“I just want things to go back to normal.” These words were uttered by one of the characters in an episode of the CBS TV series Blue Bloods. In the scene, the DA and ADA were trying to get a teen who witnessed the murder of her boyfriend to testify in court. She was struggling between her desire to see her boyfriend’s killer punished and the possibility of suffering gang retaliation for testifying. As she turned it all over in her mind, she just dropped her head into her hands, broke down in tears and said “I just want things to go back to normal.”
Likely most of us have said these words either out loud or silently over the past few years. If you are living in the United States in the recent past you have experienced the public life affected by vigorous debates about what the public schools should teach about the country’s history, the spread of SARS COV-2, policies about becoming vaccinated against SARS COV-2, the effectiveness of the SARS COV-2 vaccine, claims of fraud in the election process, whether the January 6 assault on the US Capitol was incited by President Trump, and whether or not police agencies are corrupt and racist. There are many more that can be added to this list. Masks anyone?
To the degree that your daily life has been changed over the past 2 years, to that extent you likely are experiencing the effects of what many are calling a new normal. What is normal? Normal may be defined as that which is usual, typical, or expected. It references that which is consistent or common in the life of the individual and society.
Now if you have lived for a few decades or more, you probably can look back over your life and acknowledge that what was once normal is no longer the case. Between changed family circumstances, employment, physical location, or maybe the state of your health, change is normal as is often said. As these changes occur, we reflect, we adjust and for the most part move on. And in most of these cases we feel some measure of control and even responsibility in how these changes occur. So, in part we initiate and manage the circumstances of our change.
In the case of widespread societal changes, many of us may have little if any change or control to what is happening around us.
An interesting thing happens to us humans when things begin to change. We assess. One of the things we do is assess whether the situation is a threat to our being, our survival. And when something is perceived as a threat, a reaction is triggered called fight or flight. In some situations, this happens instantaneously, like when you accidentally step into the path of an oncoming vehicle. You don’t think about it, your body reacts for you, and you get out of the way. In other circumstances we may be able to take the time to react and assess the situation. This is especially crucial in situations where a situation that is perceived to be an emergency, is not truly an emergency and a situational assessment is more advantageous than an immediate reaction.
It is also interesting to consider what happens physiologically during the fight or flight response. The body releases several hormones and chemicals which induce a heightened state of alertness. Basically, it is a stress response. There is a danger though. If we remain in this heightened state of alert, we then become anxious and overwhelmed. Let that sit with you for a moment. Constantly living in a heightened state of alert, anxious and overwhelmed. Perhaps you have seen one of those nature shows where a prey animal is aware it is being stalked by a predator and walks haltingly, eyes constantly darting about. This is not the way our Creator designed us to live. Proverbs 14:30 reads “a tranquil heart is life to the body.” Tranquility in this sense is a state of wholeness or peace.
I imagine individuals who serve in combat zones, prisoners, emergency services personnel, individuals living in abusive relationships all experience life in this way to some extent.
Now remember what we shared at the outset. Consider some of the issues in the center of the public conversation. All these things in some way or another have upset the public perception of what is normal. Questioning how to teach the country’s history is an idea that many would rather not even consider. Discussions about the origins of SARS COV-2 can cause stress. Is the solution offered by the pharmaceutical industry a safe solution? For the most part, until the January 6th storming of the US Capitol, this country has seen a peaceful transfer of power. Things like that only happened in other countries and appeared on YouTube videos. Also with the ubiquity of personal video devices it is evident that some law enforcement officers are unethical, commit crimes and abuse their power in the exercise of their duties. What was deemed to be unusual has now become normal.
Consider that these few things have all become condensed into a relatively short period of time. And for many of our neighbors they are stressful. And for some of our neighbors, these conditions which some perceive as recent changes have been their normal for many more years than some of us realize.
So now we have a proliferation of helps arising to help us make sense of this new normal. Organizations are discussing how to help their members develop coping skills. The term “post-pandemic” has become a part of our vocabulary as we seek to navigate life under new circumstances with new threats. Threats trigger stress.
If you have stayed with me this far, perhaps you can agree that no facet of our personal lives have been spared the impact of this ongoing stress.
Do you feel equipped to manage assess and manage life circumstances so that you are not constantly living in a heightened state of alertness?
Over the past few years, I have begun to appreciate how much more we need to the church, the body of Christ, the household of God to fulfill its purpose as a place of refuge. Sadly in some circumstances, the church has become as a contributor to the stress rather than a salve for healing. We need to ask of one another “how are you doing,” and then listen. We need to take more time to think deeply on the impact of our words and positions. We need to understand that the Gospel transcends the national conversation. We are not rule makers, we are to shine the light of Christ into all corners of our community.
When I think of all that God promises to be to His people; protector, provider, place of refuge, shepherd – that He is one who accompanies us even in dark times, it is clear we can do better.
Jesus is God, who came to dwell with us as a man to show us how to live with one another with his life. He brought calm to those whose hearts were yearning for relief from their burdens, where oftentimes condemnation was offered. He acknowledged the fears and weaknesses of humanity while inviting those he encountered to walk into the way and the life that would lead to a divine communion that sustains through all adversity until the full consummation of the kingdom of God.
In the years following Christ’s ascension to glory, the new church community faced many challenges. What was normal underwent radical change. The standard or routine of life evolved. Read the letters to the churches, read the book of Acts and it is clear that they were constantly making adjustments and dealing with some intense issues involving many of the same cultural and societal forces at work today. Personally, I believe that those who prospered where those who kept their eyes on the risen Lord and remained open to his direction. They were not isolated from nor immune to the difficulties of life and the burdens common to men. This too is another reality the church must face as it navigates the times. We were not promised a rose garden. We are assured of victory. We were not assured a life free of difficulty or opposition.
However, we have been warned of where the battlefront exists and even how to overcome the enemy. When we view our brother, our neighbor, someone of a different ethnicity, or someone who has a different opinion on the economy, or the political flavor of the day as the enemy, we only increase stress and uncertainty. For if, refuge cannot be found in the household of God, where can it be found!
In the life of the believer, what is normal is that no matter whether things change or remain the same, we are in Christ and God is faithful to His word to sustain us through all things. We overcome in faithfulness. We endure to the end.
We invite you to join us in a journey to rediscover the caring and supportive life found in the household of God. We meet on Sundays at 11am to enjoy community life. Together we will work through life’s challenges so that no one walks in constant stress.