In last week’s Messenger, I put out the challenge that we should not be satisfied to get back to normal, after this Covid-19 shut down is over, but rather, look forward to a new normal, a bigger and better normal, that God wants to bring us to. Then, this morning, I heard NY Governor Cuomo on TV urging us to come out of this experience with the expectation that we can Build Back Better. This reminded me to think more about what God wants my new normal to be and how I can cooperate with him in building it.

After a bit of meditation, my mind settled on a strategy I intend to follow, and I’d like to suggest it to you. It grows out of Jesus’ teaching about the Two Great Commandments:

A religious leader asked Jesus a question to test him.
“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”
He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all
your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’
This is the greatest and first commandment.
And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’
On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
Matthew 22:35-40 

The challenge Jesus puts before us is, at the same time, the simplest and the most difficult teaching in the entire Bible. It’s beautifully summarized in the plaque above:

LOVE GOD with all of yourself
LOVE OTHERS as much as yourself. 

I settled on two things I will focus on, corresponding to the two areas of loving that Jesus tells me are most important in my life:

(1) LOVING GOD with all of myself. Maybe you think that a pastor’s life is all about God and that I must be concentrating on him 24/7. No, the cares of everyday life are just as dominant in my life as in yours. Therefore, I decided that I will aim to set aside five minutes each day in which I will think only about God. This doesn’t sound like much, but I’ve lived with myself for 83 years, and I want to be realistic. I know how easily my mind wanders and how impatient I am with quiet meditation. I considered the best time to do this, and I decided that, for me, it will be as soon as I arrive in my office on weekdays, before I allow myself to turn on my computer. Five minutes, before my thoughts start racing in other directions. I haven’t figured out Saturdays and Sundays yet, and I’m just beginning to think about meditation aids that will help me focus on God. I’m open to suggestions.

(2) LOVING OTHERS as much as myself. One strange thing about this time when we’re encouraged to stay at home and avoid situations where we’re physically close to a lot of people — we’re spending much more time than usual with the people in our household: husband, wife, children, grandparents. That gives us increased opportunities to show love to one another; AND multiplied chances to get under each other’s skin. I find that I’m hurting people more frequently than in our normal life pattern. Or, maybe I’m just more aware of it because my life has slowed down somewhat. Either way, the practical way I’ve decided to work on loving others is to respond more slowly and carefully in my interactions with people. I’m going to try to expand the old strategy of counting to ten when you’re angry into my everyday life conversations. I’m going to try to use the question “How would this make me feel?” as a filter to keep me from speaking harshly to people near me.

Going back to Jesus’ Two Great Commandments — that’s my personal strategy for my “grand reopening,” the new normal I will emerge into as I’m able to return to my usual life pattern. I’m not going to wait until restrictions are lifted. By God’s grace, I’m going to start now, while I’m still feeling trapped by the limiting circumstances of the shutdown.

How about you?

— Pastor George Van Alstine