Wednesday, September 5, 2012

What is Normal?

Tonight I led a discussion with about 60 teens in Barre, Vermont, about the question, “What is normal?” To start the discussion off, I asked, “Which of these behaviors are “normal” for the typical teen?”
·        Dating (most said yes)
·        Worrying about other’s opinions (many said yes)
·        Thinking about how my hair looks (a few said yes)
·        Thinking about how the rest of my body looks (a few said yes)
·        Going on a diet (about 20% said yes)
·        Always being on a diet (one two said yes)
·        Studying to get good grades (about 20% said yes)
·        Preparing for nuclear war (everyone laughed)
·        Getting along with parents (about 30% said yes)
·        Thinking about God (about 25% said yes)
·        Finding a part time job (most said yes)
·        Finding a full time job (most said no)
·        Reading the Bible (a few said yes)
·        Preparing for college (almost all said yes)
·        Staying out late at night (everyone said yes, the parents present groaned)
·        Making new friends (almost all said yes)
·        Going to church (many said yes)

I then asked, “Is it normal to look in the mirror, and see a person who is: Worried, Proud, Happy, Angry, Shy, Embarrassed, Lonely, Pretty, Special, Handsome, Depressed?” Most in the group agreed that we had all felt all these things at one time or another but that is might not be normal to feel those ways all the time.
(Note: The questions were adapted from a great lesson on this issue in Talksheets: 50 Creative Discussions for Junior High Youth Groups by David Lynn.)

We agreed as a group that the difficulty in deciding how to define “normal” is that everyone has their own standards for what “normal” is. In a developing nation, it is “normal” for the majority of children to die before their fifth birthday. But it is very rare for a child that young to die in the United States. In the Appalachian Mountains, it is normal for people to drop out of high school, but in Massachusetts, more than half of the people graduate from college. In Alabama, 58% of the people go to church on a typical Sunday. In Vermont, only 24% attend church on a normal weekend. In Gambia, Africa, the average family size is 8.3 people, but in the United States the average family size is 3.1. It became obvious that trying to define “normal” using any man-made standard was impossible.

Since man-made standards for normal did not seem very helpful, we looked into the scriptures to see what God has to say.

Romans 12:2 - Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

 God tells us not to be like everyone else in the world, but to be transformed. This does not mean that we have to be weird, but it does mean that we have to act differently. Our behaviors should be transformed by the power of Christ in us.

Colossians 3
2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. 6 Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. 7 You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. 8 But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. 9 Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. 12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

Setting our minds on things above means thinking about God and what He desires for our lives. Our “earthly nature” refers to the way we acted before we became Christians. Putting that nature “to death” means not letting those things have power over us any longer. Some of the things we should not let have power over us include sex, impure lustful thoughts and greed. Most young people admit that they struggle with the first two. But we tend to think we are not greedy, even though most of us actually are. We care a lot about our stuff, which is why we want the latest phone, coolest shoes, and clothes that are in style. Though all that stuff used to seem “normal” to us before we were Christians,  we now have a new “normal” that is defined by God instead of the ever changing styles and ideas of people. It important to base our concept of what is “normal” for Christians on God’s ideas instead of ours because our ideas are often influenced by the people and circumstances around us, both of which can be very misleading, whereas God’s ideas are always right.

Some young people may think that just because they are not having sex all the time that they are good Christians. But God also warns us about anger, rage, and malice, which are all attitudes that we have inside our minds. Though we often show those attitudes by our actions, sometimes we hide them until they explode out of us in unhealthy ways.

God also says we should not slander others, which means spread false rumors, or use filthy language. Christians should avoid slander and bad language because people will quickly tire of such childish behavior and will no longer want to be our friends. God knows this and was trying to keep us from being lonely and isolated.

Christians are supposed to clothe themselves in certain things. That means that we are to wrap these things around us like clothes. The types of things Christians should be doing include having compassion on others and showing kindness to them. Notice that Christians are called to have compassion on others, not pity. There is a difference between pity and compassion. Pity usually means we think we are better than someone else and only help them to make ourselves feel important. Compassion means we really care about other people and realize we could be in their same situation at some point. Whatever help we offer is done just because we know it is the right thing to do.

Christians should be humble. Humility means knowing our place in the situation. Christians should be gentle. Gentleness means strength under control. Christians should be patient. Patience means waiting for others to grow and learn as much as we have. Christians should forgive others, just as we were forgiven by Christ. Forgiving someone means to act as if the wrong they did never happened. It does not mean that we have to put ourselves in a dangerous situation where we might be hurt. It simply means treating the person the way Christ wants us to.

The key to making all this happen is learning to love others the way we should. For the Christian, the “normal” response to those around us is to LOVE them even when they do not love us. That will definitely make us “abnormal” to the rest of the world. But it’s okay to be different from the world. What is normal to God is abnormal to the world. Some might call us Jesus freaks, but that is okay because God’s standard of normal is the one we should aspire to, not the world’s.


  1. Just bought Talksheets. Thanks for the recommendation!

  2. Ted,
    Glad you picked up the Talksheets book. It find it very helpful for getting a good discussion going.