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An embarrassing thought went through my head on a recent weekend drive.

I was sitting in my car on a six-lane road that’s surrounded by stores and apartments and businesses.

And I was surrounded by cars. Everywhere, cars. Bumper-to-bumper cars.

Then that embarrassing thought emerged, “I miss the pandemic.”

Well, not really. But maybe some parts of it.

Many people across the U.S. are enjoying the feeling that we’re coming out of it, that the worst is behind us and we’ve weathered the storm.

While a lot of the data doesn’t support that “we’re almost there,” the increasing number of vaccinations is leading to a feeling that the finish line is just ahead.

When we do cross the finish line, what then?

One of the oft spoken hopes has been “getting back to normal.” While understandable, this is not a good idea.

We can’t get back to normal because we’ve been changed by everything that has happened in the last 12 months.

Neither you nor I are the same as we were a year ago. It might be easiest to just say, “Everything and everybody are different.”

Bad news and good news: Life doesn’t come with a “control-alt-delete” restart command.

Here’s another peril of trying to get back to normal. The shutdown emptied our lives of so much that we took for granted. But alas, nature abhors a vacuum. Slowly, most of us figured out what to do with all that “extra” time.

So, now that we’re semi-busy again, where are all those activities that we shelved 12 months ago going to go?

I’m concerned that without some serious good-byes to activities that we’ve come to love, a lot of us will soon be drowning in too much of our new normal.

Perhaps the best way to describe “social atrophy” is comparing it to muscle atrophy.

For the past decade or so, I’ve been riding a bicycle. I particularly enjoy 100-mile rides.

Regrettably, at 60 years old, I can’t “Just Do It.” It takes preparation and training.

If I’m not using my muscles, they seem to believe they can shed all their hard-earned growth. The “use it or lose it” axiom seems to be increasingly applicable.

For the past year, many of our social-interacting muscles have been in timeout. In its place, a Zoom muscle group and a “from a distance” muscle group bulked up; we figured out a new way.

The good and certain news: Our social-muscle group will come back. But it’s going to take a while for many of us to get used to being with lots of people.

Don’t panic. Don’t lash out. Don’t retreat back into what feels like the safety of isolation.

Finding ways to safely reconnect face to face will be worth the effort, even if there is some social-muscle pain as we get used to it.

The data is clear that we’re paying a price for what the past year has wrought.

Recently, a headline summarized a painful reality, “At least 20 mass shootings have taken place in the two weeks since the metro Atlanta spa attacks left 8 dead.”

No doubt the causes for this brutal chaos are multi-factorial. Even so, inarguably, these are stressed times.

In the uncertainty of our times, what are people of faith to do? What relevant choices can we make?

Among many possibilities, here are three.

First, shrink the “zone of disappointment” – the space between our expectations and our reality.

The greater the zone, the greater the disappointment. Here’s an example.

When we finally are able to assemble, I might expect to pick up with my friends and family where we left off a year ago. If the reunions don’t measure up to what I hoped and missed, that’s the space for disappointment.

How would I shrink the zone?

Establish reasonable hopes and cultivate a childlike curiosity about what is to come. If an expectation has but one outcome, disappointment is guaranteed.

Also, prepare yourself to be generous with grace.

You’re likely familiar with the LOVE sculpture in Philadelphia. The “LO” is stacked on the “VE” and the “O” leans to the right. When asked, “Why is the “O” crooked?” the artist replied, “Because love is never perfect.”

If we expect perfect love, then disappointment and resentment won’t be far away. Curiosity and grace make space for what is new.

Next, nurture contentment in the places worthy of contentment.

As 1 Timothy 6:6-10 reminds us, “there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment.”

A popular quote captures the sentiment, “A harvest of peace is produced from a seed of contentment.”

Finally, cultivate patience.

Creating a new normal will be harder than recovering the old familiar one. While there are parts of pre-2020 that must have a place in our new normal, it’s the future that calls while the past reminds.

You and I are called to join in God’s redemptive enterprise; this is a forward-oriented vision. We learn from the past in order to create a better future.

To do anything less is a waste of the crises we’ve been through.

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