A new normal

I suppose you are reading this in my future. Maybe you are reading in a future so distant from my present that “this” is over. I know it will never fully end—the next normal will be different from the last one. But there will be a next normal, and I hope you are living in it, and I hope I am living in it with you.John Green, The Anthropocene Reviewed [1]

Given that this was written in 2020, I suppose you know the “this” he is speaking of, the “this” that disrupted our normal so completely that it warranted a new definition for the word. Or perhaps your “this” is different and still shattered the world you thought you knew. And now, normal seems very distant and a new normal very far off…

Honestly, there is still a part of me that is bitter. There are wounds and memories and songs that I can no longer hear without remembering “this”—telltale signs that whatever normal I might step into will have “this” written into its history. Frankly, it’s not ideal.

Yet my heart yearns to combat this bitterness with hope. Perhaps our normals may bleed into each other, indistinguishable. But at any point in time, there is a chance for a new normal.

After all, this is the hope of the Christian faith: by Jesus’ blood shed on the cross, we can start over. As Jesus teaches Nicodemus in John 3, 

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” Nicodemus said to him “How can a man be born again when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”... “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”
 John 3:3-6

This renewal is what ensures our adoption into heaven. Our spiritual walks are based on this truth: after choosing Jesus, we are never the same. We step into a new normal: one characterized by worship and obedience to our Father.

But I know I am in constant need of rededicating myself to Jesus. I repeatedly need to run back into His arms when I stray. Though my salvation was bought and secured one time, there is still a part of the Christian walk that includes choosing to define ourselves by Jesus again and again, repeatedly choosing newness—willingly stepping into a new normal.

God has time and time again shown His provision and power to transform our normals so that they point more to Him, even for those who already believe. In Ezra, God provides for the Israelites through the Persian king Cyrus to rebuild the temple. Cyrus proclaimed that “[God] has charged me to build him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all his people, may his God be with him… and rebuild the house of the Lord” (Ezra 1:2-3). Not only were the Israelites allowed to leave their exile, but by miracle, the Persian king himself aided them with funds to accomplish it.

However, when met with opposition, the Israelites ceased building the temple, and it lay unfinished for a period of about fifteen years. At this point, God spoke through the prophet Haggai and called on the Israelites to begin building again, saying “Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins?” (Haggai 1:4). Then the Lord convicted them, “and they came and worked on the house of the Lord of hosts, their God” (Haggai 1:14). 

After the temple was completed, the Israelites celebrated Passover, made sacrifices, and were joyful (Ezra 6:19-22). The finished temple is a symbol of Israel’s faith being reignited and their lives rededicated to God. They acted according to the unique identity that God bestowed upon them as His chosen people. It was a fresh start. It was a new beginning.

How do we keep this mind as we face our new beginning? The essence of this story is this: when we let Jesus define our new normal, He will rebuild us with Himself at the center. He is the only sure thing in a world where everything, as we have been reminded, can crumble to dust around us. 

This collective experience that is the pandemic presents us with a new opportunity. As we reenter spaces of community and fellowship, we have a chance to redefine our time together. Community emerged from the pandemic as the thing we most took for granted. Now that it is returning, how can we steward this gift?

Like the Israelites, we can redefine our lives and our fellowship with believers in a way that is purposeful in glorifying God. We can spend our time in intentional acts of worship, confession and repentance, as the Israelites did with their sacrifices, and actively maintain an identity that is pure and of Jesus. We can encourage each other into obedience, bear each other’s burdens, and more, all while being in each other’s physical presence. What a gift!

Furthermore, we can also fill non-Christian spaces with the truth of Jesus. The pandemic reminded us that our time can be short and valuable; our mission must be urgent. 

I pray Christians at Penn are convicted of this and are encouraged to invest themselves in a new vision for their communities. Coming out of this pandemic is one of our generation’s defining moments, and I believe we can fill this next normal—however strange and new it may seem—with the light of Jesus. It is never too late to start over. I would rather start over again and again with Jesus than live a life without Him.

See you in the next normal.

[1] Green, John. “‘You’ll Never Walk Alone.’” In The Anthropocene Reviewed: Essays on a Human-Centered Planet (New York: Dutton, 2021), 9.

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