When you think of the word “normal”, what comes to mind? Is it the ideal you aspired to in middle school, wearing the right brands and saying the right things, trying desperately to fit in with the cool kids? Is it the outcome you hope for from every medical exam? Or maybe it’s how you described your life before x, y, or z happened to you, whatever it was that moved you from the manageable, predictable life you lived to your present state.
For me and you, our most recent loss of normal came from the onset of a pandemic. One day we were going to school, eating at restaurants, attending weddings and graduations, and then, seemingly overnight, our lives came to a screeching halt. And we were all left wondering, “when will things get back to normal?”
But for me, it wasn’t the first time I had asked that question. My first year of marriage was fairly normal on most accounts. Martin and I had done our premarital counseling and learned how to balance a joint checking account and how to respond to each other with grace and kindness every time one of us left dirty socks on the floor. We had a wonderful plan for what our new life together would look like. But as we entered year two, Martin’s strange health issues led to multiple doctor’s appointments and then, ultimately, to a rather serious diagnosis: a brain tumor. And though that situation was much different than our present Covid era, our question was the same: when will things get back to normal? We were fine with a short-term detour, but as our days in the hospital turned to months, we began to sense that the detour may actually be the road. And once we began to experience the breadth of the damage the tumor had done and the lifelong disability Martin was most likely facing, we were at a loss.
I don’t share this story to depress you. Hopefully, by the end of this article, you will feel encouraged, and maybe even hopeful. Because the truths Martin and I learned back then, and are still learning today, are lifelong truths. And though it would take me an entire book to share them all with you, let me start with these two.
The first truth is one we learned about ourselves: We learned that we were created for normal. That’s why we crave it! From the beginning of Genesis, we read a story about a man and a woman in a garden, enjoying fellowship with God and all the peace and stability that came along with that. For anyone who loves a good routine, whether it’s a favorite morning ritual or a dependable restaurant that always makes your sandwich just the way you like it, we can trace that desire back to Eden. We were made for sturdiness, for stability and for safety. In many ways, that’s why life itself can be so hard. That’s why we are shaken by the loss of a job, the loss of a loved one or the severing of a relationship. We weren’t necessarily fashioned to withstand the fractures, losses or breaks that life throws our way. But that certainly doesn’t mean that we have no hope in this present life.
Which leads me to the second truth: We don’t have to place our hope in God returning our lives to normal; we can simply place our hope in God.
It wasn’t very long after the rift of sin, the great mistake that altered normal this side of heaven, that God made a plan to restore our stability and security. But he didn’t just stop there. Not only did he make a way for us to spend eternity somewhere that is more stable and secure than this world, He gave us Himself for the in-between. He gave us Himself, whose character, nature, and promises are faithful and secure. Our hearts no longer have to look to circumstances to bring us peace. We can look to the person of Jesus.
You may be thinking right now, “Great, Laura. But what does this actually look like in real life?” I’m so glad you asked!
First off, what do we do with the truth that we were created for a normal that is lost? We grieve that loss. We grieve the loss of normal. Rather than pretending that we are fine just because we are Christians, give yourself the freedom to feel sad and disappointed with the brokenness around us. One of my favorite passages of the Bible is Psalm 13. I love that God allowed such a vulnerable lament to exist in His holy canon of scripture. As David asks such questions that echo our own doubts and fears, it gives us license to do the same: “How long O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” I used to think that facing trials as a Christian meant always wearing a happy face, and always being ready with a reassuring answer for exactly why God might allow whatever hard thing someone is struggling with. But the more I get to know Jesus through His Word, the more I realize that sometimes he simply weeps with those who weep, rather than immediately offering the “right” answer. He allows us to mourn, agreeing with all creation that things are not as they should be. In your area of struggle or sadness, have you been honest with God about your frustration? Have you been honest with others about your grief?
But rather than staying in a state of despair, our second truth points us to our hope in the midst of the mess. When we place our hope in God rather than the return of normal, we maintain a hope that this world cannot take from us. But it takes more than just wishful thinking; it takes actively setting our minds on the things of God rather than the things of this world. After David laments for a few verses in Psalm 13, he ends his prayer by making some critical heart choices: “But I will trust in your loving kindness. My heart will rejoice in my salvation. And I will sing to the Lord, for He has dealt bountifully with me.”
It didn’t take me long into our brain injury journey to realize that there are things in my life I cannot control. And I’m often tempted to dwell on what I can’t fix, rather than to focus on what I can change. To put it another way, you can’t always choose what you walk through, but you can always choose how you walk through what you walk through. Make sense? This is what David is doing at the end of Psalm 13. David chooses to trust God. David chooses to rejoice, even when it feels like God is hiding from him. And lastly, David chooses to sing, not based on his understanding or agreement with his current situation, but solely based on God’s track record of faithfulness that David has seen both in his own life and from generation to generation.
So, what normal has left you? What normal is God actively calling you to step out of? Will we respond in fear or in faith? Will we believe that the God who claims to do exceedingly more than we can think or ask (Eph 3:20) may have greater plans that what we can understand in this chaotic moment? God, give us the faith to trust that in the wake of unprecedented change and loss, you desire to do an unprecedented work, in us and through us, for your glory.
Laura Story is a wife, mother, songwriter, worship leader, author, artist, and Bible teacher. Her songs—which have won Grammys, Billboard Music Awards, and Dove Awards—include “Blessings” and Chris Tomlin’s “Indescribable.” She is the bestselling author of two books and Bible studies, When God Doesn’t Fix It and I Give Up. Laura has a master of theological studies and a doctorate in worship studies, and has served as a worship leader at Perimeter Church in Atlanta since 2005. Her greatest joy is being a wife to Martin and mother to Josie, Ben, Griffin, and Timothy.