Friday, September 23, 2016

Normal

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I didn't go to a normal high school. It was the School of the Arts, and we all had to audition for one of several art majors just to get in. We had no sports (although a fledgling tennis team was started at some point while I was there), about half the teachers had weird eccentricities that kept us wondering who they were outside of the classroom, and vocal majors would walk the sidewalks singing between classes. I guess it's about as close to living out High School Musical as you can get.
I went there from 6th grade until 12th, but when I got to high school, I had thoughts of bowing out for a more "normal" high school experience. I wanted the football team with cheerleaders and the marching band. I wanted big classrooms and nice facilities (SOA was literally in the middle of a project neighborhood). Ultimately, I just wanted something a little less strange, and a little more like everyone else. In the end, my dad talked me into staying, and I'm so glad he did because my high school experience was super fun, educational, community-driven, and spiritually maturing because of the friends I had. But I'll never forget how close I was to trading something special for what everyone else had: normal.
So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.”
But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the LordAnd the Lord told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights.” (1 Samuel 8:4-9)
I was reminded of that choice so many years ago when I read this story today. Israel had been governed by judges the past 400+ years, with God as their true King. But there came a time when they saw every surrounding nation with their human kings and started to desire what they had. They asked their judge at the time, Samuel, and he only told them how bad a king could be: taxes, military service, forced public service, slavery. Nothing good. But here was their response:
But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.”
When Samuel heard all that the people said, he repeated it before the LordThe Lord answered, “Listen to them and give them a king.” (1 Samuel 8:19-22)
The results would later lead to disaster, but God has a way of sometimes handing us over to our consequences when we insist.
So what am I saying -- normal is bad? We should never seek to be "like all the other nations?" Not at all. There must be normal. If everyone were pursuing only the abnormal, it would become what is normal and therefore no longer unique! What I think is important here is that there are times in life where we may be called to something outside of what is ordinary, and we should try our best to be okay with that.
Maybe you're supposed to raise a kid in a one bedroom apartment right now. Maybe you're supposed to work three part-time jobs instead of one full-time. When everyone else is getting married, you may be called to singleness for a while. When everyone else is sipping their sweet tea from a Yeti, maybe you should be reasonable and not spend $30 on a cup! You could certainly force your way out of all of those situations, but if it's not the right time, the results will likely be similar to the Israelites' -- disastrous. (Maybe not with the Yeti cup...)
There are inherent sacrifices when you go against the crowd. I saw and experienced a lot of this while living in Los Angeles. We had two kids under two in a two bedroom apartment. It was far less than ideal, but God provided and we were able to make it. My personal conflict in writing this is that we left that situation for another, in order to have something more normal: a house and family nearby. I remembered my dilemma all those years prior in high school when we were considering the move, but that's just reiterating the point that sometimes it's okay to be normal.
The important thing to do is always seek God when you're making these decisions. If you're following Jesus, you will be called to abnormal circumstances at some point in your life. Just read the gospels and see some of what Jesus asks his disciples to do -- it's ridiculous! So why would we be any different? That's why we should be ready to reconcile with the bigger picture of what God is doing in and around us.
"I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father." (John 14:12)
The "greater works" might be something very normal, like encouraging a neighbor, or you might be called to minister in Thailand with some monks. Either way and in between, we're okay as long as we're following in step with God. Normal or not, a richer life will always result.

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