We all grew up being systematically trained in what we thought was “normal” life. Mom did this, and Dad did that. We observed roles, habits, and personalities. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner were done in a certain way—or not. Holidays had their rhythms and traditions. We thought certain amenities were expensive and extravagant and others were cheap and affordable. Emergencies were handled with a predictable level of emotion and problem-solving. Birthdays and anniversaries received an expected level of investment. We knew who could fix things, and who cleaned up the messes. Hunting season, Christmas, and Mother’s Day elicited appropriate preparation and expense.
This was all “normal.” Even if our family of origin had some deep dysfunctions, we still absorbed its idiosyncrasies as normal.
And, without consciously deciding to make a list, we all compiled a registry against which to assess our future spouse, our children, and our extended family.
The problems came when we realized that none of these people are normal! They don’t seem to understand the innate importance of daily normalcy. Their habits seem deliberately contrary to logic, priority, and common sense. Why don’t they value time, order, humor, work, fun, or money as I do?
Someone once said, “Marriage is your last, best hope of becoming a grownup.” What every couple needs to realize on their wedding day is that they are not marrying a “normal” person. This is a rude awakening! This is step one toward maturity. Everything changes as God blends two into one and builds a new family, and a new family system.
Marriage holds up a mirror to show us our long list of deeply-held assumptions about
what life should look like.
So many of them are nicked and bruised in the first few days of marriage as space, time, money, and decisions bump into that abnormal person to whom we have just pledged lifelong loyalty. And I learn every day that what I view as normal is not just a benign theory. It is a set of raging expectations, which, when not met, reveal themselves as selfish demands.
And then there are children. If anything reveals my selfish expectations about getting things done, or keeping the house in order, or just getting to places on time—children puncture all those balloons. They come out of the womb different. Different than me. Different than my spouse, and different from their siblings. Unique, and fundamentally abnormal! They must be loved, trained, and disciplined with relentless patience in order to achieve any semblance of normalcy. And then it changes as they grow through the stages of life. It’s a constantly moving target.
What we discover on this journey, if we are learning and maturing, is that the people we love are chipping away the old rigidities of what we thought should be normal, and adding fresh layers of a new normal. God himself is using these intruders to carve out a new you. He is pressing us toward new, selfless maturity. He is helping us leave old patterns and assumptions for new enjoyments and fresh investments. We can welcome this, and not resist it when we abandon our insistence that everything fit our assumptions. It’s the joyful discovery of asking a new and different question. Instead of wondering how we will ever get back to normal, we can embrace the adventure by “putting off the old self”, and “putting on the new self.”
So, we arrive at a fundamental, spiritual vantage point. My “normal” is in constant flux because God is shaping a new me. To the extent that my old normal is selfish and stunted, He wants to strip it away to create someone who looks more and more like Jesus: a completely new normal. Everyone will notice. Especially those close enough to watch you change.