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Which Way is Normal?
Wrestling with the Realities of Covid
I miss the way things were, don’t you? I miss the way things were when life was normal.
I’m not comfortable with all of the changes that have been enforced on me, on my family, on the world.
This is not normal!
Everyone is wearing masks. Many churches are still closed. I still can’t get over not having been able to go to church on Easter!
I just can’t wait to get back to normal.
How long will it be before things get back to normal?
There’s something nice about things being normal. It’s so comfortable! I didn’t realize how much I needed normal until I was forced to live without it. Some of us would give practically anything to go back to normal right about now.
Of course, it is true that when things were normal, there were lots of things that I didn’t like. And I complained about them. And some of the things I’m missing now are some of the same things I was praying for God to free me from six months ago. 6 months ago I was praying ‘God, I need a change, God, this isn’t working, I need help’.
Remember your New Year’s Resolutions to re-order your priorities?
Isn’t it interesting how quickly we can shift from what we wanted to escape from, to what we want to get back to again now?
It’s so easy for our goal to be getting back to normal.
But what if normal isn’t something to get back to? What if normal is something to look forward to. What if the normal that we knew is not the normal that God had planned for us?
Why do we assume that normal is back there? Why would we as Christians who serve a God who is always moving forward from glory to glory, from strength to strength; whose very essence is defined by resurrection and new beginnings think that now the whole goal, the correct goal, is to get back to what we had before?
Maybe God has been speaking into our hearts and we just didn’t want to hear it. Maybe God is saying that He is bringing us to a new normal. Because what we thought was normal was just what we knew.
Doesn’t faith look forward?
Lessons from Exodus
In Exodus 14 we learn that the Israelites had only known slavery for over 400 years. It was all they had ever known - it was normal for them. On the one hand they hated it. They hated it because there was ever increasing frustration and pressure. And, this was a generation of people who had gotten used to never having enough.
Has never enough become our normal? The spirit of this age is a spirit of never enough. We can never get enough information, we can never get enough connection through social media - not real connection but always holding our phones. Then we wonder why we’re so fearful, why we don’t feel joy. Maybe it’s because we were never intended to carry so much in our minds and our hearts. But, now it’s just normal. We’re used to making brick without straw, we’re used to not having a good nights sleep, we used to running around here and there, we’re used to spending too much money. It’s normal.
We’re always looking for things that will meet our needs. But until we know a better way to meet our needs we will always depend on the wrong source. Like certain thought patterns that we embrace, they’re familiar. When you are afraid you reach for what’s familiar. Even if familiar is killing you.
The Israelites were standing at the Red Sea which was body of water that they had no context for. Like us right now! We have no context for this crisis! We have no context for this challenge! We have no precedence for this global pandemic because we’ve never lived through one. So when they were terrified, they craved familiar. They cried that they’d rather be back in Egypt than here in uncertainty. We do it all the time. We go back to routines that kill us, patterns that kill us, relationships that kill us, bottles that kill us, websites that kill us, foods that kill us, accounts that kill us, thoughts that kill us because its normal - and normal is nice.
God’s people are often trying to go back to normal when God is working to bring them to something new. What is the new normal that I should look forward to?
Maybe God is teaching us to appreciate things.
I hope the churches are full again, but I hope we never go back to not appreciating going to church. I hope we never go back to dragging ourselves to church on Sunday mornings. I hope we never go back to grumbling about things in the service that are not to our exact preferences. I never want to go back to that.
I hope we get to hug and spend time with our friends again, but I hope we never take them for granted again. I hope we don’t see the small annoying things about them again rather than seeing the image of God in them, and God’s potential for them.
Our Place in God's Kingdom
We’ve been adopted into the kingdom of God, and now you want to be normal?
Remember Blockbuster? And be kind, rewind? And late fees? That was normal at one time. Now we can have any movie we want streamlined to any of our personal devices! We shake our heads and laugh at the Blockbuster days. But, are we holding onto a blockbuster blessing? Something that God is trying to put out of business in our life? Maybe God is saying “I’m taking you through something uncertain right now, through something you’ve never seen before but just because you haven’t seen it before doesn’t mean it’s not better.”
It CAN be normal for me to have a heart that is at peace! That’s how it’s supposed to be. We’re supposed to have peace in the middle of a storm - Jesus did! He slept through things that we’re terrified of. Because he’s not from here. Because when you’re from somewhere else it changes what you see as normal. Because I come from another place, this is not my home, I do not have to accept the patterns of this world as normal. I don’t have to accept Egypt as normal. What if God is trying to bring me into a new normal? But I’m so afraid that I turn away and reach for what’s familiar.
Maybe one new normal is better relationships. Because now we are so toxic in the way we treat each other. In the way the way talk to each other, in what we think about each other, how we categorize and judge and box each other in. Now, in this time COVID-19 I need you and you need me and if we don’t find a way to work together we may never get out of this pandemic.
What if God is calling us to give up something to get to the new normal? What if our true nature has been ensnared in what Romans 12 calls the ‘patterns of this world’?
We learn to call negative normal, because we know it, because we’ve experienced it before. Even if it’s bondage. The Israelites were in Egypt for their whole lives. 430 years of thinking you’re never supposed to have enough, you’ll never be free. That’s what it’s like to be in bondage. Have we been in bondage also? Bondage in depression, bondage to patterns of thought. Romans 12:2 is a chain breaking scripture.
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:2
And in Ephesians 2:4-10:
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead inour trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
God’s mercy - that’s not normal! How many of us can commit a wrong against someone over and over and over and over again and be completely forgiven? Only God! That’s not normal!
And for the people in Romans and Ephesus Paul was telling them that wasn’t normal for them either! They were more comfortable going back to their old normal. Paul was telling them that in view of that mercy he urges them to stop trying to get back to normal. Instead of going back to what’s normal for you, go forward into this new way of life. This is your true and proper worship. This is your new normal. Your new normal is that we are forgiven and not condemned. Your new normal is that you are a child of the most high God. You are no ordinary child. I am no ordinary child. We are a royal priesthood, a holy nation. We are set apart.
We shouldn’t be trying to be normal. Normal is broken! The culture is broken, the world is broken. And not just for the past few months, it’s been broken for a very long time.
Faith, Hope, and a New Way of Life
Finally there’s space for faith in your life. As long as everything was normal, there’s wasn’t space for much faith in people’s lives. Certainly in this season God is helping people to reset their schedules. A new reordering of priorities. Many of us worshiped sports more than we worshiped the savior. God is not trying to get you back to that normal, to where you worshiped sports and your kids activities and left no space for Him. God’s not trying to bring us back to that Egypt. Where we were just spending our money and spending our time and never full, running after this and that just to please other people. That should never have been normal.
What does God call normal? That’s what I want to know.
There has been a sea change and now our faith finally fits. Worship is the only thing we can do now. Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1) Now people see that the unseen is the most significant. We get it because we’re fighting a virus that we cannot see. Faith finally fits! This is our moment! This is our time! This is what we were born to do! This is what we’ve been trained to do! We weren’t born to be normal!
What was I thinking? There’s nothing normal about God! What’s normal about knowing everything? About being everywhere? About knowing what’s in our hearts? What’s normal about raising from the dead? What’s normal about creating birds and fish and the galaxy? What’s normal about forgiveness of our sins, of grace and mercy? What’s normal about a virgin birth, or healing the sick, giving sight to the blind? What’s normal about a Holy Righteous God loving me - of all people, someone who’s the lowest of the lowest, and adopting me as one of his children? There’s nothing normal about God! Why have I been trying to get back to normal?
We want things back the way they used to be because that’s comfortable for us but God cannot bring change while we cling to comfort. There is a new normal, a better you, a truer you. The patterns of this world are just pretend - something to distract you. There is a peace that comes from above. There is a wisdom that whispers and it doesn’t shout and God may be whispering ‘I’m not trying to get you back to that old normal. I’m trying to bring you into a new normal.’
Why would we go back to that normal? Let’s look forward to the new normal! I’m looking forward to God re-inventing me, renewing my mind, to God increasing my capacity to connect with people for real. We left Egypt. I want God to transform me. When we pray for healing, let’s not just pray for physically healing. Let’s not just pray for immune systems, lets pray for belief systems. Let’s pray for healing of our souls.
I pray that God will bring us into a new normal. There’s nothing normal about faith. It wasn’t ever meant to be normal. There is nothing normal about a shepherd boy fighting a giant with a slingshot. What was normal was all the boys with the heavy armor that could do nothing against the giant. There’s nothing normal about a virgin birth! If Jesus came into this world in that way what makes us think that God is ever going to show up looking normal? There’s nothing normal about stretching out your staff over the sea! There’s nothing normal about what we’re going through right now. There’s nothing normal about the pandemic, the fear, about this order of things. Nothing that I have accepted as normal is truly normal.
Maybe God is bringing us closer toward what He wanted for us all along. Be not conformed.
I pray that God is bringing us into a new normal. Instead of going back into normal, let’s go forward into this new way of life.
Crystal Sarno, Keeping the Faith Program, CSLI Fellow, is the President of Perspectives Group, Inc., a design and marketing company that has served in public, private and non-profit sectors. She is also a CSLI Fellow and the Project Manager for the Keeping the Faith program at the C.S. Lewis Institute in Washington D.C. Crystal is a mother and grandmother who loves the Lord and has a heart for discipling the children in her life and helping others do the same. She has two grown children, both brilliant and beautiful and a darling grandson.