Navigating the New Normal

“Unprecedented” is such a useful word. I used to like it a lot. Now? Not so much. You might even say that use of the word, “unprecedented” is at unprecedented levels, but if you were to say that you’d probably feel really bad about yourself.

Dang it.

The truth, though, is that the situation in which we currently find ourselves is unprecedented. It’s also disruptive, shocking, unnerving, scary, challenging, and all manner of other descriptive adjectives.

At this point, we’ve all had about two weeks to come to terms with what’s been happening in the world. We’ve learned new expressions like, “social distancing,” and, “flattening the curve,” that weren’t expressions we ever used until recently. And I hope that you, like me, are taking all of these measures seriously and doing your part to stop the spread of this virus.

Emotionally, we all went through a really tumultuous time as the news just kept hitting us in wave after wave and the way we operate on a day-to-day basis changed so rapidly. And now the reality is hitting us: this is our new normal—at least for now. As that realization dawns on you, you’ll find yourself going through a new set of emotions, and it’s those emotions I want to talk about today.

To be clear, I’m not a psychologist. But I am a student of human behaviour, and there are some themes here that are discernable.

In my sermon a couple of weeks back, I talked about how we humans, in the midst of a crisis that’s far beyond our control, will look to regain that control in whatever way we can, even if that means irrationally buying a six-year supply of toilet paper.

You might have avoided falling victim to the toilet paper panic, but the circumstances that created that panic are still around. We still don’t know how long this will last. We still feel as helpless as we did at the beginning, and that feeling might actually be increasing as we watch the number of cases continue to climb. We feel like there’s nothing we can do to stop an enemy we can’t see.

And now you can add a different set of pressures because we’re all coming to terms with the fact that social distancing means that we’re stuck with the same people pretty much all the time. Even if you’re still going to work because you’re involved in an essential service, when you get home there are no options for you but to stay there. Again. Doing the same thing you did yesterday.

For some of us, that’s not much of a change (fellow introverts, I’m looking at you, although not too closely because then we’d both feel awkward about the personal attention). For others, it’s really hard.

In the coming days, all of that isolation is going to start to take its toll—if it hasn’t already. Those little things that annoy you about your spouse or your kids or your roommate are going to become inescapable. Tensions will rise. Words will be said.

Every little relational crack and strain that existed before this crisis will suddenly seem like a yawning chasm, and, because your emotions are all over the map, you may feel yourself leaning towards making big, permanent decisions that will have an impact that lasts well beyond the current reality.

When you find yourself in that situation, please listen to this one word: don’t.

Now isn’t the time to be making large-scale life decisions because your head is never clear in a crisis. Step back from the ledge. Take a deep breath.

Think about why you’d make the change you’re thinking of making—really think about it. If you’re willing to press hard enough on it, I think you’ll find that your motivations for doing something drastic are a reaction to the lack of control you feel in your life right now.

We’re living in an abnormal time and most of the things that you relied on to provide your sense of equilibrium aren’t there anymore. As a result, you’re going to try to re-establish control over your life, and making a big, permanent decision is one of the ways that will make you feel like you have control again.

But that’s not the solution. There are some bells you can’t unring, even after the crisis passes.

I’m not saying you should throw up your hands and do nothing, though. You should be taking proactive steps to make sure that you’re equipped to cope with your current situation no matter how long this new normal lasts. Here are some things you can do.

Establish Ground Rules

One of the challenges right now is feeling like you’re at loose ends, with no structure in your life. Establish ground rules to bring that structure back. Set a schedule, and make sure you include whatever regimen for self-care you need. Talk to your partners-in-isolation about the tensions that you’re feeling, and give each other permission to have some rough edges.

Make sure your ground rules address what you’ll do when you’re feeling tension starting to rise. For example, “No matter how edgy we feel with each other, we’ll always maintain a respectful tone.” Have a “timeout” routine established (one person goes to one room, one goes to another, or outside, or whatever), and state explicitly that if someone calls timeout, you’ll immediately take a 10-minute break to cool off.

It may feel weird to talk about ground rules, but this is a weird time, and you’ll have to do things that feel weird in order to get through it.

Lower Your Expectations

It’s an objective fact that one of the biggest keys to happiness in life is lowered expectations, and now we all have the opportunity to test the truth of that claim.

Seriously, this is really important. Ask yourself how much it really matters if the dishes don’t get done tonight, or if you or your spouse or kids stay in their pyjamas all day, or if you don’t shower for a week. No, wait: that last one is really important, but the other two don’t have to be.

For you extroverts, this is going to be a really challenging time because your usual social outlets aren’t available to you anymore, so your tendency will be to heap all of your expectations for social interaction onto your spouse (who is maybe an introvert, because the introvert-extrovert marriage is a pretty strong trend). That’s an unfair expectation in the best of times. Your spouse’s shoulders aren’t big enough to carry that load.

Introverts, this is going to be a challenging time for you because there will be no escape from people. Your tendency will be to expect your spouse to allow you to be completely introverted, and that’s an unfair expectation on them.

In light of all this, maybe one of your ground rules should be, “We have permission not to meet each other’s expectations.”

Practice Grace

Most importantly of all, it’s critical right now that we all learn to practice grace more than we ever have before. God shows us his grace by giving us something that we don’t deserve: eternal life. God declares us to be righteous because of the imputed righteousness of Jesus, and he overlooks our sin because the shed blood of Jesus has paid the penalty it would otherwise incur.

Now is the time to become experts at giving each other what we don’t deserve. Yes, your spouse said something that may justify a snippy response, but don’t give it. Give them mercy and kindness instead.

Be of the same mind. Have the same love. Be in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his or her own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Show kindness. Practice compassion. Remain unified. Overlook small injustices. Heap grace on one another. More than anything, that’s what’s going to get us through this.

Stay safe. Stay well. Stay away from others. We will get through this. And in so doing, let’s give glory to God alone.

We’ll talk again soon.

Sincerely in Christ,

Pastor Mark

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