Sooner or later, a new normal is coming. Before we rush forward, let’s learn from where we’ve been. After all, pain without any gain is a shame.
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So, here’s something I bet we all have in common. For the most part, I think we’re all already for things to get back to normal. But in light of what we’ve experienced and in light of what we’ve learned, it would probably be a shame for us to just go back to the normal normal. So right now there’re a lot of people talking about the new normal. In fact, I bet you’ve talked about the new normal. Now, as you know, some of the new normal may be forced on us, but here’s the thing, If we’re wise, if we’re wise we will pause and ask the question, “What have I learned, what have we learned and what do we wanna carry forward?” We’ll pause and ask the question, “What have I learned, what have we learned and what do we want to carry forward?”
Now, here’s something I’ve learned. In fact, here’s something I think we’ve all learned that the producers of the Mad Max movies, the Mad Max movies you remember from the late ’70s and ’80s and early ’90s, the Mad Max movies, they had it completely wrong. The Mad Max producers had it completely wrong. The most valuable commodity, the most valuable commodity during an apocalypse is not oil, it’s what? That’s right, it’s toilet paper, it’s toilet paper. And I think somebody should make a movie about that. And of course the perfect title would be ‘game of thrones’. But that’s taken. Anyway, so the question we’re gonna ask is what have we learned that we want to carry forward, and the way that we’re gonna ask that question is this: How can we all of us, how can we be better for it? How can we be better as a result of what we’ve all just experienced? It was forced on us, but we’re coming through this, how can we be better for what we’ve just experienced and if we don’t stop and ask this question, we will forget. And it would be a shame because pain without gain, you know this. Pain without any gain is a shame.
Now, I realize for some of you, you are not ready to ask this question, because your response to me so far is, “Andy, I can’t think about how to be better for it because I’m still in it. In fact, I’m just beginning to suffer the consequences of what we’ve just been through. So, hey thanks, maybe later I’ll check back in, but I can’t begin asking the question, how can I be better for it because I’m right in the middle of it.” But I just wanna push back on that just a little bit, and I realize I’m stepping out because I don’t know your circumstances, I don’t know your pain, I don’t know what you’re going through, right now. I don’t know how this has affected you and your family specifically. But here’s what I do know: If we don’t pay attention, we will not benefit from it and our tendency will be to rush back to the old normal and miss the lessons learned in this new season or this new normal.
Now, to help us understand this just a little bit better, C.S Lewis many years ago in his little book, “The Problem of Pain”, explores this very tension of what should we learn and when is it too early to begin learning. Here’s what he wrote in the problem of pain. He said, “My own experience is something like this, I’m progressing along the path of life in my ordinary contentedly fallen and godless condition, absorbed in a merry meeting with my friends for the morrow or a bit of work that tickles my vanity, when suddenly a stab of abdominal pain that threaten serious disease, or perhaps a headline in the newspaper that threatens all of us with destruction sends this whole pack of cards tumbling down. And at first he says, at first, I’m overwhelmed that all my little happinesses look like broken toys, but then slowly, slowly and reluctantly, bit by bit, I try to bring myself into the frame of mind that I should be at all times, and perhaps by God’s grace I succeed and for a day or two, isn’t that our experience? And for a day or two, I become a creature consciously dependent on God and drawing its strength from the right sources.
But the moment the threat is withdrawn, but the moment the threat is withdrawn, and you already know what comes next, right? And the reason you know and the reason I know is because it’s our story. We’ve been there, right? For some of you, your story went like this, two or three years ago, maybe five years ago. You know, your husband or wife came to you and said, “Okay, if you don’t change, I’m done, I’m out of here. We’ve talked, and talked, and counseled and counseled and I don’t see any permanent change.” And suddenly here she had your attention. You sat up straight and you began making changes, right? You began coming home earlier, you started listening better, you paid more attention to the kids. Paid more attention to what he asked, and what she asked, and suddenly you became a better husband, you became a better wife and the marriage got better for a while. But the moment the threat was withdrawn, you began to retreat to your old ways, your old normal, your normal normal.
Or maybe you’re a single woman and maybe your story was something like this, that you discovered or you at least thought that you were pregnant, and it scared you to death. And suddenly, your religious past came crashing down on top of you, and maybe you prayed for the first time in a long time, and you begged God and you promised God and you promised change. And then you discovered that you weren’t pregnant, and you were so relieved, and you were a different person, for a while. But once the threat was withdrawn, you began to drift back into those normal normal ways. Or maybe your story is this: You had that scary physical, and your doctor looked at you and said, “Look, we’ve talked about this before. And if you don’t make changes, you will not be around to play with your grandchildren, you certainly won’t be around to play with your great-grandchildren.” And he or she got your attention and you went home and you got serious and you dieted and you exercised, and people began to say, “Hey you’re looking better,” you felt better, everything was better. And for a while, you stuck with it. But then what happened? Well, once the threat was withdrawn, you drifted back to normal normal.
And all of these scenarios and there are more. You’ve got your own story. All of these scenarios make me think, what is wrong with us? Why do we have to be led to the brink of disaster before we are willing to make the changes that we’ve known all along we need to make? Back to C.S Lewis, here’s how he finishes his idea. But the moment the threat is withdrawn, my whole nature… And look at this verb, this is great. My whole nature leaps back to the toys. God, God has had me but for 48 hours, and then only by dint of taking everything else away from him. But let Him sheathe that sword for a moment. And here’s what I want us to avoid. Because in order for us to gain through this pain, we have to be intentional otherwise we will all drift back to the normal that we used to have and never learn anything from it. Listen to how he finishes this idea: But let Him sheathe that sword for a moment, and I behave like a puppy that when the hated bath is over, and if you have dogs, you know exactly where this is going. I behave like a puppy that when the hated bath is over, I shake myself as dry as I can and I race off to reacquire my comfortable dirtiness. If not in the nearest manure heap at least in the nearest flowerbed.
Now here’s the thing, and you know this, and this is true of all of us. It is human nature to return to bad habits once the pain associated with those bad habits is gone, right? It’s human nature, it’s human nature to return to our bad habits once the pain associated with those bad habits is gone, in other words it’s human nature to wanna get back to whatever normal was. But here’s the thing, and you know this, right? Aspiring to normal, come on. That’s not very inspiring, right? So, here’s the question we’re gonna wrestle to the ground. How can we… How can you… How can we be better for it? In other words, you’ve heard, Don’t let a good thing go to waste, that’s true. Well, don’t let a bad thing go to waste. In fact, in this situation, it would be worse to allow a bad thing to go to waste and it is not too soon. And again, I don’t know your circumstances, but my hunch is this, it is not too soon to begin asking this question, it’s not too soon to begin this discussion, it’s not too soon to begin taking inventory and to ask the question, “What have I been doing that almost led to my undoing?
What have I been doing that almost led to my undoing? Or the flip side is simply this, “What should I begin doing now? What should I begin doing that I should have been doing all along? So today what I wanna do to get the discussion kicked off, I wanna talk about three specific areas and honestly, the first two are gonna be a little bit painful. The first two, you may feel like I’m being a little bit insensitive, that I’m doing more meddling than speaking or preaching. But I want you to hang in there with me, and the reason it’s gonna be uncomfortable, it feels like it’s too soon to talk about this, but it is not too soon. While the pressure is on, this is the time when we learn the most, this is the time when we gain the most perspective and what a shame it would be to lose these lessons, to lose these learnings and to lose this perspective.
So to sort of get us started, let’s jump in here.
This is number one of three. How can you be better for it financially? How can you be better for what we just went through? How can you be better for it financially? What have you been doing that almost led to your undoing financially? Or perhaps what have you been doing that actually led to your undoing financially? What financial habit caught up with you in this difficult season? Or ask it this way, what do you wish you’d been doing financially that would have set you up to be in a better place now? And whatever comes to mind and you have an answer to this question, here’s my challenge, begin now. If you will use the pressure you’re feeling right now, even perhaps the chaos in your finances right now to begin asking these important questions, you will be better for it later.
Next up, number two, how can you be better for it relationally? How can you be better for it relationally? What have you experienced these past few months relationally that you wanna carry forward into the future? I think one of the things that we’ve all experienced, is the value of friendship and the value of our friends. Right? But there may be a negative side to all this for you. And if so, I want you to pay attention. Perhaps you’ve noticed or you’ve experienced some unaddressed cracks in your marriage, some unaddressed cracks in your marriage, things that you’d considered to put to the periphery, things that came up from time to time but you were busy, and the old normal allowed you to ignore what was right there in front of you. Perhaps what you’ve noticed is a lack of common ground with one of your kids, maybe a lack of common ground with all of your kids, you’re spending so much time with your family, and you recognize, “I’ve never really developed an actual relationship with one or all of my kids because I’ve been so busy.” Isn’t it true that quarantining has highlighted the good and the not so good relationally?
So here’s the opportunity, I don’t want you to miss, this is so important. COVID-19, COVID-19 may actually serve as a wake-up call to you relationally. If you wake up. So, wake up. If there are cracks in your relationships at home, now is the time to address them. Rushing back to normal’s going to empower you to continue to ignore them. You know this, relationship problems don’t fix themselves. So now is the time to address these relationship issues right now, you have a little bit of extra time, but more importantly, you’ve got a little bit more pressure because of what’s going on or what’s not going on at home. And before you begin pointing fingers, it’s the same with your finances. Own your slice of the conflict pie. Own your slice of the conflict pie. In fact, if you get this right, if you get this right, your story of COVID-19 and eventually this is just a story we tell, right? Your story of COVID-19 maybe this, that it was actually the catalyst that saved our marriage. If you pay attention to this attention, and if you do the difficult work that faces you right now. Rushing back to normal will only allow what’s bad to get worse. Right now, what we’re facing is forcing us to face perhaps what we’ve neglected. Perhaps your story will be this, and COVID-19 was the catalyst for repairing my relationship with my son.
Perhaps your story will be COVID-19 was the catalyst for repairing my relationship with my daughter. Relationally speaking. And I don’t think we can exaggerate this, all of this pain with no gain would certainly be an extraordinary, extraordinary shame. Last thing, number three: How can you be better for it personally? How can you be better for it personally? And when I say personally, I’m talking about internally, let me ask it this way, how has or how is your worldview holding up? How is your worldview holding up? You know what your worldview is, it’s the way that you see and interpret and explain how the world works. And when difficult time comes sometimes our foundations are rocked. And if your foundation, your worldview has been rocked, you should pay attention to that. Do you find yourself asking questions that you’ve never asked before? If you’re not a particularly religious person, have you found yourself praying for the first time in a long time? Maybe you went and found a Bible for the first time in a long time. If you are a particularly religious person, has your faith been rattled? Did you perhaps discover that your faith was more fragile than you imagined?
Did you find yourself asking questions, or do you find yourself asking questions you’ve never asked before? Questions like, where’s God? How could God? Or I thought God. So here’s my point. Regardless of which side of the faith aisle you’re on, regardless of which side of the faith aisle you’re on, if this current season has created tension on the inside, pay attention to that tension, it means you are on the verge of learning something new or being reminded of something that you’ve forgotten. It could lead somewhere good, and it could certainly lead somewhere better. My friend, Kate Bowler said this, and I wasn’t sure if I’d heard her say it, or actually had read it in her book, but here’s her quote and I’ll tell you how I found it just a second. Here’s what Kate Bowler wrote, she says this, ‘There’s a little prosperity gospel in all of us. There’s a little prosperity gospel in all of us and the prosperity gospel is this Gospel that says, basically Good things come to good people and bad things come to bad people. That just kind of what goes around comes around, and what comes around goes around, that you sort of earn your way through life, and that God favors certain kinds of people because of their behavior. And in spite of the fact that you may reject that kind of theology, I think she’s right.
There is a little bit of that thinking in all of us, that God owes me. Or if you don’t believe in God, that life owes me or karma owes me or somebody owes me because I have been a good person, and I have lived a good life. Now, Kate is actually a professor at Duke Divinity School, she’s also a cancer survivor, and she has written from her pain and she’s basically put her life and her pain out there for the whole world to see and to examine, in an effort to help people understand what it means to navigate difficult times. In fact, she wrote a little book that Sandra and I both read. It’s entitled, “Everything Happens for a Reason”, and I love the subtitle, “And Other Lies I’ve Loved”. So, as I mentioned, I actually texted Kate to make sure I got her quote right and make sure it was either something she said or something from her book, and as we texted back and forth, and I told her what we were gonna talk about, here’s what she communicated to me in her text. She wrote this, she said, “Each of us, through the accidental narcissism of wanting to be happy, don’t you wanna be happy? I wanna be happy. And in wanting to be happy, she says, “We kind of find ourselves tripped up in this accidental narcissism.” What an insight. We get confused about what we actually deserve. And then she wrote this, the world cannot help us know the difference between who is righteous, and who is just plain lucky.”
And here’s my point, if this season, has kind of rocked your world in terms of your internal world, if this season has rocked your worldview, if this season has rocked your faith, pay attention to that tension. You may be on the verge of learning something new, or you may be on the verge of being reminded of something old. If current events have left you wrestling with God questions, and you’re not a religious person, and you just assumed you left that wrestling ring years ago, but now you find yourself wrestling with God Questions, pay attention to that. And if you’re a Christian, if you’re a Christian, pay attention to this tension as well. You may discover a different kind of faith, you may discover a better faith, you may discover a different version of faith. And perhaps in this season, you will finally give up your faith in the non-existent God who doesn’t allow bad things to happen to good people. And in this season, you may come face-to-face with the God who allowed the worst possible thing to happen to the best possible person, His son, and He did that on your behalf.
So the point is simply this, we’re going to get through this. Things are going to become more normal, but let’s make sure we are better for it. Let’s make sure that we’re better for it financially, let’s make sure that we’re better for it relationally, and let’s make sure that we are better for it personally. Because, and you know this: Pain, all this pain without any gain would certainly be a shame. So, let’s face and embrace the lessons we’ve learned and let’s for sure face and embrace the perspective we’ve gained. Let’s all decide and it begins today, let’s all decide that we are going to be better for it. Let’s not do what CS Lewis referred to when he said, “Let’s not behave like a puppy when the hated bath is over”. And this hated season will come to an end, this hated bath will be over, but let’s not race off to the nearest flowerbed. And let’s certainly not roll around in the nearest manure heap. Let’s not forget what we’ve learned. Let’s not lose this perspective. And to help you do that, I wanna make a suggestion.
Now, some of you aren’t gonna like this, Some of you are gonna love this, but because it’s so easy for us to forget, because it’s so easy and because we’re so prone to just move on, I wanna encourage you as you think about what you wanna carry forward from this season, I wanna encourage you to come up with a way to remember. I want you to actually create a reminder. To find a physical object or perhaps make or craft a physical object or maybe something you already own, and I want you to attach a memory to this object. Something that will remind you of this season and what you wanna carry forward from it. And I want you to take this object, whatever it might be, and I want you to place it somewhere prominent in your life, so that you see it and you’re reminded.
Maybe it’ll be simply a reminder to slow down, maybe it’ll be a reminder of the value of friendships that you’ve neglected. Maybe it’ll be a reminder to kinda dig in and deal with the crack in your relationships at home. Maybe a reminder to invest in that son or that daughter that is not like you, and consequently, you’ve just had a hard time connecting with. Perhaps it’s a reminder of who or what’s most important. Perhaps it’s simply a reminder of something we’ve all learned, that, Well, we have far more in common with people than not. Basically what I want us to all do is because of what we’ve learned and the perspective we’ve gained, I want us to begin writing a better story as we all move forward. Because as I said earlier, eventually COVID-19 this whole season, is simply gonna be a story we tell.
So, this week, two questions, how can I be better for it, how can I be better for it and what will help me remember? How can I be better for it and what will help me remember? Normal or even the new normal, is right around the corner.
I can’t wait for us to get there. But let’s not miss, let’s not miss this unprecedented and hopefully once in a lifetime opportunity to learn everything we can and to gain the perspective that will serve us well in the future. Let’s not merely settle for getting through this, let’s decide to be better for it.