Earlier this week I shared my experience with proposing an alternative to “new normal.” I thought my suggestion of “redefined reality” had some merit, but other folks on Facebook disagreed.
To be honest, I still think it has some merit. It’s not perfect, but it begins to name the need I feel during these uncertain times.
When everything began to change four months ago, I don’t think any of us could comprehend what that change might mean. I’m pretty sure none of us can fully comprehend its meaning now.
So how do we live with a level of uncertainty we never could have imagined just four months ago? How do we redefine the reality we now face?
Maybe one way is to write a new story.
“We should write a book!”
That exclamation came during a group chat last week about the first question in our new Join the Conversation initiative. The chat was filled with rich insights, humorous thoughts, and deep feelings about what people find most rewarding about getting older.
I agree we should write a book, and this new initiative will help us do that.
Each week during July and August anyone who would like will have an opportunity to share thoughts and feelings about navigating the third third of life.
We will introduce a new question each week and then invite you to join the conversation. There are a number of ways for you to share your thought and feelings:
Here’s the question for week two (July 8-14): What are the most important lessons you have learned?
Join the conversation—and help us write a book!
It began a few weeks ago when a friend posted this question on his Facebook page:
Can we find fresh expressions for the phrase “new
normal”? It’s tired, like the phrase “at the end of the
day” has become. Any suggestions from you
grammarians and vocab-lovers for other ways to
express “new normal”?
I decided to play along and shared this suggestion: redefined reality.
My friend responded: “I’m using it! You’re my Cyrano de Bergerac!”
I thought we’d had a little fun and that would be that. Boy, was I wrong.
More responses to my suggestion soon appeared:
Doesn’t have to be! Only if we accept it!
I cannot stand the phrase “new normal” ;) #moveon #moveforward #bedone
I feel that “new normal” is trying to make us accepting of this “time out period” in our
lives. New normal suggests there is no end. Time out suggests there is a light at the end.
A “Time for Faith” is how I would rather see it.
Silly me, I thought perhaps I could change the conversation by providing a bit context:
I think the definition of “new normal” is interesting: A previously unfamiliar or atypical
situation that has become standard, usual, or expected. There have been lots of times in
history when something happened that changed how people lived, related, etc. I don’t see
it as static, but rather as always changing, evolving. Since the current situation is global
and severe, it just increases the speed of that change.
I am so excited to invite you to participate in a new initiative sponsored by our region’s Elder Care Ministries.
Each week during July and August you will have an opportunity to share your thoughts and feelings about navigating the third third of life. We will introduce a new question each week and then invite you to join the conversation.
There are a number of ways for you to share your thought and feelings:
So let’s begin the conversation!
Here’s the question for week one (July 1-7): What are the most rewarding things about getting older?
I can hardly wait for your responses.
How do we navigate life’s in-between times?
Maybe it’s the time between receiving a diagnosis and learning whether the treatment has been effective. Or the transition between a full-time job and retirement.
Perhaps it’s being in the midst of a moral seismic shift or a global pandemic without being sure about when or how either will end.
As we attempt to find a way through these in-between times, sometimes we allow worry to sit in the driver’s seat.
We all worry from time to time. And sometimes worry motivates us to solve a problem or make a needed change.
But during in-between times, worry often takes on a compulsive nature and leads us down dead-end roads.
At other times we treat wishes as a sort of GPS. We equate fulfilling our wishes with following a roadmap that will guide us through the uncertainty of in-between times.
But as one saying goes: “Wishes are for genies.” We often wish for things that are unlikely to happen or be achieved—and often during desperate times.
So if worry and wishes both fall short, how else might we think about navigating life’s in-between times?
How about waiting?
As I was working on a sermon about praying when we’re uncertain, a story came to mind. It involves a friend who died recently and whose birthday would have been next week.
On the day I began work at the congregation where Paul was the church administrator, he and another staff member took me to lunch. As soon as the server brought our meals, Paul looked at me and asked, “Would you like to pray?”
While I typically don’t say grace in restaurants, I did that day. Later I questioned Paul why he’d asked me to pray. “Well, you’re a pastor, so I thought maybe you’d want to,” he responded. My reply came perhaps a bit too quickly: “Don’t ever ask me to do that again.”
That experience became a running joke between Paul and me. Whenever we were together, something in a conversation might well prompt Paul to lean over and—with a big smile on his face—ask, “Would you like to pray?”
Would you like to pray?
It’s not that I don’t want to pray. It’s just that sometimes I’m uncertain about the when and where and even the how of praying. Or maybe it’s that I’m uncomfortable about the certainty with which some people seem to pray.
When I think about joy, one of my favorite people comes to mind. Margaret was an older member of the congregation I pastored in Jamestown, Rhode Island. She always had a smile on her face and a laugh on her lips. She was filled with a joy that spilled out and touched everyone who came in contact with her.
Margaret was a walker. She walked with purposeful stride and a brisk pace, but that never kept her from stopping to speak to someone.
When Margaret first moved to Jamestown, she didn’t feel welcome. No one was overly friendly. So Margaret became her own version of a joy-filled welcome wagon. She might not have felt welcomed, but she was determined to welcome others. In the process, she radiated a joy that was contagious.
I sometimes wondered about the source of Margaret’s joy. While she never complained, her life hadn’t always been easy. She cared for her husband as he was dying. Then she did the same for one of her sons.
On one of my last days in Jamestown, Margaret stopped by office. While we talked, she reminded me about a sermon I’d preached several years earlier. I had suggested people consider keeping a journal in which they would note things for which they were grateful. I learned that Margaret had been keeping a daily gratitude journal ever since.
That day I began to understand that Margaret’s joy grew out of her deep sense of gratitude. She was grateful for the big and the little things in her life. She saw it all as a gift and that translated into joy.
This summer I’m preaching for one of the congregations in our region. I wonder if folks there questioned their decision to invite me when they learned my first sermon with them would be about rest.
I can imagine them thinking: “Rest? Really? Given all that’s going on in the world, that’s the best she could come up with?”
In my defense, I used a text from the lectionary for that Sunday. Plus, the sermon was the first in a series I planned about what happens when the season we call Ordinary Time isn’t ordinary.
While rest might not seem like the most obvious topic, I do wonder.
I wonder what rest means at a time when we feel restless. Restless because we’ve been at home for months and separated from people we love. Restless because we we’re unsettled by the unknown and unsure when things might get better.
I wonder what rest means at a time when we’re surrounded by unrest. Unrest that’s been sparked by violence played out in front of our eyes. Unrest that reveals great divides that we’ve too often ignored or attempted to hide.
At the beginning of June, those of us in the Christian tradition entered the longest season of the church year. Until Advent we’ll be in what’s known as the season after Pentecost.
Sometimes we refer to this period as Ordinary Time. The part of the liturgical calendar that falls outside the major seasons.
To be honest, I can’t remember a time that has felt less ordinary.
During the past few months, a global pandemic has turned our lives, our country, our world upside down. The ordinary things that filled our lives—going to the office or to school, visiting with friends and family, shopping at the mall or eating at our favorite restaurant—all those things stopped or became much more complicated.
And just when it seemed we might slowly be moving toward something that feels a bit more normal, an unrest began sweeping through our cities and towns. An unrest that reminds us that returning to normal may not be such a good goal after all. The normal that’s worked for many of us has long been a burden or illusion for other Americans—especially those of color.
Over the next few weeks I hope you’ll join me in reflecting on what it means when Ordinary Time isn’t ordinary. To consider things we might have taken for granted or approached differently at any other time.
Until then, may the spirit of Pentecost continue to blow through this season after.
Sometimes I stumble upon the right thing at the right time. Most recently that right thing was photographs and that right time was the pandemic.
In the early days of working from home, I scanned through old photographs I might use for a current project. The photographs included ones I took during trips in the United States and abroad. They also featured friends and family.
Without giving it much thought, I downloaded photos I had taken over the years of the children of my longtime friends Julianne and Eric. For the next month, I e-mailed two or three of the photos to Julianne each morning. I simply labeled each e-mail: Photos for the day.
What began accidently evolved into a daily practice that brought unexpected joy. The photos themselves were filled with joy—a twelve-year-old Nathan with a huge smile, the twins’ celebrating their first birthday. But on a daily basis the photos also reminded me of countless other joyful moments I’ve shared with these friends—from holidays to hikes, from meals to museum visits. They also offered a concrete way to connect with these California-based friends at a time of limited personal connection.
The accidental practice soon evolved in another way. This time the evolution was more intentional.