Can we get a few things out of the way before we think differently about getting back to normal as COVID-19 curves begin to flatten around the world? This is not going to be another bit of the internet that’s talking at you, like whoever wrote it is somehow better or smarter than you. Because they aren’t. And it’s not a “ten reasons you’re wrong about everything you’ve ever thought” kind of thing. In fact, by the time you’re done reading this, you’ll hopefully feel like you’ve finally found words for a lot of the ideas you’ve already had.
Okay, let’s get to it. Why the bold statement? Why should we, and Christians in particular, stop trying to get back to normal after this crisis? The short answer? Normal wasn’t working and we all know it. The longer answer? Keep reading.
If you’re not convinced of that bold statement, it’s okay. Let whatever curiosity brought you into this post have some fun with the game of Back to Normal: True or False below.
Back to Normal: True or False
T or F—Before all this, my communication wasn’t as steady with the people I care about most.
T or F—Before all this, I didn’t spend as much time outside, in the fresh air, enjoying nature.
T or F—Before all this, my work tended to be the dominant force in my life.
T or F—Before all this, I read my Bible, prayed, and engaged with my faith less than I do now.
T or F—Before all this, I didn’t have a new kitten or puppy.
T or F—Before all this, I didn’t take as much time to make my own food and cook with fresher, more basic ingredients.
T or F—Before all this, I didn’t regularly see my neighbors out walking, working in their yards, doing sidewalk art, playing musical instruments, going on bike rides, doing socially distant yoga, and serenading their neighbors in the evening as much as I do now.
T or F—Before all this, when someone asked me how I was doing and I said I was fine, they were good with that answer, and we all just moved on without really knowing how others were doing.
T or F—Before all this, I rarely thought about how I might be able to help people with different or more needs than myself in the middle of a time when my own life was under stress, change, and pressure.
T or F—Before all this, I was more distracted, less connected to people I love the most, spent less time living out my faith, shared less, and spent less time outside. Too many days just sort of passed me by.
Maybe normal isn’t what we want to go back to. You may have your own list of norms you’ve discovered you’re not happy with. Maybe you’re glad to see our earth turn greener and literally shake less at its core. Maybe you’re working out more or eating differently. Maybe you’re just glad to finally reconnect with family over video calls. Maybe your marriage was about to tank before you were gifted with a little extra time together to find restoration for your hearts. Maybe God is restoring your faith.
Restoration is such a good word. It’s a much better word than back to normal, because it’s not about bringing back norms. Going back to normal would be regression in some ways; it’d be like a toddler who’s been potty-trained deciding they’d rather mess their pants.
Restoration is about moving forward, toward the beautiful place where it all started. Toward God’s good for all His creation. Restoration is what God’s been up to your entire life, throughout all time. He’s in the business of restoring all things and He’s using people like you to do it. Restoration requires moving toward God’s best, not back to your normal.
At the beginning of our story in the Bible, God called what He made good. Literally, you can read the story. But then, we all lost our way and became wanderers, looking out for our own good. And I think we all have an idea of the kind of trouble we get into when we think we know what’s best. Then, at the end of the story, in Revelation 21:5, Jesus said, “I am making all things new.” All things good. The kind of good that only God can make. All things including you, including your community, including your planet. How? Through Jesus. Because of what He did for us through His death and resurrection. And we can be a part of that restorative work by living the kind of life Jesus lived.
So, unless your normal looked more like God’s best for your life, don’t go back to it. Leave it in the dust and run toward the finish line, which was also the starting line: God’s goodness.
But how? Do we just pull up our bootstraps and do the right thing? No, Jesus said HE is making all things new. Yes, you’re a part of this restoration, but Jesus does the heavy lifting.
There is an old letter written to Christians like you who were facing what was, historically, a much more difficult time for the Church than even what we’re facing now. Hebrews 12 reads:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. Hebrews 12:1-3 NIV
We are all running. Are we running back to the things that hindered us, or are we persevering and fixing our eyes on Jesus, leaving all that stuff behind? What’s changed about your life during this time that you don’t want to change back to normal? The best way to leave it behind is to place your attention, your thoughts, your middle-of-the-night worries, your stresses that are screaming for chemical comforts, and your eyes on Jesus.
You can do this through little decisions to do the hard, right thing. Through short prayers and longer meditations. Through studying God’s character in Scripture and living out Jesus’ way in your day. Through listening to someone and allowing yourself to feel their pain. Through skipping the shortcuts and doing things the real, tangible, if sometimes more difficult, way.
Let’s not pretend this is easy. We are all grieving a loss of norms, whether or not they were healthy. And grief is hard. Grief doesn’t go away by buttering it up with fancy ideas or Christian-sounding platitudes.
If you want to go forward, you almost always have to grieve a loss. That’s hard, but it’s also good, because grief is the beginning of growth. If you skip it, you go backwards.
Here are some ideas for leaving “back to normal” behind and moving ahead instead:
- Admit you’ve been grieving a loss. Talk to God, yourself, and others about what you’ve lost. Sadly, too many of us have lost loved ones, income, and other very good things. All of us have lost routines, norms, and ways of life.
- Make a list of the things you want to see restored in your life and a list of the things that you want to leave behind. Don’t keep anything that smells like a toddler deciding to mess their pants again.
- Realize failure and struggle are the two of the most basic ingredients to growth. But also that failure and struggle often feel like back and forth. Accept God’s grace for the back and forth.
- Along with failure and struggle, trust is vital to growth. If you add trusting God and others to the mix, you can’t help but grow. Pastor Craig Groeschel often says, “You can have control or you can have growth, but you can’t have both.”
- Ask God to grow your empathy for others and yourself. One way to do this is by praying prayers where you’re honest with God about how things feel to you as well as about how you feel about the pain of others. Let God in on even the deepest fears and doubts you’re experiencing. If you want some biblical support for this, read Psalm 89.
- Going forward (or backward) will cause parts of your life to have to die. Die the right kind of death that takes you where you want to go.
- Remember, if you’re in trouble, God’s nearby. Whether it’s your health, family, faith, finances, or friends, God is a present help in trouble. Present means near, but it also means now. If you need this reminder, try memorizing Psalm 46:1.
- It’s not all on you to perfect your path of restoration. God does that when you trust Him with your next step. If this is the reminder you need right now, memorize Proverbs 3:5-6 and say it whenever you walk into or out of a building.
Those are just a few ideas, based on God’s character as displayed throughout the Bible, for moving forward instead of backward. As you take steps toward Jesus, He will help identify some of your own ideas for moving forward that you can then share with others. Maybe you’ve seen 1 Peter 5:7 on social media lately: … casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Go ahead and read the whole chapter, or book, but pay special attention to verse 10: And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. Peter, who next to Jesus and Paul, helped launch the Church as we know it, didn’t write that everything would go back to normal after we’ve suffered for a while. He said suffering is part of the way God calls us forward, and He himself will restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish us.
That’s a good enough reason for hope before, during, and after any struggle, isn’t it?
God Himself is up to something good again.
God Himself is restoring you.