“Normal is a setting on your dishwasher.”
The whole of my undergraduate psychology class raised a muffled chuckle. Our professor was replying to a question asked in all sincerity about a particular personality type. He wasn’t being snarky or cruel. In fact, his tone was just as serious as that of my classmate who asked the question. He was making a point.
Yet, back then, my youthful cynicism was unsettled. I went home that day to check if he was right. Sure enough, there was normal, right between pots and pans and light wash on my dishwasher. He was right, and his point was made: Normal is an unreasonable expectation for these lives we live…especially right now.
Perhaps you’d agree that never more than in these days we are emerging from has the idea of normal felt so much like a mere setting on a kitchen appliance. If by normal we mean usual or typical or regular; even predictable, then for me it feels awfully distant; like sometime-back-in-early-March distant.
As states and countries open up – each at their own pace – after varying degrees of quarantine, pastors and ministry leaders, right alongside everyone we shepherd, are watching and waiting for what we called normal to restart, and it’s nowhere to be found. What we knew to be weekly rhythms and daily routines for life and ministry seem to be slow in appearing, if not altogether gone. Our normal looks to be counted as loss, a casualty of COVID-19, relegated to a setting on the dishwasher.
And as this reality settled in for me, I did a sort of economic assessment of my life and ministry; weighing out losses and gains. I framed three questions to ask of myself and of the ministries I lead. They don’t come with lengthy explanations, but I’ll dangle them out there for you to bat around at will. They are:
What have I suffered as loss that I have always presumed to be gain?
How has God’s mercy and grace served me in maneuvering these losses?
What has been revealed as gain while losses fade away?
For me, these questions have been wide enough to poke and prod the breadth of the ministries I lead, and yet they have been thin enough to jab through the gaps in my personal armor, forcing me to address issues of identity and character. I’ve suffered loss. Well-planned and measurable ministry practices, along with busy personal routines, which I’ve imagined to be fruitful, have proved less so. Normal as I knew it has taken a hit.
But further on, beyond the losses, have been invaluable gains. Three practices in particular that have always been part and parcel of my life and ministry have, as the losses fade away, been infused with new vigor and joy. Three practices that were rushed by when things were normal are now rested in. Three practices that tipped a hat to my Savior when things were normal are now drawing me closer to Him and closer to those I love and serve. They are:
A sweet hour of prayer. While admittedly not a full hour, it’s a length of time, purposely unmeasured and set apart, to daily pray over the emerging adults – along with neighbors and friends and family – I have loved and served over the years; to intercede for their real hopes and needs.
Small bites, long meals. Taking this literally is of considerable benefit. Figuratively speaking, though, it has been rich and meaningful to take more unhurried time in shorter passages of the Bible, staying there long enough to notice more fully who God is revealed to be, and in light of that, who I am invited to become.
Real relationships. With in-person interaction limited and screen time at an all-time high, the next best thing has been phone calls. Saving the text message as a last resort, it has been a joy to carry on for 15+ minutes in phone conversation with 18 to 28ish year olds, and get the genuine sense from them that the time was important.
Listen, loss is rarely easy. But when the gains move us toward Jesus, well… The apostle Paul talks about loss and gain in Philippians 3. Maybe your heart and mind have already gone there. He says:
“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” (vs. 7-8, ESV, italics from NIV)
Among all our losses; what we knew to be normal life and ministry now loosed from our hands, Paul declares there is but a single gain found worthy of holding tightly to: Jesus Christ. Friends, I don’t know about you, but my dishwasher can keep normal. I’ll keep Jesus and the surpassing greatness of knowing Him.
ANDY WEEDA is Pastor of Emerging Adult Ministry and Director of LEAD Academy at Sunrise Baptist Church. His degrees are from Multnomah University and Western Seminary in Portland, OR. Andy and his wife Amy live in northwest Washington (the state, not D.C.) with their 3 kids. Together they love playing games, walking to the beach, reading, watching Disney+ and chasing a goal to visit every U.S. National Park. You can connect with Andy or read more from him on his blog.