Not everyone always gets 100 percent restoration. But we help them to get to a new normal. — Carl Josehart, CEO of TIRR Memorial Hermann rehab hospital speaking about Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords’ road to recovery. Arizona Daily Star, January 23, 2011.
There is no way to predict the changes Gabrielle Giffords will experience from the bullet that ripped through her brain, but there will be changes. Her muscle coordination may suffer, she may have difficulty speaking or seeing, she may even experience changes in her personality.
Gradually, over the months and years of rehabilitation, Giffords will have to accept a “new normal.”
That expression, a new normal, is a euphemistic way of talking about the dramatic changes that can happen as a result of injury, illness, or the relentless process of aging. Two years ago I experienced a torn retina and had it repaired by an ophthalmologist using laser surgery. Although the damage has healed, I have been left with anomalies in my vision that have taken some getting used to. Today, I hardly notice the changes — I’ve adapted to them, and my visual defects have become my new normal.
The claim is made that coming to faith in Christ introduces a change so radical that it constitutes a new normal in our lives. Jesus declared the necessity of a new normal when the Rabbi Nicodemus came seeking instructions on how to live rightly before God.
I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God. — John 3:3, NLT
The Apostle Paul took up this theme in his letter to the young church in Galatia:
My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. — Galatians 2:20, NLT
He repeats this theme in his second letter to the Corinthians:
This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! — 2 Corinthians 5:17, NLT
So there is a promise, even an expectation, that faith in Christ will bring about a new normal. The difficulty for Christians is that, unlike Gabrielle Giffords, who has had this new normal forced upon her, we are always and completely in control of God’s work in our lives. Whether we discard the old and embrace this new person is entirely up to us.
Many Christians, perhaps all of us if we are honest, come to a place in this process where we tell God no. Stop. Not that. Not there. You have gone too far, you are asking too much, you are expecting too great a surrender of things we hold very dear.
Once a religious leader asked Jesus this question: “Good Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?”
“Why do you call Me good?” Jesus asked him. “Only God is truly good. But to answer your question, you know the commandments: ‘You must not commit adultery. You must not murder. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. Honor your father and mother.'”
The man replied, “I’ve obeyed all these commandments since I was young.”
When Jesus heard his answer, He said, “There is still one thing you haven’t done. Sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me.”
But when the man heard this he became very sad, for he was very rich. — Luke 18:18-23, NLT
This incident has become known as a commentary about the dangers of wealth, an interpretation that fails to understand the complexities of our sinful natures. What this story really shows is our human tendency to compartmentalize faith, which conveniently allows us to surrender A, B, and C to the authority of God, so long as we get to keep D to ourselves. All of us, like the rich young ruler, have habits and attitudes and whole realms that we refuse to surrender to God. Sin is written into our very DNA.
If Christians often fail to live up to the world’s expectations, it is because we fail to fully surrender ourselves to God’s new normal. If the Church fails to live up to the world’s expectations, it is because its members have failed to fully surrender themselves to God’s new normal.
The most difficult part of living as a disciple of Christ is the daily process of surrendering everything to him. Day by day, we must invite Jesus to create a new normal within us. Paul’s words to the Galatians are simply shocking, when we consider all they imply: “[I have been] crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.”
Gabrielle Giffords would never have chosen to be shot in the head. She will undoubtedly come often to a place where she deeply grieves what was lost to that bullet. She never had a choice in the matter; her only choice now is whether to be bitter about her losses or to rejoice in the fact that she gets to live.
Christians get to choose, and that is an infinitely harder thing. Many of us come to a place where, like the rich young ruler, we sadly turn away from Christ because he asks too much. Surrender is hard and full of grief. This new normal means embracing all that God requires of us without reservation, without hedging our bets.
If it sounds hard, and it is, it helps to realize that Paul came to see this surrender not as an act of great loss, but infinite gain.
I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ. — Philippians 3:7-8, NLT
The choice is entirely up to us. We can hang on to the familiar old rubbish that we hold so dear, or we can surrender completely and allow Christ to transform us, rebirth us, to create out of the sad failures of our lives something infinitely better — a new normal.
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