Lately, I’ve been hearing a lot of people say, “I just can’t wait for things to get back to normal.” I’ve been thinking about this a lot. What is “normal” anyway? Sometimes we may even wonder if we are normal. Rest assured it is NOT unusual to wonder if what we are thinking and feeling is normal.
He was not convinced.
Just the other day my family was looking at a family picture that we took only a year ago, right after my oldest son got home from his mission. The discussion was all about the jeans that everyone was wearing. My oldest son was laughing at the way he was wearing his jeans. Because he’d only been home for a short period of time, Nathan didn’t realize that EVERYONE was rolling their jeans. In fact, I distinctly remember Danny, our second son, trying to encourage him to roll his jeans… but, Nathan was not convinced.
After much discussion Nathan jokingly asked if we could re-do our family pictures, before the end of the summer, just so that he could roll his jeans, like all of the other members of the family.
Normal is a Function of Our Expecations
What I’ve started to realize is that “normal” is a function of our expectations. In other words, when we expect things to be a certain way, we tend to create a standard of what we BELIEVE to be normal. And when things don’t meet that standard, we can have a tendency to view ourselves or our situation as abnormal. Which never feels good.
A few years ago, it would have been entirely weird to roll your jeans. And in the coming years, it may be this way again. But, until my son came home from his mission and started to understand what the current “expectation” was for jean fashion… keeping his jeans unrolled was PERFECTLY normal.
Normalcy is Subjective
Normalcy, is 100%, completely subjective. It is based on our beliefs and our expectations.
Just a few months ago, we would have never believed that it was “normal” to come home from a mission for no health reason at all…for 4-5 months… hang out with the people you love, and then, go right back out to a different mission.
But, this is what all of the missionaries are experiencing right now. Because of Covid-19 our beliefs and expectations of missions have changed, and therefore our definition of “normal” missionary service has likely changed along with it.
There’s No Upside To…
Some people will still want to believe that what is happening to missionary service is “not normal.” They will be longing to go back to their previous beliefs and expectations. But, there is ZERO upside to believing we, or our experiences aren’t “normal.” It feels terrible.
Our Brain Thinks It’s Protecting Us
Now, it makes sense that our brains want to do this. Funny enough, our brains LOVE comparing us to the people around us and figure out if we are having similar experiences… or perceived “normal” experiences. This way it can have a sense of how we are doing in life. It wants to know how we are measuring up to those around us, so that we can make a change if necessary. It’s a form of protection that our primitive brain uses.
Our brains also love to know what to expect. It doesn’t like the unknown, so sometimes it will create expectations of ourselves and surroundings as another form of protection.
When It Backfires
But, these primitive brain desires to compare and create expectations sometimes backfires on us. Because, when we don’t meet the expectations or the predetermined standard (which we all will do from time to time)…we inadvertently end up feeling judgmental or frustrated with ourselves, or what is going on around us.
“I guess this is normal for me.”
As of late, things going completely unexpectedly, seems to be the norm. And so what I have been telling myself is this:
“I guess this is normal for me.”
- Like the time I didn’t want to get out of bed.
- Like the time I cried myself to sleep.
- Like the time I sat on the couch and didn’t move, because I was feeling a little too overwhelmed to do anything else.
Yep. All normal. And if it’s normal for me… then, it can be normal for you, too. You just have to decide that it is.
Maybe you are:
- Having some reservations about serving a mission.
- Struggling to find joy in quarantined missionary service.
- Wishing you could have stayed in your original mission.
- Hoping you don’t have to go back to your original mission.
- Feeling like you could have done more as a missionary.
All of these things and more, can be normal for you. And remember, whatever is normal for you… will definitely not be the same as what is normal for someone else. So, it is not necessary to judge ourselves harshly. But, it is also wise to be aware of the judgement we have for how other people are handling their unmet, predetermined expectations, as well.
When your brain wants to go there, and it will… don’t spend so much time worried as to whether you are normal. Just remind yourself that whatever it is, has only been an unmet expectation. And that is all.
I give you permission to decide, like I did: “This is normal for me.”
It may take dropping some of the expectations and pre-determined beliefs about what you or the rest of the world should be doing…
But, it’ll be so worth it.