I’ve heard it said that we are in the “new normal." I’m guessing we’ve all heard that phrase, but I’m not so certain I would agree with that perspective.
Certainly, we have come through an unprecedented time in our history. Of that, there is no question. But “new normal”? I might like a new set of golf clubs that promote the promise to elevate my game, but I’m not buying them because I’m certain it’s not about the clubs. Just like I’m not buying into this “new normal” stuff. Let me explain why.
Wikipedia explains the “new normal” as being “a state to which an economy, society, etc. settles following a crisis, when this differs from the situation that prevailed prior to the start of the crisis.” History has recorded the phrase “new normal” after World War I, a few financial disasters, 9-11 and, of course, the most recent COVID-19 global pandemic. I’m not trying to be ignorant about this. I realize that we are not in the same place as we were when this pandemic started, and we are living differently than we did before all this happened. But sudden changes and disaster-type moments have been happening since time began. And more than likely, these kind of challenging moments will continue to be happening in the future. Like our ancestors, we adjust. We adapt. We move forward.
Here’s where I might differ from what others might be thinking about when the “new normal” discussion is being touted: the apostle Paul wrote about such things in terms of being content no matter what the circumstance. Listen to how he phrased it in his letter to the Philippians, chapter 4:11-13: “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”
In a few sentences, Paul moves past any discussion of the “new normal." If anyone would have reason to embrace such a notion, it would have been Paul. He was persecuted for his beliefs; beaten for teaching them to others; shipwrecked on his way to share the good news in other lands; scorned upon and imprisoned by his own nation; had some form of physical defect that hindered him throughout his adult life; endured sufferings through being thrown out of communities; and experienced hunger and pain while traveling — along with so many more moments when his very life hung in the balance.
Through all of this, Paul says he has learned how to be content. He doesn’t indicate that he has moved to a “new normal." I believe Paul is showing us what it means to persevere through very difficult times. He never once turned his back on his mission, his ministry, his faith nor his Savior. It was the same before all of this adversity, and it was the same after. Paul is showing us an example of what it means to endure, what it means to actually overcome, what it means to remain steady in the midst of great challenge and adversity. I know that I can learn from this example from our faith history. Living through difficult circumstances does not seem as important as living with complete ease and contentment during those difficulties.
Maybe you can see what I am saying. Actually, I am not even saying it — Paul is!
Whatever the normal might be, we will always experience challenges and difficulties. Goodness — that’s what being human is all about! We will always have things like this around us. True, perhaps not to the magnitude of this once-in-a-lifetime pandemic that has impacted nearly every single person on the face of the earth. But the key to getting through moments like this is reliance upon one thing: faith in God. Paul says it without difficulty: “I can do all this through him who gives me strength." He is referring to his faith in Christ, which has carried him through all of his adverse moments and will continue to carry him through whatever the future will hold.
I can only hope that my faith is as rock steady as Paul’s faith is. I want a faith has not wavered one bit, not one iota, in the past 16 months. I want a faith that hasn’t been altered negatively just because the pandemic has altered our daily routines. I need that kind of faith, because I know that the next “new normal” is up ahead. I hope that I can have — I hope that we all can have — the level of faith that allows us to be content as we move through it.
I am comfortable and content with the old, rock-solid faith to be ever present in my life, no matter what the world might throw at me! The Lord will give us strength to endure whatever the “normal” might be — new or otherwise.
Daren Flinck is pastor at Worthington's First United Methodist Church and Adrian United Methodist Church.