“I just want things to go back to the way they were” The great sigh of our times

“Forget the former things;
    do not dwell on the past.
 See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland.

Isaiah 43:18-19
– writer Derek Maul

Monday evening, watching an intense drama on television, one of the characters uttered what I would dub, “The Great Sigh of our Times.” It wasn’t that profound, it wasn’t unexpected, and it wasn’t anything we haven’t heard a hundred times before, but this time it struck me as so ubiquitous, so apropos of this time and place in history, that it should probably be enshrined on a bronze marker, displayed in the Smithsonian, and labeled “2020-2022 in a nutshell”.

“I just want things to go back to the way they were.”

everyone in the world

The show (Ozark, on NETFLIX) features a family who have been uprooted from their city life in Chicago. They attempt to rebuild in the Ozarks, but are constantly haunted, threatened, harassed, and upended by the father’s ties to organized crime. One day it all gets too much for the teenaged daughter, who runs away.

She embraces her mother. “I just want things to go back to the way they were,” she says before bursting into tears.

“Before”. Before the Pandemic. Before the accident. Before getting sick. Before leaving my job. Before the affair. Before loosing my parents. Before the election. Before the children grew up and left home. Before I won the lottery. Before I lost all that money. Before the cancer. Before Nine Eleven. Before.

There is a conversation Rebekah has had probably a hundred times and more with people struggling in a marriage, or with their children. Sometimes the damage appears irreparable; often there are huge issues they don’t want to talk about; always she counted the fact they were in her office at all as a sign of possible hope. The exchange went/goes like this:

  • Them: “We are so unhappy/broken/angry/sad.…”
  • Rebekah: “What would you like to see happen?
  • Them: “We just want things to go back to the way they used to be….”
  • Rebekah: “No. You. Do. Not! ‘The way things were’ is exactly what got you to this point! ‘The way things used to be’ is not a road you need to be traveling again! If this relationship is going to succeed, and if there is to be healing, then there needs to be redemptive change going forward...”

“Things can never be the same,” is not a bad or a harsh or a necessarily disappointing thing to say! Redemption is about a new direction, and that kind of newness always moves forwards.

When Jesus helped his friends catch the boatload of fish he didn’t suggest new tackle, better bait, state of the art rods, or offer to wind back the clock so they could do the same thing again. No, he told them to fish from the other side of the boat! (John 21:5-7)

So here we are. We cannot go back but we can – we must – follow Jesus in a new direction.

The good news is that God’s invitation into newness is always one loaded with promise and healing. Our opportunity is to move into what the New Testament describes as, “The life that is truly life!” (1 Timothy 6:17-19)

What is it again that Isaiah says? “Forget the former things.”

Peace – and so much promise – DEREK

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