What is normal?
Normal is the collection of the mundane moments of our lives. The combination of all the “little things” that may seem insignificant and unremarkable by themselves; yet, together they often define our existence and our enjoyment of life.
Normal is made up of things like laughter at inside jokes, dinner table conversations about your day, silly songs sung in the car while running errands, tickle wars, spontaneous dance parties in the living room, snuggles during a movie, hand-holding while driving, stepping on Legos® in the dark, late-night conversations, the smell of a favorite food cooking in the oven, a room full of loved ones enjoying shared moments together, fights over messy floors and unfinished chores, and a thousand other behind-the-scenes moments whose value is often underestimated until something happens and those mundane moments suddenly become memories you cling to.
No one fully appreciates normal until it is taken away, and often normal slips away in the blink of an eye with little warning or preparation.
Our sense of security is often anchored in the ordinary and predictable pieces of our world, which means that a loss of normal often leaves us feeling vulnerable and unsafe.
While no two gap-journeys are the same, there is common grief all gap travelers share. We are all grieving a lost sense of normalcy while we try to understand and accept a new normal in our lives. In fact, that may be the best universal definition for the gap—the in-between place between grieving a lost sense of normal and adjusting to a new unexpected normal.
In my own gap journey, I noticed there was this unspoken expectation people around me seemed to have that things could go back to normal now. That enough time had passed, and I should be okay on my own; they could go back to their regular routines and previous engagements with me. One by one, people went back to their normal lives while I struggled to adjust to a life that was now anything but normal.
It is hard to feel like the world around you is going on as if nothing changed while you are still struggling to adjust to your personal world being forever altered.
Many times people pick up books like mine in hopes that it will have the secret answer to solve their struggle and ease their pain once and for all. As they start to near the closing chapters, they expect to be fixed and no longer hurting. The truth is, you are not going to find a quick solution to your struggle in the pages of my book or any other book.
I know there are some of you who just read that sentence and thought, “That’s not true! The solution can be found in the pages of the Bible!”
Well, nowhere does the Bible promise us quick solutions.
Rather, the Bible promises us that in this life, we will endure struggle but because of God’s great love for us, we don’t have to struggle alone.
The Bible speaks of loss and heartache and declares that God is near to the broken-hearted. The Bible acknowledges that we are going to feel weak and weary, and it invites us to find rest in a relationship with Jesus. In fact, some of the most dominant themes of the Bible are struggle, heartache, loss, and pain.
I am going, to be honest, the church is often guilty of trying to normalize the healing process. We host twelve-week classes and label them, “Overcoming __________________,” “Finding Freedom From ___________,” or “Healing from_________.” The truth is that no matter how amazing the class or the teacher, you are not going to fully overcome your pain, find freedom
from struggles, or heal from any emotional, physical, and spiritual wound in such a short period of time.
What happens in Week Thirteen? When participants are alone and still fighting negative feelings or facing temptations, they feel alone or abnormal. Many whom I have spoken with over the years felt like there was an implied expectation that they should be “fixed” by the time they finished such classes, and when they still experienced struggles, they dressed themselves in embarrassment or shame, feeling abnormal or broken.
READ: Via Dolorosa, Minneapolis: The Suffering Crowd
We offer three-point sermons in attempts to streamline the steps to find peace or heal from hurts. These practical sermons can lead to large altar calls and emotional responses from people; however, what happens three or four days later when those same people have difficulty in applying those steps in their daily relationships or problems.
Many people often feel like they are not “normal” because those simple steps did not solve everything for them. Countless experts, many of them well-meaning pastors and Christian counselors, have identified steps and written books to talk about the normal process people go through as we grieve and heal. They suggest similar steps for people to take and in doing so often imply that by going through each of these “milestones,” we should make normal progress to healing and in doing, so will be able to get back to normal. When people finish the book, leave the retreat, finish the seminar, or complete the workbook, they feel like they should be fixed.
All of this has led to a “microwave mentality” that says healing should happen quickly and immediately. We should be able to pray, and the results should be instantaneous. We should be able to forgive someone who hurt us, and the relationship should be restored immediately. We should finish a Bible reading plan, and our struggles should cease. We graduate from a church class, and we expect our difficulties will disappear.
I have lost count of the number of Christians who have left the Church because their personal timeline to healing didn’t match the message they heard from the Church. When they passed the acceptable time of hurting, they started to hear phrases like:
You need to pray more.
You have unresolved sin in your life.
Your faith must not be strong enough.
I call this toxic normalcy. The unhealthy expectation that every problem should have a quick solution that results in everyone being happy, smiling, and acting normal again quickly. The church is one of the worst offenders of spreading this messaging to the masses. We are great to love on people during the “expected” time of hurting, but once the struggle lingers on, we distance ourselves from them, and often they push away from the Church as a whole.
God doesn’t expect us to be fully healed to come to Him or be involved with Him, so why does the Church attach an expectation for people to engage, serve, or lead?
It is my personal passion that the Church should be a safe place for people to hurt, struggle, be tired, feel weary, and process pain. There should be no timetable on how long their healing process should take or what it should look like along the way.
Healing is a journey, not a destination. I want you to know there is no normal way to heal. There is no set timetable for grief. There is no perfect way to process pain. The goal of this book is not to fix your problems but to let you know you are not alone in your pain. After reading it, there will be some days that are good and some days that are hard. There will be days where you laugh more than others and other days where you will cry more than others. There may be seasons where each day feels like a battle and others where you are doing well for days, weeks, or months at a time.
Your gap journey is yours alone.
Over time, at your own pace, and in the context of your own relationship with God, your healing will uniquely unfold. Over time, you will realize that you have put some distance between yourself and the gap you are leaving behind. It often happens with little fanfare or celebration. Many gap travelers look around one day and discover that their lives have settled into a new rhythm and without intention or coaching. Without planning, a new normal has emerged in life, and they have quietly transitioned from struggling to strength. You may move on and forward from this gap, but you will always take with you the sacred scars of this journey.
This excerpt is taken from God of the Gaps (Morgan James Publishing, 2021).