Various seminary students have said to me “I just want things to be normal again.”
Why is that such a strong pull for all of us? “Normal” encompasses the daily, weekly, and annual routines of life...times to go to bed and get up (even if your times are irregular, that is your normal). It includes the routines of going to school or work, the routines of church activities, free time across our week (like Saturday), and even our holiday traditions.
It is normal for us to long for the normal. I think that longing actually serves to give us more efficiency—we don’t have to “think” quite so much about what we are doing next.
There is a certain amount of “security” in knowing that will happen next, what we can “expect.” And, most of the time, our expectations for everyday life are pretty accurate, so we grow to depend on them.
However, when our expectations are not fulfilled, we can run into problems. We may find ourselves struggling with more anxiety than normal, or a bit of feeling a loss of motivation.
My sense of “normal” is based on what is routine in my life. If I choose to believe it is “wrong” that my expectations are not fulfilled (after all, they are good expectations, right?), I can guarantee that my level of disappointment will be equal to the distance between my expectations and reality. I do believe that it is ok to have plans, ok to have expectations, but they all need to be only “loosely held,” and submitted to the will of God. Jesus’ disciples certainly had their expectations of who Jesus was and what He was going to do.
There are times it almost seems Jesus did the unexpected to disrupt the “normal” or expected, whether it was turning water into wine, multiplying the fish and loaves, or allowing Lazarus to die rather than going to heal him. Those moments of Jesus not following what was “normal” definitely taught the disciples that He was different, but He could be trusted. Judas was not willing to accept the difference between his expectations of Jesus and the reality he was seeing. The other disciples couldn’t quite grasp what Jesus was telling them about his coming suffering and death, so they held to their own expectations too.
Jesus set the model for us in accepting the Father’s plan, God’s expectations, rather than forming his own expectations about what his ministry would look like. We see this in John 6:38: “For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.”
Sometimes I am not sure what God’s expectations are … what it is He wants. Of course, the Bible is full of His expectations about our identity in Him, our character, our behavior, speech, etc. But often the daily circumstances we face are not included in His clear instructions to us. Hopefully, we are seeking His direction and guidance as we make decisions, but more frequently we may be guided by our wishes, wants, and desires.
It sometimes becomes very difficult to discern if a certain direction is God’s desire for us or if it is coming from our own desires. Sometimes He has placed a desire in our heart, but it isn’t His timing yet to fulfill it (Examples: Sarah and Abraham’s son; Joseph’s brothers bowing down to him; Peter being the “rock” of the church, etc.)
When our expectations are not fulfilled, it does become confusing, especially if we thought what we were doing, planning or desiring was God’s will.
You most likely came to NOBTS because you believed it was God’s will. Maybe you left a secure job to come to seminary, obeying God’s instructions. Or perhaps you came because your husband felt led to come—and you left behind a home or job you loved, or had to move away from your mom and dad.Then suddenly, last spring, you found yourself in online classes ... how could this be? You could have done this staying at home! Or you graduated from NOBTS last December, and had just been called to a position in a church in March, then suddenly your new church could no longer meet in person. It certainly is not “logical.”
We would much rather be in control, to keep things “normal.” We don’t know how long this will last, and if we will get to complete the entire semester in class physically. What we do know is we can choose to trust God during this “not-normal time,” just as we trust Him when things seem to moving along as we desire or expect.
He is in control; and whether we are able to accomplish what we desire for the fall semester or not, we can trust that He is in control. The truth is, His plan is always best, is always good, no matter how confusing (not normal) or “undesirable” it might seem to me or you.
Dr. Kathy Steele is Professor of Counseling, occupying the James H. and Susan E. Brown Christian Counseling Chair, and the Director of Clinical Training.