We’ve heard people talking about a “new normal” or “when things get back to normal.” It occurred to us that sometimes “normal” gives way to a new reality full of purpose, hope, and opportunity. Having lived through a deep grief process, we’ve simply recognized a grief process at work in the world around us. In this episode we are talking about “Grieving the Death of Normal.”
In today’s podcast we want to focus on opportunities.
This fully hit home to me about a month ago on a zoom call with a leader. I could see the weariness in his eyes and we talked about it.
- Transitions and change are always difficult.
- We’ve been in an increasing time of discontinuous change for about 2 decades, or more. Change used to be more predictable, but it continues to lack continuity. The change in our lives for the past couple of decades has included unpredictability.
I recognized the weariness in this leader and it began to settle in on me for the first time that we are grieving the death of normal. (CONTINUE FOR THE REST OF THE ARTICAL)
How many times have you said in the last few months, “I will be glad when things get back to normal.” Or used the phrase, “When things get back to normal….”
I see parallels with some of the emotions we are experiencing with the shifting “normal” and things we experienced and learned in the grief process.
We do talk a lot about the grief journey, it is part of our story, but it has been the single greatest growing experience in our lives and has given us insights we would not have otherwise gained. So, we want to talk today about the challenges and opportunities of a changing normal.
The Attempt to Just “Push Through”
Here’s the thing: I know I would really like to just hit a rewind button and have everything go back to the way it was at the beginning of 2020. I am really, really tired of
- Hearing podcasts about navigating Covid-19
- Hearing people say that we may be dealing with this for 2 years or more.
- Divisions even within the church between the maskers and the un-maskers.
- The civil unrest that has erupted
- The political divisions and vitriolic disunity
When our spouses died we anticipated some semblance of a return to “normal.”People would say to us, “You will find a new normal.”We just wanted to old normal back.
You know, I clearly remember how badly I just wanted something to be normal again. I just wanted to feel normal again. I longed to experience moments of joy or relief when I could escape the pain of the loss for just a short while.
We both (David and Donna) had talked a lot about the feeling of “pushing through.” How in every other season of our lives, if we could just “push through” the next challenge the day would come that we were over this mountain of grief.
It was life changing for each of us when we realized this was one thing in life we were not going to push through. It was not going to end, it was not going to be over, we were not going to endure and push through back into a place called “normal.”
I see some just biding their time amid shut downs, and masks, and unrest, waiting because surely just around the corner everything will go back to the way it was.
I do not believe we will ever return to the pre-2020 world. We will do church differently forever, we will do business differently forever, our nation will be changed forever.
We have to stop looking at life and challenges as just something that we want to “push through,” but we have to
- Understand the changing times as best we can,
- Look for the new opportunities that change brings
(Note: To guard against “speaking out of both sides of my mouth,” our tag line is “Pressing beyond the tough stuff and experiencing the joy of living, leading, and loving.” We are not talking about not pushing forward, we are talking about not anchoring our motive in “fast-forwarding” through the present reality with an expectation that everything is going to somehow go back to “normal.”
Which leads us to our next point.
Understanding the “Grief” of Change
If we see “normal” as something that we’ve “lost,” then it stands to reason that much of our emotion and energy is going into grieving that loss.
The grieving process was such an overpowering part of our lives. Navigating the grief of a tremendous loss has made us acutely aware of the grief process in any occasion in life when we experience a loss.
- The loss of someone we love
- The loss of a relationship we valued
- The loss of employment
- The loss of a circumstance important to us
- Financial losses
- The loss of health
I see a weariness in leaders who are stretching as far as they can to hold things together. Their hope is that everything will go back to “normal” and the further they get into their present reality the more weariness will set in until they begin to navigate the grief process.
As leaders, we not only manage our grief process, but think about it, almost everyone is on this same journey of loss at the same time. They are separated only by the way they deal with it, their perspective, and their personal degree of loss.
The Progression of Embracing the Death of Normal
In leading people through change we have to understand the emotions they are experiencing.
I’ve led organizations through change and I’ve seen how people get angry, how they sometimes reject change before they embrace it, and I’ve seen people just disengage a new structure because they don’t want to walk through the pain of change.
In the present reality we’ve recognized a lot of people dealing with grief. We have a love/hate relationship with “5 Stages of Grief.” Some people spout them like they are stops on the metro. Some people want to try to explain to you how you are feeling by giving pat answers that involve these 5 stages. The world is full of arm-chair psychologists that think the 5 stages of grief to be such a pat way to understand the multiplicities of emotions that a grieving person is experiencing. That said, let’s consider how the world is grieving the death of normal.
The Stages of Grief are somewhat linear, but they are not linear. They represent a progression, but it is possible to move very quickly from one to the other, to progress and then digress and then progress and digress again.
The first is DENIAL I also think of it as shock or numbness. It’s the way our brain allows itself to slowly catch up with something too big to comprehend.
As leaders we have to be aware that people will MINIMALIZE reality as a coping mechanism. It is ignoring reality, denying reality, and refusing to consider the need for change or the opportunities it brings.
Next, there is ANGER. This is when people MAXIMIZE reality and begin to attack it. Anger can be a positive as it moves people toward acknowledging a situation. We see anger taking root and building bridges to seemingly unrelated things.
One thing I often asked myself while grieving my great loss was, “What or who are you angry at?” Anger wants to affix blame, even when blame cannot really be assigned. I sometimes felt angry toward God or toward others not even related to my situation. I came to realize that I was angry at the circumstance and at no one in particular.
To apply this to our lives and leadership, people get angry when something is changing that they do not want changed. With so much of our world in discontinuous change, there is a lot of anger in the world, and if we are not carful we will find ourselves misdirecting that anger.
Third is BARGAINING. Put simply, this is negotiating and navigating. When I don’t like the way things are I start manipulating and navigating the situation. I try to massage it. I try to convince myself of an alternate reality. I try to find a way to force everything back to the normal I want.
As a leader I’ve found myself challenged to keep the main thing the main thing. To stay on point. To stay on mission. Now, like never before I have had to remind myself over and over of my mission and to stay on point.
I have to fix myself in reality rather than in the perception with which I’ve become comfortable. I am a citizen of the Kingdom of God. God’s mission, however he directs it in my life, is my mission.
When things change and “normal” is gone forever, I have to remember that the foundation has not changed. When we find new and more effective ways of doing things, we have to simply check the foundation and make sure it is the same. If the foundation remains, then we just start building a new structure when the old one has outlived its usefulness.
Then there’s DEPRESSION. When the anger is to no avail, when the bargaining is ineffectual, and when we resign ourselves to a new reality we did not ask for, then depression becomes a challenge. It is sad to lose someone or something we loved. It is discouraging to move from a comfortable position to an uncomfortable place.
Depression causes listlessness and resignation. We think, “If this is the way things are going to be, I’m going to disengage because this is not what I signed up for.”
I don’t want to oversimplify dealing with depression, it is complex, and it is a broad topic all its own, but in the context of this episode, suffice it to say that when dealing with change we’d rather not deal with, one of the things that helps us overcome depression is HOPE. We have to look for new opportunities and new purposes and we must embrace how a new path will accelerate us toward the fulfillment of our mission in new and exciting ways.
Finally, there’s ACCEPTANCE.
Embracing our Reality
As I write this, It is painful to admit, but I don’t want to forge new paths. I’ve found things that work for me, and I want to just keep doing those things. Reality is, things keep changing and our calling is to understand our context and rise to the challenge of fulfilling our mission in our context.
Let’s not try to “go back” to normal. Oh yeah, I choked on those words!
All the programs we shut down because of “distancing,” all the things that just don’t work right now, all of our preconceived notions of what the world should look like, what church should look like, what governmental leaders should be doing and not doing… what if… there are ways of living our lives and fulfilling our mission that we’ve never considered, but now that we have no other choice, we are able to make changes that lift things to new and even better places.
When we mourn the things lost so intently that we cannot consider new and joyful things that may well be even better, then we’ve locked ourselves into hopelessness.
We learned to HOPE through losses that we could not have even imagined. We learned to HOPE and we’ve not been disappointed.
Wherever you or those you lead are on the journey of grieving the death of normal, just remember that normal is just the way things are right now. Work through the processes, embrace hope, look for new opportunities, seize the moment, and let’s keep redirecting to our mission.