116 – When Normal Goes out the Window: Dealing with Major Disruption

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Karen Ball and Erin Taylor Young The coronavirus outbreak has brought unprecedented change and disruption into our lives. What we consider normal has been thrown out the window, replaced by uncertainty and fear. But we, as writers, as Christians, can not just adjust, but actually thrive in the face of all disruptions, big or small!

But first, thank you to all our patrons on Patreon! You help make this podcast possible!

As we record this, we have an unprecedented world situation with the coronavirus pandemic. State, county, and city governments are issuing stay at home orders or shelter in place orders. There’s massive disruption in our economy, our society, and our homes. The stock market is plummeting. Schools are closed, libraries are closed, stores are closed, restaurants are closed, and jobs and work hours have been slashed. Even most churches have closed their doors and have moved to online services.

All semblance of normal is gone.

As writers, as creatives, and most important, as Christians, how are we to respond?

What we’re going to talk about doesn’t just apply to the pandemic situation we currently have. There are plenty of other ways that normal goes out the window. Maybe you’ve unexpectedly become a caregiver to a grandchild, or an aging parent. Or maybe you or your spouse or child has just been diagnosed with a severe health condition. With so many things out there that can disrupt our “normal life,” why are we still so often caught unaware and unprepared?

And when we are facing disruption, how do we react? There are a plethora of good responses, and unfortunately, just as many poor choices. So, let’s look at some of those responses in a “do and do not” fashion. First the “do nots”:

DO NOT FEAR

Let me tell you, my hubby is a sociologist. He understands statistics and demographics and epidemiology, and he was telling me about the forecasts various institutions are doing for the spread of  COVID -19. It is scary. It’s dangerous, and there’s no way around that. Our normal response is often going to be fear.

Aside from the fear of getting sick ourselves, or our loved ones, there’s all the upheaval and financial ramifications of these shutdowns. And then there are plans that have all gone out the window. People who planned a big wedding ceremony, or a special vacation, or to retire with a comfortable nest egg in the stock market. Or to have a certain number of writing hours per week to meet your next book deadline. That’s all changed now.

Fear and anxiety are often our first response to change. We didn’t expect the change, we can’t control the change or the effects. This leads to frustration and anger, and it often brings out the worst in us. We forget that no disruption, no pandemic, is a surprise to God. Our plans were always subordinate to God’s plans.

“Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” Proverbs 19:21

The first step to overcoming fear is to stop and acknowledge that God is in control. This world is still his.

“To the Lord your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it.” Deuteronomy 10:14 (NIV)

Then we have to do another hard thing. We have to trust. Fully. Completely. You may be facing one of the worst ordeals you’ve ever encountered, and as terrible as that is, you also have what may be your biggest opportunity to become more Christlike. To glorify God with your trust. Because no matter what we’re going through, we’ll always still have God with us, and He wants us to count on Him.

“Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10 (NASB) 

My pastor was talking about this verse last week and he made a point of how the language of the word “surely” is all about certainty. You can count on it. I know this isn’t easy, believe me. But these are the challenges that help us know if our faith is real. If we’ve built our faith on the solid rock of Christ or on shifting sand.

When normal goes out the window, it’s a chance to see just what we’ve been putting our trust in, what our hope is in. Is it in the stock market for retirement? In our job for our provision? Is it in our health, grocery stores, or even our society that is much more fragile than we knew?

Use this time for a check up on where your trust is. Chances are that every last one of us needs some growth in this area.

DO NOT BE HASTY

Remember, we each deal with crises in our own way. Some of us fight back, some of us isolate and hide, some of us do a little of each.

The only reaction you can control is your own. The second you try to impose what you think is right or godly on someone else, you’ve crossed the line into judgement. And we all know that’s not a good thing.

If you find yourself looking at a church group that is still meeting and thinking, “Don’t they care about infecting others?” stop. The second you start to ask things like, “Where’s your faith?” stop. It’s not your place to judge, friends.

You can share ideas and thoughts with those you know and love, or with those God asks you to share with, but it stops there. Believers have no business judging others, and when you fall into that self-righteous mode you do far more damage than any pandemic. To others, to yourself, and to the cause of Christ. We’re called to love, not judge.

“Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.” Ecclesiastes 5:2 (NIV)

That’s talking more about taking rash vows, but the principle still applies.

When normal goes out the window, Your creative energy and motivation may feel depleted. That’s okay. Don’t worry over that. You’re not in some permanent creative void. Realize that right now, we’re all spending a lot of mental energy trying to figure out all the new rules of life and society.

All our presuppositions are called into question right now, and most of us are dealing with new logistics. We don’t know what things are going to look like in two days, let alone two weeks, two months, or two years. It changes everyday. Just dealing with that takes up brain power, so it’s hard to think about writing.

Don’t be hasty. Give yourself time and permission to mentally adjust. You will find a new stride eventually. But it may take awhile and it may need to remain flexible.

Not only that, so many of us are dealing with loss of some kind or another. Maybe it’s your job, your health, or income, but it can also be things like freedom, gathering with others, going to the gym, or a season of sports. There’s grief involved in that loss. Again, give yourself the time to grieve.

DO NOT GET STUCK IN QUESTIONING “WHY”

Listen to what the Bible says in the book of Job. You knew with a topic like this we’d have to pull out a verse from Job, right?

“For man is born for trouble, as sparks fly upward. But as for me, I would seek God, and I would place my cause before God; who does great and unsearchable things, wonders without number. He gives rain on the earth and sends water on the fields, so that He sets on high those who are lowly, And those who mourn are lifted to safety.” Job 5:7-11 (NASB)

The key there is “great and unsearchable things.” That means we can’t understand them. When our brains constantly question WHY IS THIS HAPPENING? that’s a trap we can’t escape, and we’ll just drive ourselves crazy or to despair because there will never be an answer that will satisfy us, or that we can understand.

God is not accountable to us. He doesn’t have to explain himself. We’re going to use up all our mental, emotional, and creative energy trying to figure out what our human minds were never equipped to fathom. It’s not that we’re stupid, it’s that we do not know all the ways of God.

Or sometimes we get bogged down in constantly rehashing: IF ONLY THIS DIDN’T HAPPEN. That’s another trap that keeps us stuck in an unhealthy place where we can’t move forward.

When normal goes out the window, we have the opportunity to see just how big our God is, and how limited we are. That’s not always a fun thing, but we can never appreciate God for who he is without that understanding.

We’ve talked about some do nots. Now for some dos. These are some good choices for our response when normal goes out the window.

DO Consider Pruning

Especially now, during this pandemic when everything is shut down, we have an opportunity for pruning. For those of you with kids, you may feel a little lost without all the soccer games, church activities, and school activities making you run from morning until night. Not to mention family activities that you may or may not have had time for.

One mom I know with four kids confessed to me that the cancellation of all these activities was, in some ways, actually a relief. I hear that.

This is a good time to reflect on the many activities that have taken up all our previous time. This is what it’s like to NOT rush around all the time. After you get over the weirdness, ask yourself what activities or commitments do you actually miss? And what are you glad you’re not doing? The answers might surprise you.

Take this opportunity to learn what you really value and what you need to prune.

Do take time to rest

Let’s face it. We’re not very good at rest. We’re too…busy. The same thing happened to the Israelites. They were supposed to give their land a sabbath rest every 7 years, but they didn’t do it. Ultimately God forced that rest. He took away their land and sent them into exile.

“[Nebuchadnezzar] carried into exile to Babylon the remnant [of Israel], who escaped from the sword, and they became servants to him and his successors until the kingdom of Persia came to power. The land enjoyed its sabbath rests; all the time of its desolation it rested…” 2 Chronicles 36:20-21

Now, I’m not saying that when we find ourselves with a forced rest, it’s punishment. But I am saying that God clearly thinks rest is important because he mentions the concept over and over in the Bible.

Maybe now, when our ability to do STUFF is taken away, we should embrace the opportunity to rest. Get lots of practice. Make it a habit so it sticks with you and becomes a priority even when life gets busier again. Ultimately, a cycle of both rest and work is better for our productivity, better for our health, and better for our spirit.

Do watch expectantly for God to work in whatever ways he sees fit

I have a friend who was telling me about a difficult situation her family was going through—it was rough—and she was torn up about it. But she said, “I’m just asking God, ‘What are you doing in this, Lord?’”

And she told me, “I know it’s going to be something, I know he’s using this. So I’m just praying and waiting and watching.”

I loved that. She wasn’t asking like it was a demand for God to explain himself, but rather it was a reminder to watch for Him working. To be submitted to what he was doing, to his will. To want to grow from this and honor God. And to fully believe that God was working in it for their ultimate good, even when it was terrible right then.

The Old Testament prophet Micah has the same attitude.

“But as for me, I will watch expectantly for the Lord. I will wait for the God of my salvation. My God will hear me.” Micah 7:7

It’s when we’re watching that we see, that we have an opportunity to be amazed. Then we can give God the glory he deserves. Then we can find things to be thankful for even amidst upheaval.

Use this time to draw closer to him.

Do watch for opportunities to love and serve others

In our situation with COVID-19, do what the medical professionals tell you to do. Sanitize. Stay away from strangers. Don’t touch your face. Seriously, they’re telling us how to avoid spreading the virus, so do what they say.

With that in mind though, how do we then serve others, especially from 6 feet away?

Wave at someone. Call out a hello. Tell people you’re praying for them.

Run errands for those who are high-risk. They can email you a list and you can set the bags on their doorstep. No personal contact required.

Make N95 masks and share them with medical professionals or your neighbors.

Offer to order things online for those who are computer illiterate. Yes, they have to pay for it themselves, but you can be the bridge between them and getting what they need.

Send encouragement in email and on social media. Post positive and encouraging truths.

Offer to walk a neighbor’s dogs. Cut someone’s lawn or pull weeds. Set up a “little free library” in your neighborhood.

There are so many ways we can help in both little and small ways.

Do stay on course unless God directs you otherwise

Difficulty and disruption often make us question whether we’ve done something wrong, or whether we misheard God. But these things—challenges, problems, disruptions—do not necessarily indicate a change in your marching orders. They can just as easily be signaling the opposite, and you’re right on track.

Paul tells us 2 Corinthians 12:10 that he delights in “weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

This world is cursed with futility. Romans 8:20 tells us that.

We’re not going to have it easy here on earth, and thinking otherwise leads us astray. So when disruption hits, sure, take time to check your course, take time to seek God and pray, take time to adjust whatever needs adjusting, but then if you’re not hearing God tell you otherwise, press on with confidence.

Final Words

Bottom line, when normal goes out the window—could be your own health issues, a pandemic, industry upheaval, you name it—you find a new normal. You make adjustments. You re-evaluate. You overcome obstacles with God’s help. Prayerfully wait and watch and listen for his voice. And rest in him. Never let yourself get so caught up in the fear and anxiety that you make poor choices or say careless words. Instead, the minute normal goes out the window, turn to the one who will hold you, and uphold you, and supply everything you need in the midst of it.

And should the unthinkable happen, should we face death ourselves, or a loved one face death in the midst of this pandemic, do not fear. Because that next step is into eternity and face to face with the Master. That is great joy. I love to hold on to that scripture that tells me whether I live, I am the Lord’s, and whether I die, I am the Lord’s. Whether I live therefore or die, I am the Lord’s (Romans 14:8). You my friend, are the Lord’s and he has you firm and safe in his hands.

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WE WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU

Are you facing a major disruption? What helps you deal with major disruption in your writing life?

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