I like words a lot. I like the power they hold. I like the way they can invite us to see differently. I like their historical roots and nature, and I like to learn their original intent. There are a few words that have been used, overused, even abused and misused in this season, words like normal (and new normal), unprecedented, and return.
I was ready to throw “pivot” in that pile, too, until I wrestled with it a little longer.
The Praxis Journal published an article back in April about the difference between a blizzard, winter, and an ice age, relative to the current COVID-19 pandemic. In those first weeks, it was easiest to assume that we would weather the storm and get back to “normal” soon enough. But that “get back to” mentality proved to be about as useful as choosing not to put winter tires on your car simply because you hope it will pass before you need them. The proverbial Winter stayed. And we are still in it—some may say, with no signs of Spring.
Please don’t misunderstand me: this is not a sobering blog of hopelessness. Rather, because our Hope has a name, we must find a way to continue to build His Kingdom in Winter, rather than continue to (foolishly) wait for this season to pass. The Great Commission doesn’t have a pause button, nor does our call to it. And yet, it seems that as we “pivot,” we are trying to get back to where we started or, rather, to the way things used to be. In other words, we are trying desperately to return to “normal.”
But what if that isn’t the point? What if our pivot isn’t meant to take us back to the way things were? Moreover, what if “normal” isn’t where this ride ends?
I love riding the carousel at Disney World, but it never spits me out in the same place I got on. And, oddly enough, the new vantage point I have for the park as everything slows to a stop tends to direct where I choose to explore next. However, if I don’t pay attention, that merry-go-round can have me turned around and confused pretty quickly, especially if I had decided my next destination before I got on.
Let’s get back to the overused word pile–at the top of it is this one: “unprecedented.” My discomfort here is two-fold:
The truth is, we do have precedent. The Bible is full of examples of God’s people being unable to gather in the ways to which they had grown accustomed, of picking up and starting over, of rebuilding from a remnant of scattered people. And we also have a clear precedent in the creativity of the persecuted church, and how it has been relentlessly tenacious to find a new way forward in the midst of unthinkable circumstances.
How many times have God’s children been scattered? How many times did they wander, question, or even turn to another god when the temple was not available to them? How many times will we present our mourning and weeping but fail to lift up our hands in thanksgiving with a resounding “Amen!”? How many times must we learn that nothing—nothing—is unprecedented to God?
Our culture has granted us the luxury and privilege of choices, every day, in every manner of things. I wonder if, as a result of this privilege, we tend to choose what’s comfortable and familiar simply because we can. And yet, may I be so bold as to challenge you with this question: when has the gospel ever been about our creature comforts? When we claim to follow Jesus, what is the list of caveats we have not yet laid down in order to do so? If we are actually going to “live as Christ,” we must acknowledge that we have not signed up for “comfortable.”
We loved church the way it was. And yet, for many of us the defining features of a Sunday morning aren’t even in the rearview mirror anymore. And they aren’t on the map in the place we are headed anytime soon. But, as C. McNair Wilson shared with us at CPC17, “Yesterday just isn’t a place you can get to from here.”
What if re-entry isn’t re-anything? The prefix “re-” suggests “again and again” or “backwards,” so hear me lovingly say that there is no again or backwards. Maybe not yet. Maybe not ever.
What if the idea of re-entry is what’s tethering you to yesterday and not allowing you to freely engage with tomorrow?
What if re-entry assumes a return to “normal?” And what if normal just isn’t a place we can get to from here? There are no reasonable assumptions in the season ahead of us, other than one: Our God is for us. And so we trust Him. With all of it. Not just our leadership team’s bad ideas, or our scared parents’ resistance, or even our own insecurity in the face of change. We trust Him with all of it. None of this is a surprise to Him.
So let me offer you a few questions to help you focus your efforts in this season:
Esther 4:14b, the ever-empowering “for such a time as this” battle cry, has been quoted a lot lately. But recently, I got stuck at verse 13 and the first half of 14:
“ ‘Don’t think that you will escape the fate of all the Jews because you are in the king’s palace. If you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will come to the Jewish people from another place, but you and your father’s family will be destroyed. Who knows, perhaps you have come to your royal position for such a time as this’ (Esther 4:13-14, CSB).”
Here’s what I see:
You are invited to partner with the One who is extending His scepter to you. This season will end – I promise. Your “such-a-time-as-this” is not unprecedented, and your pivot is not a spiral. Your royal position requires obedience, so what would He have you to do? Ask Him. Listen. Then pivot.