Last December I read the book, “Be Fearless: 5 Principles for a Life of Breakthroughs and Purpose” by Jean Case who uses compelling storytelling to illustrate how bold decision-making and acts of fearlessness have changed the world. I remember it as a decent read, but pressed for specifics I probably couldn’t remember many. What I do remember is an autobiographical chapter at the beginning of the book titled, “Leaving Normal Behind.”
The chapter peeked my interest because at the time I, like many of you, felt like I was being led to something new…something different. I just knew God had a great plan to upend my life and launch me into something wonderful and it wasn’t just me. Here at The Ministry Collaborative, we had many conversations with many of you and others as we wondered about what God was doing in the world and how it would impact the church. As we began the year, 2020 VISION was everywhere. After all, how many of us used some version of “2020 Vision” to start the New Year as a sermon series, ministry theme, or bible study.
Fast forward five months and the words, “Leaving Normal Behind” have a whole new meaning. That anxiously excited discerning impulse we had about what God was up to has all but disappeared, replaced by shock, confusion, and trepidation. While COVID-19 is big, this isn’t what we had in mind. Now we’re here. Normal has officially left the building and the question I am wrestling with is, are we willing to leave normal behind or will we hang onto its pant leg and sleep in its sweater mourning it as the one that got away?
Dave Feltman, of our Iowa cohort, shared a wonderful quote by Nena O’Neill, “Out of every crisis comes the chance to be reborn, to reconceive ourselves as individuals [and churches], to choose the kind of change that will help us grow and to fulfill ourselves more completely”.
I share it now because it describes beautifully one of the ways that we can leave normal behind, by using the tears of our collective grief to water God’s vision germinating discreetly beneath the surface of this crisis. Just as joy has the ability to make pain productive, our willingness to follow the Spirit forward has the ability to redeem our losses, reconceiving them as the birthplace of our fulfillment.
Leaving normal behind isn’t automatic but requires intention and initiative on our part. To use a somewhat cliché phrase, we have to “do the work” of recognizing, mourning and grieving our losses so we can embrace rebirth and reconception. More than simply choosing change, we have to fight for it knowing that sentimentality, fear and over reliance on tradition will make us hold onto normal, and content ourselves with whatever piece of its pant leg we can.
Leaving normal behind requires that we look “normal” squarely in the eye and see, really see, who we were, who we had become. Too many times we romanticize what was with “good old days” rhetoric and anecdotal snippets of the happy times, conveniently forgetting the things that made us so excited by the possibility of new and different just a few months ago. We forget the choices we made, the trends we didn’t disturb, the moments we didn’t speak out, the times when our silence and our sated complacency led us to where we are now.
Leaving normal behind requires that we embrace truth even when it hurts. In a world of fake news, propaganda and misinformation, our rebirth and reconception must be conceived from the birthplace of truth, the Gospel preached, taught and applied purposefully, powerfully, and abundantly. Howard Thurman wrote, “There is something in every one of you that waits and listens for the sound of the genuine in yourself. It is the only true guide you will ever have. And if you cannot hear it, you will all your life spend your days on the end of strings that somebody else pulls.”
Leaving normal behind requires that we remember, “being on the ends of strings that somebody else pulls” and become vigilant about never being in that position again. We must reject the religion of productivity and “grind culture” that keeps us distracted, trying to earn what the resurrected Jesus already secured. Focusing instead on being quiet in this moment and listening for the sound of the genuine…the still small voice and letting it change, reorient and guide us to resist the familiar dangling rhythm that had lulled us into the complacent sleep of normalcy to begin with.
The Bible puts it this way, “For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.” (Isaiah 43:19) I encourage all of us to do whatever we must to see it and allow it to guide us forward so we can once and for all leave normal behind.