to come behind them and clean up the left overs.) So Ruth went out that day in search of work and food. The most basic and mundane of tasks imaginable.
I love how the Bible puts it. It says she “happened” upon a field. “Happened.” Such an insignificant word. It was just an ordinary thing. She needed work and food…she happened to go to Boaz’s field. Maybe it was the easiest one to get to? Boaz “happened” to be a relative of her dead husband’s (important for the tradition and custom of their people, widows were supposed to marry a “kinsman redeemer, someone in the family who could carry on the family name), and he “happened” to notice her and to be available and interested. He didn’t know who she was any more than she knew who he was. They happened to get married. And from this ordinary, hardworking, servant-hearted foreigner came a family from whom come amazing, Godly men such as King David and Jesus. Ruth is one of only four women listed in the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1. Her story is so lovey and so important and so inspirational that it’s given its own book in the Bible. But, like Joy, she “couldn’t know” any of that was going to happen that day that she “happened” upon a field. She was simply going to work, doing the ordinary, but that is precisely when the extraordinary happened.
I said I would mention two stories of two ordinary women—the second is Mary. Isn’t that part of her charm? A simple girl. A child, really, in whom the glory of God was shown. She was ordinary in every way, one of us, and yet God chose to plant the seed of something extraordinary inside of her. She gave birth (one of the most human, gritty, common, ordinary things known to man) to a savior! If ever there was a moment where the ordinary and extraordinary mingled! And to add to the humble ordinariness of it all…she did so in a stable, where countless animals had done the same. Now, she did know a little about what was going to happen and how extraordinary and significant it would be, but only because an angel told her. Before the angel’s visit, she herself, was as Joy and Ruth, completely unaware of the miraculous and extraordinariness that was about to be literally birthed from her mundane, ordinary life.
But THIS is the story God wants to tell in all of us. It’s the good news of Christ. That not only did he pay for our sins, but He gives us the Holy Spirit and implants Him squarely in the center of our lives. The extraordinary, the Divine, the maker of miracles Himself, is embedded in our very humanity. And maybe we don’t know when our daily grind of going to work or putting food on the table will turn into something more than that, but when we have Jesus in our lives, we live with the beautiful weightiness that at any point, our “happening” on a field can become something SO much more. We know that he can transform every ordinary task into something extraordinary, something miraculous, something which displays His glory. For our every lives, like that of Mary, are impregnated with Jesus Himself, and at any moment, we may give birth to His glory in some way or another.
Joy’s story is remarkable, but it need not be unique. Her story is for us, for you and for me. The tale will be told a little differently in our lives, as it was different in Ruth and Mary, but the general idea, the overarching story is much the same. God is always about the business of bringing the divine face to face with the human, the extraordinary with the ordinary, the miraculous with the mundane, that they might mingle together. The miraculous lifting the mundane from its low existence, the human putting flesh on the divine. This is Christianity as it is meant to be lived.
Questions for Discussion:
- Why do you think the movie wasn’t simply told chronologically in 3rd person, but was instead told through the grandmother’s point of view? What impact did that have on the story?
- Does Joy’s story seem unattainable to you, or do you find it inspirational? Why?
- Do you know any other stories similar to Joy’s? Any Bible stories?
- Why do you think the grandmother commented about how Joy couldn’t have known what was to come as she was walking down the street? Why was that an important observation?
- What can we learn from Joy’s life?
- Neil said that in America the ordinary and the extraordinary meet every day. Why is that true in America? How might that be true (even more so) in Christianity?
- What times in your life can you think of when something important happened, something extraordinary, from something very ordinary? Did you recognize at the time how significant it was, or was that something you only realized after the fact?