“A new normal”.
It’s one of the most hackneyed phrases of the current COVID-19 pandemic lexicon.
Along with “unprecedented” and “trying times”, “a new normal” has now gained notoriety for being on a list of pandemic-related terms that dictionary.com predicts people might never want to hear again. Yes, it’s that phrase that politicians, scientists, doctors and even the man on the street have been repeating ever since many countries started going into varying degrees of quarantine.
And just as Singapore’s more relaxed version of a lockdown – the “circuit breaker” – started to peter out, it’s suddenly hit me that the “new normal” we’ve had for the past two months will shift to a different kind.
The circuit breaker life appears to have been a mixed bag of both good and bad experiences for most people. It’s ushered in more opportunities to engage in activities that we’ve never really had the time for and, surprisingly, even nurture human relationships. And yet, we’ve also discovered how the hassle of pre-pandemic life (like that long commute to work or school) has been replaced by new inconveniences (cooking more at home and too many Zoom meetings).
As part of a series on post-circuit breaker takeaways, I asked fellow staff at Cru Singapore about what they’ve picked up from God during the circuit breaker.
These are lessons not just for a time of self-isolation. Rather, they’re ones that we should hold onto even when the pace of life starts to pick up and we’re back to the daily grind.
I first spoke with Soon Chin Ai, a senior staff who serves with WOW MOM, a Cru Singapore ministry that mentors and disciples mothers.
Because she’s extremely passionate about leading people on spiritual retreats together with her husband, Ivan John Liew, I was curious to find out how Chin Ai’s been cultivating her soul during the circuit breaker.
Chin Ai, Ivan and their 2 sons
Counting “minor” blessings amidst inconvenience
Chin Ai and her family moved to a new home a mere week before Singapore’s circuit breaker measures kicked in. Previously living right beside a mall with a ton of food options, Chin Ai admits taking this privilege for granted.
Now with the nearest supermarket a 15-minute walk away and the quantity of food choices available shrinking drastically, the relative inconvenience of their new home location quickly became apparent during the circuit breaker.
In spite of this, Chin Ai’s joy in the Lord ironically grew. She shared, “Sometimes, I just have to accept whatever's available in the fridge or the nearest coffee shop. I’m teaching my children to do the same even when they’re bored with the same dishes I’ve been cooking.”
Hearing this from Chin Ai made me think: when the tune of life starts to shift towards the minor key, how do we respond?
Paul’s call towards joy, contentment and gratitude in all circumstances aren’t just for the times when life becomes painful in big, heart-wrenching ways like when we contract an illness or get retrenched (1 Thes 5:16 – 18; Phil 4:11 – 12). That call is equally relevant when small irritations get in the way and life becomes inconvenient, messy and insipid.
This lesson from the Lord came into sharper focus as Chin Ai navigated her days during the circuit breaker.
“I’m learning that my joy doesn't really come from how many options I’ve been given. Rather, it springs forth from my appreciation of the simplicity of life and my acknowledgment of God’s goodness in ‘ordinary’ blessings," she muses.
These “minor” blessings that Chin Ai brings up seem to be of the unremarkable variety at first:
Chin Ai’s description of these little pleasures exudes an idyllic quality that sounds almost foreign in the fast-paced hubbub of our society. Similarly, in her book Liturgy of the Ordinary, Anglican priest and author Tish Harrison Warren writes about how her seemingly prosaic taco soup leftovers are a “steaming symbol of [her] astounding privilege”.
For Warren, it’s a picture of an abundance of food that couldn’t all be eaten in one sitting and could be kept for days because of the often taken-for-granted human discovery of electricity.
I wonder if God has actually meant for this to be the normal rhythm for our lives?
What if He had designed for us to enjoy the beauty of His blessings and see more of His glory, not just during a circuit breaker – but also for a pre- and post-pandemic world. Perhaps, in 2020, God’s inviting us to abandon the clichéd mantra of carpe diem (“seize the day”) and to really live life with Him at His own pace for us.
Time alone with God on bent knees amidst family friction
While the circuit breaker meant more precious family time, Chin Ai noticed that the closer proximity with each other for an extended period also resulted in increased family tensions. As emotions started running higher than usual within the family, she found herself stepping into her prayer closet more frequently.
Chin Ai opened up about an evening when she felt unappreciated for preparing what she thought had turned out to be a really decent dinner (click here if you find yourself nodding as a fellow mum). Her kids hadn’t seemed too enthusiastic about their food, and Ivan had started snacking right after dinner.
Immediately reading their reactions in a negative light, she concluded that her culinary skills must have been lackluster and her heart sank in disappointment. Then, God nudged her.
“A thought then came to me that I needed time away to pray and attend to God for my soul. With my face mask on, I went for a short walk with the Lord. I talked to Him about the different things burdening my heart at that point. These didn’t just include thoughts about my cooking, but, more importantly, my heart condition,” Chin Ai said.
God spoke gently to her during that evening and led her to pray for what she describes as a “troubled soul” and “prideful heart” which had failed to acknowledge God in her undertakings.
That’s when Chin Ai found a new sense of freedom to surrender her burdens to Him. She became aware that her family didn’t intend to hurt her feelings and that observing the usual niceties during a protracted period of time together was difficult for anybody. With this new insight, Chin Ai headed home to apologise to her family members for misunderstanding their intentions.
Habits of grace in an ordinary day
Listening to Chin Ai’s story, I noticed how God had led her to rely on the means of grace He has already provided and enabled her to weave them beautifully into her day. When inconveniences came her way, she learnt to give thanks to Him and pay attention to His blessings – minor and ordinary as they might have seemed. And when loving her family sometimes proved challenging, Chin Ai chose to run to God and seek His strength.
What a reminder that even the most spiritually mature of saints never graduate from learning these foundational spiritual lessons – in the midst of a pandemic or not.
Questions for your personal reflection
How can you teach your soul to be still and to notice God’s blessings – even the most “ordinary” and “minor” ones?
The love that God enabled Chin Ai to demonstrate towards her family went beyond just being “nice” to them. How can you also pray for your own heart and work towards trusting God to help you demonstrate that in your own family?
Ashley has been on staff with Cru Singapore for the past eight years. When she first joined the NTU Cru ministry as a freshman, she had hardly any notion of what the Great Commission was about. A lot has changed since then – helping people discover Jesus and grow as His disciples is now the thing that makes Ashley tick. She also loves reading, dogs and beautiful typography.
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