Let’s Not Go Back To “Normal”
Three large panes of glass stretch nearly from floor to ceiling in the front living room of my house. I love those windows. Every morning, I pull the curtains back and the heavy brown bamboo blinds up, inviting the soft light of a new day in with a warm welcome. Those windows have been a favorite feature of mine since we moved in. From our living room, I can comfortably sit in the natural light with a book in hand, periodically glancing outside to be captivated by the simple beauty of Winter turning to Spring and the morning dew giving way to a new day.
Those windows aren’t unlike the paper of that book in my hands. They are a tool for telling a story. They aren’t the story themselves, just as a book must have ink with words instead of blank paper pages, but through them you look and see a moving picture of a story being told. That story has remained rather constant and predictable since we have lived in that house. Neighbors coming and going. Seasons changing. Birds fluttering about. But lately there has been a noticeable change; I’ve seen more people out walking and talking.
Why is that a significant change in the story my windows display?
I contend that this quarantine has forced us into a simplicity of life that Americans have forgotten we should miss.
Just consider, what does your “normal” non-quarantine life look like? The answer to that question can be summed up in the single word I most often give and hear from the question, “How are you?” Answer: BUSY. We Americans pride ourselves in our busyness. If we aren’t on the verge of cataclysmic unravel or total mental breakdown, we determine we can and should do more. Pop a few pills and keep producing. What could go wrong? Never mind that the downhill slope of our mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual health is rapidly steepening…surely these smoking brakes can hold. It’s just one more assignment. It’s just one more activity. It’s just one more client. It’s just one more day. Yes, I can do this. Yes, I can do that. Yes, yes, yes. We think we have it all together, but did we remember to take that walk?
There is a fine line between godly productivity and attempting a God-like productivity. But if we don’t get it right, the consequences are devastating. Humans, by our very nature, are limited. Just think of the very beginning. When God placed Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, what did he give them? He gave limits. Eat from all of these trees, but do not eat from that one tree. The limitation was a reminder to Adam and Eve that they were not God, and their flourishing was dependent upon trusting in the care of their creator. But what happened? Adam and Eve did not like their limitation. The serpent tempted them by appealing to their lack of omniscience. He whispered the lie in their ear that if they would just do this little work of disobedience by eating of the fruit, they could become like God and receive limitless knowledge and power. Out of a refusal to accept their God-given limitation, the destruction of sin powerfully entered and wrecked God’s good world.
Due to sin, now our most defining limitation is an inability to do anything good, and in our flesh we try to erect a Tower of Babel like lifestyle that assumes we can reach a state of bliss by our endless accomplishments. Our own version of heaven is attainable so long as we “set ourselves up for success.” In short, productivity becomes our god.
Enter, the gospel. While we were trying to become limitless, Jesus, the unlimited second person of the Trinity, took on limited human flesh. Jesus, “who though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6-8). The all-powerful God now required sustenance and sleep. Jesus became man, in part, to model what limited humanity was supposed to look like. He lived in the weakness of flesh and remained without sin. He kept up with a demanding ministry schedule, but frequently stepped aside to retreat and pray (Luke 5:16). When urgent requests came his way, he often turned them down (Mark 1:35-38). Jesus knew the importance of rest, but he also knew that accomplishing the Father’s will was the aim, not satisfying every demand for his presence and miracle-working power. He lived a perfectly “balanced” life, working hard and resting well.
Ultimately, Jesus did all of that so he could save us from our sinful self-exaltation. Where we were imperfect in our limited humanity, allowing our flesh to control our actions, he was perfect so that he could offer his life as an atonement for our sin. And because he was perfect, God raised Him up from death as the victor over sin and death and, “has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-10). Christ Jesus reigns even now at the right hand of the Father as the one who has been highly exalted. We have no right to exalt ourselves as sinful humanity. The only right response is to bow our knee. Thanks be to God, when we do finally go to our knee, we get the rest we so desperately need.
Jesus, because of his perfect work in his life, death, and resurrection, has become our true rest. In Him, we can find rest from trying to make something of our existence based on the digits of our bank account. In Him, we can find rest from toiling to please man rather than God. In Him, we can find rest from finding our identity in our job title. Jesus is our all in all.
Understanding this frees us to live a life, not according to the standards of this world, but according to God’s good design for us in creation. As Christians, we can live new and counter-cultural lives that work hard and rest well. We can establish meaningful rhythms that value what God esteems and prioritize what the Word commands. We can begin to rightly manage the hustle and bustle of life and refuse to conform to the patterns of this world when it comes to the idol of overworking, family-ignoring, money-making “success.”
Over the course of this quarantine I have heard so many families praise how good it has been to spend time together. That should come as no surprise. God designed the family and the home to be an incubator for love and discipleship. We were meant to spend a lot of good, restful, God-exalting time there. Might it be that conformity to the idol of “success” is what we have allowed to strip that away? We want to be successful ourselves; we want success for our kids; we want to take advantage of every opportunity to ensure we or they don’t turn out to be “losers” in this world. But in so doing we have unwoven the fabric of God’s good design in pursuit of what the broken world says is good, and right, and true.
Jesus did not make his people into new creations so we can continue living by the same standards as the broken creation. We must be different. We must learn what it means to work hard and rest well. It is time to learn to say no. Brothers and sisters, let us not waste the opportunity that this quarantine has provided to reassess the direction of our lives. Now is the time, if ever, to put new rhythms and habits into place in our own lives and in the lives of our families that point towards heaven instead of this earth.
Let us not go back to “normal.” Let us not let the ball games choke out the family worship. Let us not let the work emails strip away dinner together. Let us not let the deadline crush the devotion. Let us ensure that when the world gets back to running, we remember to go on that walk.
Brendon is Associate Pastor of Student Ministry at First Baptist Church in Canyon, TX. He has been married to his wife, Julie, for 6 years and is a father of 4 beautiful children. Brendon is a native of Amarillo, TX where he graduated from Amarillo High School before going on to complete his undergraduate work at Boyce College in Louisville, KY. He then went on to study at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville where he completed his Masters of Divinity. In his free time Brendon enjoys getting outdoors by hiking, backpacking, and camping. He is also passionate about beards and coffee, two of God’s glorious gifts to the world.