What is “normal”?
Amid the “Stay-at-home” orders from our state governors, we hear a lot of folks talking about “opening things up” and “getting back to normal”. But what is “normal”? Some would say it is going back to the life we were living before the virus struck so many.
I got to thinking about the people of Israel. After the great famine in Egypt that occurred about 1750 B.C.E, Pharaoh owned just about all the land in Egypt, thus most of the people, including the descendants of Joseph and his brothers (the sons of Israel), became slaves. And they lived as slaves and were treated as slaves for almost 450 years.
And then God sent Moses and Aaron to lead the descendants of Joseph and his brothers to freedom. When they left Egypt, the celebration must have been wild, and the people eternally grateful for God’s help in setting them free, as well as excited about their new life as free human beings.
But the story of the Exodus tells us that not too long after leaving Egypt, they came to Marah, an oasis in the desert. But the water at Marah was bitter and the people could not drink it. Moses called out to God, and God instructed Moses to toss a piece of wood into the water, and the water immediately turned sweet. Then God made a covenant with the people, saying “If you will listen carefully to the voice of your God, and do what is right in God’s sight, and give heed to God’s commandments and keep God’s statutes, I will not bring upon you any of the diseases (hardships) that I brought upon the Egyptians, for I am the Lord who heals you.”
But just a few days later, the people grow hungry, and they begin to complain against Moses and Aaron, and thus against God (Moses & Aaron were acting on God’s direction): If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us into this wilderness to kill this WHOLE assembly with hunger.” (Exodus 16:3; emphasis mine)
The people of Israel were longing to go back to their normal life, the one they had lived for 450 years as slaves. In that old life they had been beaten, abused, and overworked. Many died or were killed by the overseers. But they knew that life, it was familiar, it was their “normal life”, and so they wanted to go back to their “normal life”, even if that was not what was truly best for them. As Jeremiah would later tell the Israelites, God knew the plans God had for them, plans for their welfare and not for harm, plans for a future with hope. (Jeremiah 29:11)
But this new life, this life in the wilderness, it was not “normal”. So, they were ready to turn back, and go back to being slaves, being abused, being treated like property, rather than human beings. Back to a life that was not good for them, physically, emotionally, or spiritually.
What is “normal”? I guess we could say that “normal” is what we know, what we have become accustomed to, what is familiar. But sometimes “normal” is not in our best interests. Sometimes “normal” can be harmful, even deadly.
The people of Israel, after 40 years in the wilderness, walked into the land of Canaan, “a land flowing with milk and honey” as our scriptures tell us. They thrived in that land for over 500 years. But to get there, they had to, for a period of time, let go of their “old normal”, their “being slaves normal”, and embrace a “new normal”, a “wilderness normal”.
In my 65 years on planet earth, I’ve come to realize that sometimes what is “normal” can actually lead us away from the abundant life Jesus came to bring us – and the abundance Jesus spoke about had nothing to do with possessions or wealth. It was far more than that. Which is why Jesus was always talking about having eyes to see and ears to hear, when he was teaching about changing what was “normal” in 1st Century Palestine – like treating sick people and lame people as sinners; like treating women and children as property, rather than the children of God they are. There comes a time for all of us, when we need to open our eyes, our hearts, our minds, and our souls, to embracing a “new normal”. Because God is always leading us into new places, new missions, new lives, a new earth.
None of us likes being shut down and shut in. And I don’t believe for a minute that God caused this virus, for any reason. But I do believe God can use this time to teach us things we need to know, awaken us to things we need to pay attention to, inspire us to change things that need to be changed. Just as Jesus first followers changed things after his resurrection.
My faith in God tells me that God will see us through this wilderness and out the other side of it, if we listen to God, put our trust in God, and if we listen to the “messengers” God has sent us (the scientists and medical experts, the governors who are leading us with care and caution). God will lead us into a future with hope.
One last thing. I have no doubt that when we come out on the other side of Covid -19, none of us will ever be able to go back to the life we were living and planning before the virus struck. Things will no more be the same for any of us, than life in the Promised land for the people of Israel was the same as their life in Egypt. Some of us will have lost people we know and love. Some of us will find our plans for our future will have to change. Some of us may be looking for new jobs. Some of us may be a little poorer financially. Some of us may not be moving anywhere soon. Like the people of Israel, we will be facing a new beginning, another new “normal”.
So, what is “normal”? Amid this pandemic, I am finding that the only “normal” I can count on never changing is that God loves me, and God wants only what is best for me. And if I trust that, and embrace that, “and do what is right in God’s sight, and give heed to God’s commandments and keep God’s statutes” (in other words, try to live my life the way God wants me to live), God will lead me (and you too) into what is best for me (and best for you), even if I (you) might think the “old normal”, the old life and old plans, was better.
Love in Christ,
For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart… - Jeremiah 29:11-13