Normal: There’s No Such Thing

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In certain stores you will find a section of merchandise available at greatly reduced prices. The tip-off is a particular tag you will see on all the items in that area. Each tag carries the same words: as is. This is a euphemistic way of saying, “These are damaged goods.”

Sometimes they’re called slightly irregular. The store is issuing you fair warning: “This is the department of Something’s-Gone-Wrong. You’re going to find a flaw here: a stain that won’t come out; a zipper that won’t zip; a button that won’t butt — there will be a problem. These items are not normal.

“We’re not going to tell you where the flaw is. You’ll have to look for it.

“But we know it’s there. So when you find it — and you will find it — don’t come whining and sniveling to us. Because there is a fundamental rule when dealing with merchandise in this corner of the store: No returns. No refunds. No exchanges. If you were looking for perfection, you walked down the wrong aisle. You have received fair warning. If you want this item, there is only one way to obtain it. You must take it as is.”

When you deal with human beings, you have come to the “as-is” corner of the universe. Think for a moment about someone in your life. Maybe the person you know best, love most. That person is slightly irregular. That person comes with a little tag: There’s a flaw here. A streak of deception, a cruel tongue, a passive spirit, an out-of-control temper. I’m not going to tell you where it is, but it’s there. So when you find it — and you will find it — don’t be surprised. If you want to enter a relationship with this model, there is only one way. “As is.”

If you were looking for perfection, you’ve walked down the wrong aisle.

We are tempted to live under the illusion that somewhere out there are people who are normal. In the movie As Good As It Gets, Helen Hunt is wracked by ambivalence toward Jack Nicholson. He is kind and generous to her and her sick son, but he is also agoraphobic, obsessive-compulsive, and terminally offensive: If rudeness were measured in square miles, he’d be Texas. In desperation, Helen finally cries to her mother: I just want a normal boyfriend.

Oh, her mother responds in empathy, everybody wants one of those. There’s no such thing, dear.

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When we enter relationships with the illusion that people are normal, we resist the truth that they are not. We enter an endless attempt to fix them, control them, or pretend that they are what they’re not. One of the great marks of maturity is to accept the fact that everybody comes “as is.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer said people enter relationships with their own particular ideals and dreams of what community should look like. He wrote surprising words:

But God’s grace quickly frustrates all such dreams. A great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and, if we are fortunate, with ourselves, is bound to overwhelm us as surely as God desires to lead us to an understanding of genuine Christian community. . . . The sooner this moment of disillusionment comes over the individual and the community, the better for both. . . . Those who love their dream of a Christian community more than the Christian community itself become destroyers of that Christian community even though their personal intentions may be ever so honest, earnest, and sacrificial.

The writers of Scripture speak about God’s dream for community primarily in terms of the church. This includes local congregations, with their services and programs. But God’s dream for community encompasses the redemption of all spheres of life, so this also includes the way you relate to your family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers; the people you golf with or go shopping with; the man behind the counter where you stop to fill up the gas tank and grab a cup of coffee.

God has not given up on his dream. And you and I have a role to play in it. Our task is to create little islands of shalom in a sea of isolation. It’s time to pull in your quills and start dancing.

Learning to Dance:

  1. What is one relationship in your life that you need to accept “as is” and stop trying to control or change?
  2. Where is it hard for you to acknowledge your “as-is” tag? In what ways do you try to hide your “weirdness” by engaging in “depravity management”?
  3. Dietrich Bonhoeffer spoke of the necessity of being disillusioned if we are to accept the reality of good and bad in community. When was a time you were disillusioned in a relationship? How did you respond?
  4. Of the two forms of relational problems — attack and withdrawal — which are you most likely to employ? Why? What is the usual outcome?
  5. The Porcupine’s Dilemma is getting close without getting hurt. How do you tend to respond when you feel someone has hurt you?
  6. God’s ultimate desire for the world is shalom — “the webbing together of God, humans, and all creation in justice, fulfillment and delight.” What is one step you could take to contribute to shalom in your little world?
  7. Think of a porcupine or two you would like to get closer to — a friend, a coworker, someone in your small group, or a family member. How could you begin to deepen the relationship?

 

From Everybody’s Normal Till You Get to Know Themby John Ortberg.

Copyright © 2003 John Ortberg, Published by Zondervan Used by Permission.

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