It is generally understood that there are 7 stages of grief that people experience in some order when they are processing trauma:
As a society, we're grieving. We're in the middle of prolonged, collective (and individual) trauma. We have lost our way of life, and that warrants real processing. Grief in this time is not only appropriate, it's required if we are ever going to arrive somewhere on the other side.
I've noticed that we have seemed to move on to a new stage of our collective grieving process this week. Have you noticed this too? We've moved on from the shock and denial of this whole ordeal, and suddenly we have arrived at anger and bargaining. All over social media, we are angry that we can't do so many of the things we love to do with so many of the people we love. We are bargaining with God and imagining what kinds of brand new people we will be when this is all over and when things go back to normal. We've started to daydream.
We've begun daydreaming about the day when we can put this all behind us. We will hug more people. We will throw more parties. We will eat in all of the restaurants and buy single toilet paper rolls at a time. When this is all over, we won't take anything for granted. We'll be filled with gratitude. We will value our families and friends more. We will look forward to church in a new way again.
I hope all of these things are true. But what if returning to normal isn't the point? I mean, was normal all that great? Do we really want to just race back to the way it was before - or is there something better out there for us? What if God isn't hoping for us to return to normal with more gratitude or appreciation for the things we've always had... what if He is calling us to more - to a brand new thing? What if He doesn't want us to race back to our margin-less, packed schedules? What if He doesn't want us to care so much about overnight shipping, or which brand of organic soap we have on our kitchen counters? What if there's more to hope for than what we've already known?
The prophet Isaiah speaks for God in Isaiah 43:15-19:
I am the Lord, your Holy One,
Israel’s Creator and King.
I am the Lord, who opened a way through the waters,
making a dry path through the sea.
I called forth the mighty army of Egypt
with all its chariots and horses.
I drew them beneath the waves, and they drowned,
their lives snuffed out like a smoldering candlewick.
“But forget all that—
it is nothing compared to what I am going to do.
For I am about to do something new.
See, I have already begun! Do you not see it?
I will make a pathway through the wilderness.
I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.
This is an announcement of hope for humanity. Declared by God through Isaiah to his people - the nation of Israel, to remind them of all that God had done to provide for them in times of crisis. He has a history of showing up, parting seas, and sending food to His starving people wandering the wilderness, and yet... all of that is nothing compared to this new thing He is about to do.
In this passage, Isaiah is predicting the coming of Jesus Christ, who will make all things new, but there is another lesson to be learned from this declaration of provision and progressive creativity: God makes new things where there is nothing. He creates life where there is nothing but death. He brings peace where there is nothing but chaos. His most profound work does not cling to the past, but embraces the brand new.
What if, instead of bargaining with God to recreate what we've always known, we beg Him to show us what He is preparing for our future? Perhaps we've grown so used to our dry wasteland that we miss it now, because it's all we've ever known... but God is preparing to create rivers in our midst. Let's not miss that... let's anticipate it.