The new normal
During the COVID19 lockdown here in New Zealand many of us learnt all sorts of things about how our rhythms of work and leisure could pivot so easily.
You could argue it was forced upon us and the only response we could have was to pivot, but nonetheless the general sense was that more people than expected were able to productively work from home and that we were actually capable of finding leisure activities that rejuvenated us that didn’t involve driving, malls, or the requirement of a passport.
Several phrases also became part of our daily language. ‘These are unprecedented times’ was repeated with regular aplomb, together with thoughts around what the ‘new normal’ will look like.
Since life has returned to some degree of normality I have found that, sadly, these phrases have almost disappeared from our daily language.
I say sadly because I carry a genuine sense of remorse that generally speaking much of what we dreamed about hasn’t embedded itself deeply enough in our hearts to make any meaningful change.
Talking about unprecedented times leads us to think about what these unprecedented times might be saying to us and what we can learn about ourselves in the process, and discovering a new normal means we have the opportunity to think about what wasn’t useful in the past and how we might look forward with new ideas and new priorities.
My years of presence in this world are shortly to hit 50, and I’m at a stage now where I’ve learnt a few things, and observed a lot more. If I could have another go at life I’d like to think God would lead me down a sociology path, because I love learning about people, and what makes societies work the way they do.
I’m [mostly] thankful that God has given me a visionary creative streak, and I love looking forwards, dreaming about change and what could be better in the world I serve, in the church I pastor, in the home I live.
Observationally though I’ve seen that the vast majority of people naturally like the habitats of comfort zones and familiarity, preferring to revert back to what was normal rather than imagining what could be normal. Creatures of habit would be how I observe most people.
So the new normal because of unprecedented times easily slips from consciousness and the comfort zones of the old days becomes the default rhythm that is embraced. It’s … comfortable.
A disciple of Jesus is not a disciple of comfort
While this might be true sociologically and generally speaking true for most people, the Biblical narrative doesn’t seem to make comfort zones the place of residence for followers of Jesus. This is true from the moment the Holy Spirit visits a teenage virgin named Mary and says to her (in the Gospel of Luke Chapter 1, Verse 28), ‘Greetings, you who are highly favoured! The Lord is with you.’ There was going to be nothing comfortable for Mary following a visit like that!
The record of Jesus’ life and ministry from that point on continues to be completely outside of any comfort zones. Whether it’s Joseph being called to move way outside cultural norms and take Mary as his wife, whether it be the calling of the disciples away from their careers to follow a man with no home, or whether it be any of the multiple times that Jesus tells people that Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it (this language from Matthew Chapter 10 Verse 39), comfort is not a safe zone in the Kingdom of God.
In my repetitive reading of the Bible for a number of decades now, I’m still trying to place that where I can rest in the conservative, safe and normal life that so many aspire to. I just can’t see it, but I’ll keep reading just in case it’s in a hidden spot.
Real growth happens outside comfort zones
Notably, those who we often admire in the Bible, from the Old Testament prophets through to the radically changed Paul of the New Testament, always displayed new normals after encountering the power of God. Being a disciple seems to be deliberately uncomfortable so that we are transformed by the renewing of our minds, no longer conforming to the patterns of this world (Romans Chapter 12 Verse 2).
It is thus very evident that true spiritual growth, and growth generally, always happens outside of comfort zones. As social commentators have said for a long time, that really is where the magic happens.
The new normal
The challenge for us, the challenge for me, is this: what does a new normal look like that is uncomfortably challenging and outside of our comfort zone so that the Kingdom of God is given fresh breath to breathe through our churches and our communities in ways that are unprecedented because of these times?
Let’s be people of courage and passion as we embrace the uncomfortable, the unknown and the unpredictable, because the world still needs a Saviour and it still needs the hands and feet of Jesus, you and I, to be those whose lives reflect the comfort of the Spirit of God in uncertain times.
Grant Harris is the Senior Pastor of Windsor Park Baptist Church in Auckland, New Zealand, a church that was planted 65-years ago and comprises people of all generations seeking to reach a community that consists of people of all generations. The tagline of Windsor Park is ‘doing life and faith, together.’ Grant can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.