Coming out of a new normal and yet returning (in part) to an old normal can leave us disorientated and detached… where do we find an anchor in these ever changing covid seas?
Ready, steady, go back…!
So… I must confess that doing the school run this morning felt very strange indeed. If your children are a little younger, you may have had a head start at getting used to this again, but in our household, today marked the first day back to school. If getting back into the morning routine is tricky after just a six week summer holiday break – you can imagine the shock to the system after such a long hiatus.
Along the way we also passed two hairdressers, both of whom had long queues of excited customers finally waving goodbye to “lockdown locks”!
It’s that potent cocktail of the “familiar and yet foreign” all at the same time. Revisiting an old routine, returning to an old rhythm. In David Bowie’s song Sunday, the chorus cries out:
For in truth, it’s the beginning of an end
And nothing has changed
(And) Everything has changed
SUNDAY (DAVID BOWIE)
Maybe, this morning feels like nothing has changed and yet everything has changed.
The Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, used the analogy of stepping into a river to article this feeling:
No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.
…the waters have moved on, carrying nature’s debris away, and gently changing the landscape as they do; but also – the person whose feet are planted in those waters has likewise moved on, ever changed by the forces that gently alter our own trajectory and perspective.
A stranger in your own home?
Towards the end of Tolkien’s epic Lord of the Rings trilogy, Frodo Baggins struggles to rejoin the quiet life of Hobbiton after all his battles and adventures. He asks the question that maybe some of us are beginning to face right now:
How do you pick up the threads of an old life? How do you go on, when in your heart you begin to understand… there is no going back? There are some things that time cannot mend. Some hurts that go too deep, that have taken hold.
FRODO BAGGINS (JRR. TOLKIEN)
To be back home, and yet still far away;
To be back where you belong and yet not belong anymore;
To have back in your hands what you have been looking for and yet to have still lost something deeper…
I guess what is being articulating for us here in all these different quotes, is that acknowledgement that sometimes the choice to move on feels like a strange type of betrayal; somehow, a denial of the pain and sacrifice of what we’ve been through, or what it cost to get us here.
Maybe that’s how you’ve been feeling. Maybe that’s how you’re feeling right now. Maybe that’s what someone in your life is going through, but has struggled to understand their own struggle.
Pilgrims through this barren land.
In spiritual terms, the words that the New Testament uses to describe this experience are “strangers and aliens”.
Peter, in describing the fundamental change that has taken place in our lives and our relationship with God, goes onto to say:
Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Dear friends, I urge you, as strangers (foreigners) and aliens (exiles), to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul.
1 PETER 2.10-11
In other words, the way I feel about returning to something of the old routines and rhythms of life right now – is how I should always feel about the old patterns of sin and temptations I face.
As big a challenge as that is alone – perhaps it gives us all the chance to reflect during this period of reset, about what patterns strengthen and bolster our new identity and our fight against sin, and what places erode and weaken them.
A far better country…
A similar phrase to this is used towards the end of the great “gallery of faith” in Hebrews 11. The writer has just painted us a picture of faith through a frantic montage through history of incredible examples of the faithful torchbearers down through the ages. Then they write:
All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.
People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country – a heavenly one.
Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.
Life can be a plod at times, or it can be a pilgrimage. A search not just for the home we once knew, but for the home we all need: God’s home, heaven itself.
Thou hast made us for Thine self, O Lord; and our hearts are ever restless till we find our rest in Thee.
Like any long search, the journey stretches over many seasons – everything from expectation to exhaustion, from famine to feast, from home-sickness to home-coming, but whatever the season (and whatever our emotional experience of it is) we can still learn to “find our rest” in God, and in God alone.
When nothing changes and when everything changes – and when even the normal gets rebranded as “new” – over all of time and all of eternity, our everlasting God reigns; sovereign, supreme, steadfast. In all of our looking and our longings, He stands, poised to sprint towards us in our prodigal wanderings; and (in Jesus) is ever calling out:
My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.
When we feel “out of place” in this world remember that there’s a good reason for that – this world is not our home, we are waiting to be escorted (by Jesus Himself!) to place prepared for us (by Jesus Himself!); a God that He calls “father” and a place that He calls “home” – and now invites us to do the same. A place free from viruses, death, mourning, pain and even sin – a place we can only go “through Him”, a place bought for us by a Saviour who loved us enough to purchase our pardon by His death on the cross.
Whatever else changes – that love, that offer of life, that invitation home will never change:
This is what the Lord says:
“The people who survive the sword will find favor in the wilderness; I will come to give rest to Israel.”
The Lord appeared to us in the past, saying:
“I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.
I will build you up again, and you, Virgin Israel, will be rebuilt.”
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