When will we get “back to normal?”

It’s a question that has been asked a lot this past year: When will we get back to normal? It’s an understandable question, and one that’s been asked in a variety of circumstances and places, by people old and young, and more times than any of us have been able to keep track of.

Yet as more than one person has voiced over the last many months, there is actually no way to go back to exactly the way things were before COVID-19 became a reality in our lives.

Granted, some things have returned to some semblance of normal, and for many of those we are grateful. But there are other things that can’t––or shouldn’t––just go back to the way things were. That’s because in the past fifteen months, we have all changed. We have experienced things both good and bad. We have seen the best and, in some cases, the worst in one another. Not only that, certain things that aren’t working anymore have been brought into the light––both in our personal lives but also in how we relate to one another as fellow humans.

So maybe the better question to ask ourselves is: Lord, what do you have for us now, in this new time and season? What does this new future look like?

I once heard a young man named Josh Sundquist speak at an event, and this was a question that he had to ask early on in his life. At the age of nine, he was diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer and given a fifty percent chance to live. After spending a year on chemo, his left leg was amputated.

When this happened, Josh and his parents had to reconsider what they had imagined his future to look like. There’s no doubt there are lots of options available to amputees, but as Josh was growing up, having him lose a leg was likely not something anyone had considered. So when he did, they had to imagine a new way of doing things. They also had to choose how they would look at this experience and how they would let it define Josh’s life.

Would they go forward, always looking over their shoulder in regret for what was and might have been? Or would they go forward with a certain degree of optimism and determination to make the best of the hand they had been dealt?

Three years after the doctors declared him cured of the disease that took his leg, Josh started ski racing, eventually earning a spot on the U.S. Paralympic Ski Team for the 2006 Paralympics in Turino, Italy. Today, Josh represents the United States in international competition as a member of the U.S. Amputee Soccer Team. He is also a comedian, motivational speaker, author, and Halloween enthusiast.

There’s no doubt that Josh’s determination, sense of humor and exuberant personality has a lot to do with him becoming so successful today. But after his surgery, the option for him and his family to go back to normal was taken off the table.

In fact, if they would have tried to do that, it would not have been helpful or productive for anyone. As I listened to Josh’s story, it struck me that his ability to move forward with optimism was because he and his family were willing to consider what else was possible, and how they could help Josh blossom in this new season in his life.

Though many of us may not lose a limb, the reality is that things do and will happen in each of our lives that change us and shape us in ways that we did not ask for and might not like. We don’t always get a warning that they are coming, and they can feel like an incredible blow when they do.

But after giving ourselves time to grieve and––maybe even having a funeral for our expectations––we do get to choose how we will greet the new dawn, so to speak. There’s no doubt that the pandemic pushed us to do that in ways that many of us were not seeking out. We had to find new ways of doing things and, if we wanted any sense of peace of mind, accept what was.

Yet pandemic or not, the option of going back to everything just as it was before the pandemic is not truly an option. And it would even be wise to not expect that things will simply go back to the way they were.

Because the thing is, though God is steadfast and faithful, God is not only God of the past but also God of the future. And that’s a promise we can each cling to. So again, what will we do now? What do we need to let go of? What might God be preparing us for?

As we consider these questions, it can be helpful to remember that we are not left to our own devices to figure it out. And it is also helpful to remember that as uncomfortable as these sorts of conversations are for many of us, they are ones with which God is extremely comfortable.

After all, God is in the business of death and resurrection. That is what God does. So as followers of Christ, we can expect that we will experience death and resurrection in our lives too, both individually and as a people.

In his teaching on baptism, Luther referred to this as a daily dying and rising in Christ, through which we are freed to live without guilt or fear or worrying if we are worthy.
Yet at times, there are behaviors, practices, thoughts, and attitudes that need to be laid to rest. And sometimes things happen that cause a dream or desire of ours to die as well. When that is the case, we don’t always know what resurrection will look like in that area or when it will come.

However, as I once heard someone put it, “When your dreams turn to dust, it might be time to vacuum.” And as people of faith–– followers of Christ––of this we can be sure: that the same God who began a good work in you will bring it to the day of completion” (Phil 1:6).