Quicksand Spirituality

Quicksand Spirituality

In a meeting with strangers, Thursday night, the question was asked, “Who gets stressed?”  We all knowingly chuckled.  We ALL get stressed.

The leader asked, “What stresses you?”  Work.  Family.  Relationships.  Health.  Money.

In my head, I was screaming, “WHAT STRESSES ME?  SEVENTEEN STUDENTS AND FACULTY WERE SLAUGHTERED TWO WEEKS AGO IN A LOCAL HIGH SCHOOL!  INSTITUTIONS MEANT TO PROTECT US FAILED!  A TROUBLED KID, REPEATEDLY SHOWING SIGNS OF MENTAL ILLNESS, LEGALLY PURCHASED AN ASSAULT-STYLE RIFLE, WITH THE EXPRESSED INTENT OF COMMITTING MASS MURDER!  OUR WHOLE COMMUNITY IS TRAUMATIZED!  WHAT STRESSES ME?  ARE YOU JOKING?”

But, I never said a word, out loud.  I smiled and nodded.  “Yes. Work, family, and money stress me too.”

I know this sounds terribly judgmental – please, forgive me.  As I listened to our trite examples of stress, I couldn’t help but wonder, “Have we forgotten what JUST happened?  Or, are we just being polite?  Or, is it too painful to say out loud?  Are others inwardly shouting, as I am?  Or, has everyone else moved on?”

I know we have to move on, some how.  We can’t wallow in this forever.  The students have gone back to school.  Businesses are open.  Teams are playing sports.  New stories are making the headlines.

But, I can’t “move on.”  Though I wasn’t directly affected by this tragedy, this tragedy has deeply affected me.  I’m functioning, fairly normally, I think.  But, my soul is troubled.  I’m wrestling with questions I’ve not really wrestled with before, and I can’t find satisfactory answers.  My heart hurts, a lot.  My prayers have devolved into angry rants.  I’m listening, but not hearing.

My struggle is not nearly as significant as the MSD families who lost loved ones, or the students who witnessed horrors, or the parents who now fear their children’s safety, or the faculty and staff who, somehow, must pick up the pieces and make something of the remaining academic year.

Perhaps I’m struggling because I’m supposed to speak for God.  After all, that’s my job.  That is what I’m paid to do.  I’m supposed to know why God allows tragedies to happen.  No. I take that back.  I’m supposed to know why God allowed THIS tragedy to happen.  I’m supposed to know where God was during THIS shooting.  I’m supposed to know why a “good” God allowed THIS evil and suffering.  I’m supposed to know why God didn’t intervene.

God!  Why didn’t you intervene?????

I don’t know.  I’ve had answers before, when things happened to strangers, in far away places.  But, today, two and a half weeks later, my neat theological explanations aren’t holding water.  At least, they’re not for me.

I can’t seem to retreat into comfortable spiritual routines, or familiar theological answers, or even my faith.  In fact, it’s my faith that troubles me most.  How do I speak for a God I don’t understand?  I’ve never presumed to comprehend God.  But, that’s different.  God is beyond human comprehension.  I actually like that.  I need that.  I’m comfortable with that.  This?  Not so much.

Though I haven’t lost or abandoned my core spiritual convictions, or turned my back on God, I feel like my foundation has turned to quicksand.  Where is my rock?  I don’t know where to step and stand with confidence.  And, I’m beginning to wonder if “moving on” spiritually will require me to know and speak for God with a lot less certainty.  That’s unsettling.  To say the least, that stresses me.

Stressed?  Yes, I am stressed.  But, for none of the normal reasons.

Welcome to the New Normal…For Now…

Welcome to the New Normal…For Now…

Hurricane Irma blew through South Florida on Sunday, September 10.  While many throughout Florida suffered major storm damage, Coral Springs was mostly just inconvenienced.

Some were without power for a few days.  Some had damage to trees, fences, and pool screens.  Some lost internet and cable.  There were hurricane shutters to take down, and a fair amount of clean-up to do.  But, with a few exceptions, most Coral Springs residents and residences were relatively unscathed – thankfully.

The greater impact of Irma, in this community, was the many days of disruption she caused.  Store shelves were emptying as early as Labor Day, and are still being re-stocked.  Broward County schools were closed for a week and a half.  Many, facing the possibility of a Cat 5 hurricane, chose to evacuate.  Businesses were closed.  Church services were cancelled.  Those who stayed to face Irma hunkered down, watched the Weather Channel for days on end, chomping on hurricane supplies of junk food.

Just as a new school year was starting, and church activities were gearing up for the Fall, Irma forced everything and everyone to come to a screeching halt.

Inconvenient.

The common refrain I’ve heard from many, since Irma, has been, “I was so ready for life to get back to normal.”  What a strange statement.  Back… to… normal.  Back?  Normal?

How do you go back?  Time travel?

I will confess I had a difficult time reengaging my work after the storm.  Irma consumed so much time and mental energy, I’d mostly taken a mental holiday from work.  After a couple of days of re-adjustment, I was happy to engage a more familiar work and life routine.

That’s the word – familiar.  I think that’s what people mean when they say, “Back to normal.”  Back to familiar.  Back to regular.  Back to routine.  Back to predictable.  Back to comfortable.

Honestly, in most ways, my daily/weekly routine closely resembles my pre-Irma life.  But, if Irma had come closer, I might still be recovering today.  The old familiar “normal” might not be an option – ever.  And, as familiar as life is now, post-Irma, my new normal includes both gratitude for making it safely through the storm and dread, knowing that future storms will surely come and we might not be as fortunate.  Normal might not be as easy to resurrect, next time.

The problem, in my mind, is you can never go “back to normal.”  We can only go forward.  Life only moves onward, not backward. No matter what normal was, good or bad, you can’t go back to it.  It’s gone.  It’s over.  It’s in the past.  Forever.

I  do understand the longing for “normality.”  We all need a certain degree of stability that comes with familiarity.  Lack of stability is unsettling.  We all need firm, stable places in our lives.

But, dogged longing for normality is living with one foot in the past.  We can’t live, always looking backward.  Yesterday might have been normal.  Today might be normal, or not.  But, who knows what tomorrow will bring?  Tomorrow might bring unexpected changes to our normal.  Tomorrow might be the beginning of a new normal.

One thing is guaranteed – change.  Change is a certainty.  Normal never lasts.

So, if you need stability, familiarity, and predictability in your life, grab it wherever you can find it.  I can’t criticize you for that.  But, don’t become too comfortable with normal.  It won’t be around for very long.

And, just because yesterday’s normal was familiar, doesn’t mean that the new normal is bad or wrong.  Possibly, the new normal is actually better, if you’ll give it a chance.  Likely, someday, we’ll be looking forward to getting “back” to the “new” normal.

Except, we won’t be able to.

There’s no going back.

Welcome the new normal.