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Do COVID-19 and an earthquake bring a ‘new normal’? No way!

The “new now” — not the new normal — is the right and proper way to minimize the angst, stress and fear of it all. 

Chip Simpson looks up the street from behind what was a nearly 6-foot tall block wall that was destroyed during a 5.7 magnitude quake on Wednesday, March 18, 2020.
Chip Simpson looks up the street from behind what was a nearly 6-foot tall block wall that was destroyed during a 5.7 magnitude quake on Wednesday, March 18, 2020.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

The novel coronavirus, along with an earthquake in Utah, have changed many things for many people. Countless declarations have been made by citizens, government leaders and media pundits on what has happened and what comes next. Too often the term “new normal” has been improperly invoked.

Schools closed and students learning from home? New normal. Restaurants and bars only open for pickup and delivery? New normal. Social distancing? New normal. Restricted international travel? New normal. Working from home? New normal. No sporting events, concerts or large gatherings? All new normal.

It is the phrase that seems to be everywhere around the world. Whenever bad news is delivered or a change in current behavior is required, anyone can simply look thoughtful and say, “Well, this is just the new normal.”

Are we entering a massive new normal? No! It isn’t a new normal. It is just a “new now.”

This isn’t to minimize the impact of what is clearly a serious situation. We are experiencing some mighty changes in our daily living. But the “new now” — not the new normal — is the right and proper way to minimize the angst, stress and fear of it all.

One of the greatest challenges within the current situation now facing America and the world is the uncertainty and anxiety that arises in the absence of proper perspective. The “new normal” commentary suggests things will continue this way in perpetuity. If you buy into that thinking, you are much more likely to panic rather than prepare, react rather than respond, and be driven by fear rather than faith.

Remember, it is against the laws of nature and nature’s God that a storm continues forever. Even the fiercest wind, in the most violent storm, eventually subsides. Stillness follows and a moment of calm confidence comes. The most resilient of beings — human beings — adapt and move forward one “new now” at a time.

Finding, and even creating, stillness in the present is important and possible. Finding stillness in the perpetually uncertain is nearly impossible.

One example is found in those who experience significant pain. A back injury, cluster migraine diagnosis or cancer-related chemotherapy can be life-altering pain prognoses for patients. Pain, whether physical, mental or emotional, is often presented to the sufferer as the “new normal.” The horrific stress of sensing or believing that the current pain will continue forever as the “new normal” can be overwhelmingly depressing.

Rather than pursuing the old model of a “new normal,” masked solely by potent and often addictive medicine, many pain specialists are now incorporating meditation and mindfulness in their treatment. These techniques can be learned and added to a holistic approach as a way for pain-sufferers to be more present and better functioning in their “new now.”

A sufferer can experience pain in the “new now” and still show up for their son’s piano recital or a daughter’s basketball game. In the “new now” they can feel the worry of paying medical bills along with their mortgage and give their best to the current customer at work. If the sufferer only focused on the “new normal” of chronic pain, they would never have any moments of meaning in all the possibilities presented to them in the present.

One of my favorite moments from the New Testament is when Christ and his disciples were on the stormy and raging sea. The disciples frantically raced about the ship trying to control everything while attempting to save themselves. They soon became weary with emotional fear and physical fatigue.

During difficult days, our chasing — mental or physical — often exhausts us and causes us to stress out, give up or cave in. In the context of the current coronavirus crisis, we see this manifest in panic buying, massive amounts of misinformation being shared on social media and shoppers hoarding supplies. It is also seen in irritability, hopelessness and depression.

Returning to the biblical account, after the disciples had so exhausted themselves through their frantic efforts, Christ arose and simply said, “Peace, be still.” In this declaration I have always felt, and I am now convinced, that Jesus was not speaking to the wind and the waves. He was really speaking to his disciples. He was in essence saying “be still” in the “new now.” It will pass and we will journey on.

The lesson to the disciples was to be still in the “new now” of their current crisis.

Another applicable example would be when the star quarterback on a football team gets injured in the first quarter of a game. If the team starts obsessing over a “new normal” mindset, players become focused on things in the future that they simply cannot control. Questions about next week’s opponent, panic about the big rivalry game or worry about the pending playoffs prevents the team from performing in the only moment they can control — the “new now.”

If, on the other hand, they embrace the “new now,” they could rally around the backup quarterback, exert extra effort on each play and compensate for the quarterback’s inexperience with the strategy and the skills of more seasoned players.

Living in the “new now” puts us in control of our emotions and ensures we focus on the things we can do today. It is difficult to rally to a perpetual “new normal,” but people can wrap their heads around the idea of rallying to take on a “new now”.

Yes, school will restart, healthy communities will be restored, restaurants will return, sporting events with big crowds will thankfully arise. High school dances, international travel, religious gatherings, high-fives and big hugs will all resume.

While suffering will be present in what feels like a dark and discouraging national and international moment, a magnificent forward-moving morning of stillness and newfound strength will follow, bringing with it yet another “new now” for all of us to embrace.