On the pilgrim way: Yearning for normality
My heart sank as I walked into church this morning: the chairs were all back to normal. The old straight lines had replaced our semi-circle, carefully arranged to improve the singing and bring the thinly scattered congregation closer together. “Back to normal” feels so unadventurous, so dull.
And yet, back to normal is what I long for at home where the decorators have moved in for probably four weeks to deal with the hall, stairs and landings our Victorian semi. It is the hall I miss most – nowhere to hang my coat, take off my shoes, put down my papers. Of course I don’t want it to be exactly back to normal: there will be new paper and fresh paint and even a new carpet, and we might not put everything back just as it was. This is a rare opportunity as it is 30 years since the hall and stairs were last redecorated. I hope we will be a bit adventurous.
When it comes to ill-health the most adventurous of us still want to get back to normal. But what if that is not an option? Two friends of mine – let’s call them Sabrina and Lavinia – have lived for some years with serious illness. Sabrina has battled with cancer and during each period of treatment she would say: “I just want to get back to normal.” Her normal was a regime of sport and exercise, as well as supporting neighbours and going on lovely holidays. Gradually, over time, she gave up on back to normal and hoped to be well enough to, say, go on holiday or take a daily walk. Now she says, with a radiant smile: “I just thank God for a good day.”
Lavinia has multiple health problems and so has frequented clinics and hospitals for years. This has involved long waits for appointments, hopes pinned on operations and interventions which have not been very successful. When I first knew her she was very frustrated with her body and with God, because she wanted to get back to normal – in other words, have the health and strength she used to have for a life of service. She is a woman of prayer and over the years I have watched her gradually accept a more limited life. She inspired me – even awed me – when she diffidently explained that she had begun to use her daily tedious hour of self-administered, unpleasant treatment as a time of prayer. She had learned, through much suffering, to live for the day.
In truth, there is really no back to normal: there is only forward into an unknown future. Meanwhile…
This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it. Psalm 118:24
Sheila Maxey is book reviews editor for Reform
This article was published in the June 2013 edition of Reform.
Read more articles by Sheila Maxey