In times of a pandemic, where social distancing, isolation, and stay-at-home orders are the norm, many of us have longed for the day when we can go back to normal. This yearning is needed and healthy. We were created for relationships—not isolation (cf. Gen. 2:18). We were not created for social distancing, but for closeness and intimacy, something hinted at in John 1:14, reflecting on Jesus’ becoming one of us.
A question recently asked by Maria, a young adult serving God as a volunteer in a challenging location, put this more into focus.1 Maria was enjoying her experience very much, but because of the pandemic she needed to return home after only six months in her assigned post. “Pastor,” she said, “I don’t want to go back to normal. I don’t like normal. Normal is killing me. I want action, not sitting. I want to preach a sermon, not listen to one. I want to be transformed while being used by God to transform others.”
What did Maria mean? She had experienced something profound, beyond what words are able to express. She experienced something that brought deep joy into her life, that lasted longer than a moment.
Rabbi Harold Kushner put it this way, “Our souls are not hungry for fame, comfort, wealth, or power. Those rewards create almost as many problems as they solve. Our souls are hungry for meaning, for the sense that we have figured out how to live so that our lives matter, so that the world will be at least a little bit different for our having passed through it.”2
There are a number of reasons why more and more young adults are getting involved in the frontline mission of the church. I often return to a little book called Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl, which impacted my life.3 When my wife and I served in Asia for a number of years, this little book inspired us and helped us to see that sometimes the “normal” we long for may not be the best for us.
Man’s Search for Meaning tells the author’s experience of living in Vienna, Austria, at the time of the Nazi occupation. Frankl was a Jewish doctor at the height of his career and at the center of medical learning when he was sent to a number of concentration camps, including the infamous Auschwitz. He ultimately lost every member of his family between 1940 and 1942, but because he was a medical professional he was kept alive for his skills.
During that terrible time, he continued as a physician and psychiatrist to use his knowledge of human behavior. He observed the differences between those who were able to hold on to life and those who, out of despair, died by suicide. Some of his observations are very similar to what I see and hear in conversations with Adventist volunteers around the world.
God Has a Purpose
We may not always see it. We may not understand it. Sometimes it’s painful. But God has a purpose. Paul, who himself experienced trials and suffering as a missionary in the first century world, assures us that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him” (Rom. 8:28).4 Or consider this statement: “But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ” (Phil. 3:7). Circumcision, the right tribal affiliation, righteous zeal, membership in one of Judaism’s dominant religious sects, and righteousness based on the law—Paul could tick off every box (cf. verses 5, 6). Yet, it was a clear sense of God’s purpose helped Paul to stay the course (see verses 13, 14). “God’s purpose . . . is wider, deeper, higher, than our restricted vision has comprehended.” writes Ellen White. “From the humblest lot those whom He has seen faithful have in time passed been called to witness for Him in the world’s highest places.”5
God Has a Plan
Consider the example of Joseph. Life did not go according to plan when his jealous brothers sold him into slavery (Gen. 37:20-28). It was cruel. It was devastating. Years later, looking back at his life, Joseph could say, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Gen. 50:20).
Would Joseph have chosen this life plan? Most likely not! But God worked through all of the events in Joseph’s life to bring good for His people—and the larger world. What a comfort to realize that God’s perspective is clearer than our own. Isaiah 55:8, 9 offers this explanation: “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” We have a God who not only knows us intimately, but who orders our lives.
What a comfort to know that He goes before us. The plan He has for our lives cannot be outsourced, and only you can fulfill it. “God never leads His children otherwise than they would choose to be led, if they could see the end from the beginning and discern the glory of the purpose which they are fulfilling as co-workers with Him.”6
Focus on Others Selflessly
God designed us not only to need others; He also made us to find fulfillment and joy in serving them. If we live only for ourselves, when we experience suffering and setbacks, it’s easy to ask: “Why go on living?” As stewards of God’s blessings, we are called to share His blessings with others. Serving others and ministering to them helps us to find the joy and peace of God, which transcends all understanding. The more we focus on ourselves, the more discouraged we get. “The spirit of unselfish labor for others gives depth, stability, and Christlike loveliness to the character, and brings peace and happiness to its possessor,” notes Ellen White. “Those who thus devote themselves to unselfish effort for the good of others are most surely working out their own salvation.”7
Let’s pray that the world can find healing and peace. Let’s pray that, somehow, we can continue to do all God called us to do—but let’s not go back to “normal,” for “normal” often affects our walk with Jesus negatively. As did Paul, let’s leave the past behind and move into a new life, where we no longer live, but Christ lives in us. As did Joseph, let’s be faithful and trust that God’s plan is better, bigger, and more fulfilling than ours. Let’s live meaningful and selfless lives, dedicated to sharing hope and serving others, showing that we truly care.
1 Not her real name.
2 John C. Maxwell, The Power of Significance (New York: Center Street, 2017), p. 27.
3 Victor E. Frankl, Men’s Search for Meaning (Boston, Mass.: Beacon Press, 2006).
4 All Bible quotations have been taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version. Copyright ã 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
5 Ellen G. White, A Call to Stand Apart (Hagerstown, Md.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 2020), p. 64.
6 White, The Ministry of Healing (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1905), p. 479.
7 White, Steps to Christ (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1892), p. 80.