By Sara Elsner
Twenty-two years ago we were processing the “suddenly” of our newborn’s diagnosis of Down Syndrome. Moving forward past our shock, grief, denial, and fear, we embraced hope and the phrase “re-calibrate normal.” This re-calibrating season was “boot camp” for the subsequent transitional seasons of marriage and parenting. I wouldn’t have chosen it. But I wouldn’t trade it.
Reading Sabrina’s recent article, “When Suddenlies Happen,” I felt my own life’s experiences validated by her words, and I savored the wisdom about preparing for life’s suddenlies for which I had been so unprepared as a young believer, wife, and mother. And as was also said, life’s suddenlies, as well as life’s “graduallies,” can rock the worlds of even the most faith-filled and mature.
We naturally resist when things are no longer going to be “normal”.
It happened with people in Jesus’ day who questioned why His disciples didn’t fast like the Pharisees or John the Baptist’s disciples. This behavior wasn’t normal for religious teachers! Jesus responded that His disciples’ behavior was very normal for the season in which they were, comparing them to friends of the bridegroom with whom they were celebrating. He foretold of how their “normal” would change when their new season of the bridegroom being “taken from them” would begin. (Mark 2:18-20 NIV) After this illustration, Jesus said:
“No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. Otherwise, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins.” Mark 2:21-22 NIV
Luke’s account also has these words of Jesus in Luke 5:39 NIV:
“And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for they say, ‘The old is better.’ “
Jesus understands our clinging to the familiar.
I remember holding our son, Ben, while reading what our lives with Down Syndrome would hold. While I prayed for miraculous healing, (perhaps less in faith and more out of fear), I resisted the temptation to wish his newborn days were more like the ones of our previous “normal” children.
Ben was born Christmas Day, and eight days later Charlie and I celebrated our 8th anniversary. My mom watched all four kids while we went to a restaurant. I will never forget the sanctuary we found there - partly because our getting out alone was rare. But mostly because we were able to talk honestly and vulnerably. I remember us saying things like not wanting our son, family, or marriage to be defined by Down Syndrome.
At the same time we also began to accept that God was probably not going to powerfully heal, but that He was going to powerfully carry us THROUGH.
God had already spoken promises to my heart about the ways He would bless Ben and our family, but we still wavered between grief and hope.
And then Charlie said, “ We just need to recalibrate normal.”
This became the “new wineskin”.
While Biblical truth is NOT relative, “normal” must be recalibrated regarding our circumstances, whether the new season is gradual or suddenly. Eternity puts each temporal season in perspective. And Jesus speaks grace into all, calling each season’s wineskin to renew for the “new wine” of unique circumstances He uses to train our hearts for eternal purpose.
The NLT version of Mark 2:22 says, “New wine calls for new wineskins.”
Your “new wine” is likely not Down’s Syndrome. It may be another suddenly like Sabrina described - including the scary AND the pleasant. It may be “graduallies” - like children starting school, getting cell phones, driving, wanting to date, leaving the nest, or getting married. Or caring for aging parents. Or the aging of your own body. Or maybe all of the above are happening at once, and graduallies feel like suddenlies!
Each new season of life calls for a new wineskin. Old wineskins will burst under the pressure of these transitions, regardless of how exhilarating or intimidating the transition may be.
In the Old Testament story of Joseph and his eventual role in saving Israel and many others from famine, he endured many harsh suddenlies. Repeatedly it is said, “the LORD was with Joseph”, and we see that Joseph adapted with a new wineskin of trust and faithfulness - from dreams of leadership to being sold by his brothers, from slavery to chief steward, from false accusation and imprisonment to prison trustee. Finally as Pharaoh’s second in command, Joseph saw the dream fulfillment of his brothers bowing to his leadership. Then he fulfilled his own ultimate leadership role of forgiveness and proclaiming God’s designed purpose in it all.
Simultaneously, Joseph’s father Jacob also experienced some transitions - though perhaps not as graciously. Believing his favorite son was dead, he clung tightly to the younger beloved son of his late wife. He watched his other sons walk through seasons of sin and rebellion. And when another son was detained in Egypt on the mission on which he sent them for food during the famine, he declared, “Everything is going against me!” (Genesis 42:36)
After initial resistance Jacob eventually had to release his youngest son in order to secure food for his family’s survival. Upon learning that his son Joseph was alive, he had to move his entire family in order to see him. In case Jacob had doubts during this swirl of events during which he accepted the new wineskin of Egypt for his family, God spoke to him and affirmed his decision. In Genesis 46:1-4, God assures Jacob of the following:
- that He would make Jacob’s family into a great nation in Egypt
- that He would go with Jacob down to Egypt
- that Joseph would be present when Jacob died and that God would bring his descendants back again to the Promised Land
In the wineskin parallel, I love that although Jesus was concerned about the new wine being adequately contained, he was also concerned with the old wineskin being preserved. While we are not to cling to the old wineskins of former seasons, their value is still preserved when we embrace what is necessary to contain the next season God is walking us THROUGH.
And Jesus, the Rock who “is the same yesterday, today, and forever”, (Hebrews 13:8) is also our Redeemer who will be “making all things new” (Revelation 21:5) for eternity. He is faithful to carry us THROUGH in our new wineskins of “re-calibrated normal” in the meantime.
A wife of thirty-ish years and homeschooling mom of eight, “plus-three”, Sara enjoys cooking for her remaining household of seven that grows to at least thirteen when their married kids are also seated at their family’s twenty foot table. As a math major, Sara battles symmetry-addiction, and she can’t avoid using both sides of her brain as she gardens and decorates.