A few months ago I was having a conversation with someone who was going through a recovery process. He sounded really healthy on the phone – sober in the best sense of the word. Then he said something really curious about his life.
“I’m so ready to get things back to normal.”
“Normal,” I told him, “was what got you in trouble in the first place. You’re ‘normal’ is being redefined, and that takes time. And as much as you want that, you are going to need to give it time to form.”
I was talking to a couple a few weeks after their first baby was born. I asked how things were going and got a predictable answer. “We love being parents, but we’re exhausted from lack of sleep,” Mom said.
Then Dad chimed in… “Yeah, we’re so ready to get back to normal.”
I guess I was a little rude, but I just laughed. In their face.
“You want what? Good luck with that.”
It had been a couple of days since the funeral, so I went to check on the man whose wife had died. We exchanged pleasantries and he told me again how much the service and everyone’s support had meant to him. Then he said something curiously sad.
“I’m so ready for things to get back to normal.”
His voice trailed off as his eyes looked off to nowhere in particular. I didn’t say a word. But the silence spoke for both of us. What he had just referred to was never coming back.
Welcome to What?
I have added “Welcome to the new normal” to my cliché list, along with “thinking outside the box” and “superior customer service.” What you called the new normal yesterday is a golden oldie today.
That said, on another level I completely understand the feeling of being disrupted – sometimes violently – from our relationships, routines, and a sense of control and predictability. I have often said or written in my journal that I wish I could get back to some sort of routine. Routines are comfort zones, productivity producers. They produce a steadiness of expectations that keeps us from being on high alert all the time. And that’s a good thing.
But regardless of what’s comfortable or what gives us the illusion of control, life has a way of colliding with our comfort. And in the wake of that, “normal” is changed forever.
- A man moves his family to a foreign country with the expectation that his decision will have global impact, not only for him, but for his family for generations.
- A woman leaves her home town and marries a man she hardly knows. She is strong, manipulative, even domineering at times; he is passive and timid. They raise two sons in a household that hardly ever sees a day of peace.
- A successful businessman – determined to win by hook or crook – is radically changed when he comes face to face with the kind of man he had become. Not long after that, his world is crushed by the news of the death of his son.
Welcome to the new normal of the Bible’s Abraham, Rebekah and Jacob. All of these and many more are the testimonies of people who are forced into a parenthesis period in their lives – living somewhere between “normal” and “normal.”
When you’re living between normal and normal, you mourn the losses of what you once knew. Memories and tears sometimes show up when you least expect it. A toothbrush or a TV commercial can send your heart careening backwards while life is dragging you forward.
When you’re living between normal and normal, visibility is reduced to a step at a time. During my greatest periods of upheaval, I have found myself wishing for just enough vision to get me to lunchtime. For those of us who thrive on a vision for the future, these parentheses periods feel like walking on Jello in the fog.
When you’re living between normal and normal, relationships that once seemed unshakable are often changed. Okay, so you went through the divorce – at least your couple friends are still there for you. Right? Maybe not. Or maybe you feel weird hanging out with them. Some of the changes we experience simply come with the territory; others invade us rudely. New people or new kinds of connections show up; others depart.
When you’re living between normal and normal, everything about who you think you are gets challenged. Much of it gets replaced. It’s a confusing time to go from single to married or vice-versa. Or to go from corporate executive to downsized early retiree. Some of those identities pass with time; others stand the test of time. Still others come back in reshaped ways.
When you’re living between normal and normal, life goes on while you wait. And wait. And wait some more. Sometimes you’re not even sure what, exactly, it is you’re waiting for. Sometimes the waiting is mercifully short; other times it’s cruelly long. Sometimes, like Moses, you may assume the waiting is the (brace for it) new normal. But it isn’t. The end of your story is still being written – often in places you can’t see.
So What to Do in the MEAN Time?
Times of upheaval, big and small, present unique opportunities and threats. Pay attention to both. For example, you may find yourself with an urge to do something you’ve been putting off, like traveling or learning something new. This could be your opportunity.
You may also find yourself looking for a cheap and superficial way to get back to what you think is your “old normal.” Careful. Many a stupid choice was made by someone who tried to hurry up and be married again, or who wanted to medicate their pain somehow.
This is a strange place to bring up college football, but coaches face a unique parentheses period at the end of the regular season. After a weekly schedule of games, the good teams then have a month off to wait for a bowl game. Successful bowl coaches speak of creating a “one game season” where they go back to the fundamentals before they get to the game plan.
That’s good advice for you and me, too. When you’re living between normal and normal, get back to the fundamentals of who you are, who the key relationships are in your life, and what kind of person you are called to be. Calling, connections, and character – those are fundamentals to you like blocking, tackling and conditioning are to success on the gridiron.
Once when I was enduring one of my hardest parentheses periods ever, a therapist taught me a priceless lesson – one that has saved my sanity and even my life more times than I can count. Having been through his own “stuff” he learned: I can feel safe, even when I’m not in control.
Living between normal and normal is an imposing reminder that you aren’t nearly as in control of your life as you may think or wish. But your sense of safety doesn’t depend on you being in control. It depends on God being in control… and you being okay with that… one day at a time.