by Rev. Dr. Linda Hartley, Assoc. Minister

“I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10 NRSV)

This passage from the Gospel of John came to me the other day in the grocery store, of all places. I was walking down the paper goods aisle and couldn’t help but notice that the shelves, which had been completely empty one year ago, are now filled to capacity with paper towels, toilet paper, paper napkins, and every imaginable iteration of tissues with which to blow your nose. If it hadn’t been for the events of last year, I would have walked down the aisle in typical fashion – not paying much attention to the plethora of products available for purchase. But then last year made us all look with new eyes at the things we have taken for granted.

I remember the shock I felt last April when walking down these same aisles and seeing the bare shelves. It was like something out of another place and time. I was reminded of photos I had seen of breadlines, meatlines, and (yes) even toilet paper lines outside stores in Soviet Russia when all of these items were in such short supply there. Seeing those pictures, I never imagined that I would encounter shortages in our supermarkets where there are more items lining the shelves than most people in the rest of the world ever consider needing. And yet one year ago, there I would stand in the paper goods aisle grateful to find a single roll of paper towels or a single roll of toilet paper – “limit one to a customer.”

Of course, supplies began to be restocked as the year progressed. But, certain items remained scarce. It was only about a month ago I was walking through the aisle of cleaning products in Target and nearly shouted for joy when I found Formula 409 once again! My delight was so great that I had to share it with the checkout clerk who was suitably happy for me. Not only did I find 409 that day, but I also found a bottle of Purell. It was a very good day! Recently, I noticed an abundance of both Purell and Clorox Wipes on those shelves and it felt like we’re almost back to normal.

Like most of us last year, I did stock up when I could find a multi-roll package of paper towels or toilet paper. I still have some of that stockpile – not enough to open my own paper goods store, but enough to laugh at myself now as I peruse grocery shelves overflowing with paper products. All of this makes me aware of how we humans behave when faced with scarcity. Maybe there’s something deep in our brains that leads us to believe that our current situation (whatever that may be) will last forever. We tend to do this during good times and bad times, but it seems that we are more inclined to assume the bad times will become our new normal and so we respond accordingly.

Even now as I see the full paper product aisle, I feel a little uncertain that this abundance will last. That may be contributing to my sense of surprise, although I do suspect that one day I’ll get used to it—I’ll probably walk down that aisle and not notice the abundance. I’ll be lost in my own thoughts, concerned about something else and walk right by all those huge packages of Bounty and Charmin. Experts tell us that we humans are good at adjusting to any new normal. We may be stunned at first at an abrupt change in our lives, but we tend to find ways to adjust. It’s a strength of our humanity.

We all certainly did adjust to the “new normal” over the past year. We had to. But now we’re entering a new phase. We have effective vaccines and the roll-out is going a bit smoother than it was in the beginning. If we haven’t been vaccinated yet, we know we can be in the not-so-distant future. And with that comes the sense that things will get back to some form of “normal” before too long. Unlike last year, this spring is bringing with it the renewed hope for a brighter tomorrow. As the buds and flowers are bursting into new life, so too our hopes are beginning to blossom. It feels really good. And yet, I have to say that I also hope I don’t completely forget what has been.

I hope I don’t forget because I want to maintain my sense of gratitude for all that we have and for all that I have. I want the abundance of paper goods to remind me of the greater abundance I have in things that aren’t things at all. Things like God’s graciousness and love. Things like Jesus’ life and ministry. Things like the bountiful feast to which Jesus invites us all. I want to walk down that aisle and think of Jesus’ promise that he came so that we may have life and have it abundantly—and I want to feel abundantly grateful.

I also want to be reminded of my part in the work that needs to be done to ensure that everyone has a place at that abundance. I know that even as my local store shelves are now fully stocked, there are still people for whom the shelves are not packed full. There are still people in our country and beyond who can only imagine a day when the abundance for some gives way to abundance for all. Jesus promises us that that day will come. Jesus promises us that there is enough and more for all of us to live an abundant life. In the meantime, I hope that I will remember this feeling so it may infuse my own work to do what I can to bring us into that new day.