Unsurprisingly, it’s anxiety inducing for me as an adult. I crave my routine of getting out to the office, seeing colleagues and friends and socialising with family on the weekends. Without a doubt, it’s seen my faith waver in ways I didn’t expect. First came the questions: What does this mean for my future? What is God trying to do through this? What does God want me to do through this? Before the slow decline of Bible reading and Church Zoom calls as I struggled to connect, and the eventual feeling of being so totally overwhelmed by it all that I struggled to see God in any of these ‘new normals’ at all.
Luckily, with my adult brain, I can comprehend and understand (as much as is possible with the confusion) the pandemic and come up with ways in which I’ve personally responded and ideas to help me adapt: frequent socially-distanced walks, Facetime calls and sitting in a queue of 35 cars to get McDonald’s, just to name a few. I’m able to pick myself up, dust myself off and accept what’s going on around me; but our children and young people may not feel able to do so as readily when facing the prospect of an ever-changing ‘normality’.
As parents, friends, youth and children’s workers, we rightly feel we need to help young people to adjust to these worldly adaptations – promising that things will “be OK” even if they are different, and even if that’s going to be forever. But while it’s true that things may not be the same as they were before the pandemic – not at least for a while – and the landscape is going to be difficult to navigate along the way, it’s important we circle all of this back to Jesus to gain some perspective and lighten the mood.
Acceptance isn’t always the answer
Early on in my faith at the end of my teenage years, if there’s one phrase I detested hearing, it was that “God will make everything OK” without acknowledgement my involvement. I was struggling with severe mental health issues, difficulties at home and navigating my first job – so while I understood the adults in the room were trying to be helpful and what they were saying was true, I felt as though all these issues were just being swept under the rug and that I just had to accept what was going on. I had no part in everything going on around me. Some people may find that comforting, I felt like I was losing grip on myself and control over my own life.
It feels worryingly the same to me when I hear young people being told: “Well, this is our new normal”, “It’s just going to have to be this way” and “You’ll get used to it eventually” – that we as adults are just accepting circumstances that we know are making us, and our young people, unhappy and are willing to live it day in and day out without giving them freedom of expression to disagree or do something to challenge it. If our young people are struggling with the current situation, these kind of ‘comforting’ words aren’t going to pull much – or any – weight.
It doesn’t have to be normal
Now, I’m not saying we can just decide to live differently, break the rules in place to protect us and be un-safe. We’re going to need to adapt. But Jesus wasn’t one to sweep things under the rug and ‘accept things as they are’. He didn’t tell his disciples that everything was going to be fine and dandy and that they would have peace no matter what the future held. Jesus was real about the fact that it would be a struggle and (here’s the key), not just that it ‘eventually will be OK so just accept it’, but to be courageous as we battle our way through alongside him.
In John 16, Jesus tells his disciples: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart!I have overcome the world” (verse 33, NIV). Jesus knew the disciples were about to enter a difficult time, when he would die on the cross – and that they would have to get used to their ‘new normal’ without him. They didn’t have to accept it, they didn’t have to like it, he doesn’t tell them that the trouble about to happen is OK or justified – he just says: “take heart”. We don’t have to accept the ‘new normal’, nor like it, and it’s not necessarily justified. Jesus asks us to stand with him.
What does this mean - to ‘take heart’ as Jesus instructs us to? I’d say, to live courageously and look towards him, doing what he asks of us while also pulling our own weight in the situation we’re placed in. It’s an active process we can get our children and young people involved with. We don’t just sit back and say: “It is what it is” – we get up, get going and shout along the same: “This is what’s happening but I’m being active in living the life I want to despite the limitations – despite the ‘trouble’.”
Suddenly, the anxiety of having to get used to a ‘new normal’ seems less threatening when we’re not only allowed by God to have our moment moaning about it, but also when he invites us to be part of the process. It switches from happening to us, to happening alongside us. Even as an adult, feeling included and in-the-know with Jesus is a comfort to me. I know I can turn in prayer and say: “Lord, I’m not happy right now with the way things are. It’s not OK. But I’m being brave and I’m going out there giving it my best shot.”
We have to be reminded that we need teamwork with Jesus to make the dream work (it’s a cliché, but we all know as youth and children’s workers that working together works best). As much as the adults in the room were right in telling me that “God will make everything OK” all those years ago – he will and does – I also had my part to play in this. I had to choose to actively pursue him, trust him and love him for the best results in changing my life around. It didn’t make what was happening to me OK, it gave me grounds to start sharing how I feel with Jesus and adapting my life to fit what I wanted to see with his blessing.
“I have overcome the world”, Jesus reminds us in the same verse, a comfort that we don’t have to have it all sussed. Young people need to know in equal parts that God has their backs in this, and so, more importantly, he is giving them the freedom to adapt as they feel comfortable, in their own time and in their own way. I know that my ‘new normal’ won’t look the same as yours, and yours to your neighbours – so let every child adapt in their own way.
Jess Lester is deputy editor of Youth and Children’s Work magazine.