Learning to Roll With Change

Change is good.

The only thing constant is change.

You have to change with the times.

These are just a few of the phrases we've all heard people say regarding the subject of change. But change is way too big a subject to sum up in a single phrase. Change wears too many hats.

There are changes we envision, then through our efforts, bring to pass: A church congregation comes together to help feed the hungry, to sponsor missionaries or build homes for the poor. A group of concerned citizens rallies to change a law they view as immoral or destructive. A couple that desires a family charts the most advantageous time to conceive. Though the desired outcome isn't guaranteed, we can create change through our individual and collective efforts.

Some changes we look forward to with joyful anticipation: an upcoming marriage, getting physically fit, a desired job change. Others sneak up on us our kids growing up, our 20th high school reunion, the aging process. One morning we wake up and confront a face in the mirror that's somehow unfamiliar: There are jowls where firm skin used to be, and a stubborn crease between our eyebrows. Now, when did that happen, we wonder.

There's another kind of change: the kind we don't see coming that can turn our lives upside down in an instant. A tragic accident. A spouse who announces he wants a divorce. A teenage daughter's revelation that she's pregnant. These are the kinds of changes that may present the biggest challenge to those of us who think we control more than we actually do.

You can get pretty overwhelmed and jittery when you realize just how little you control of this life and circumstances. Dr. Billy Graham says about suffering, We cannot avoid suffering, but we can determine our response to it. The same goes for unexpected or undesired change. Our willingness to embrace change can determine our entire outlook on life; whether we see the future as something to dread, full of malevolence and unwelcome surprises ... or as an exciting gift from God: What wonderful things does God have in store for me today?

The illusion of permanence

At Christmastime some years ago, two close friends invited me to join them at the church retreat home owned by their parents/in-laws in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. As a single person who'd spent most of my holidays alone, I found with these people the sense of family and belonging I'd always desired. For the next five years, I spent my holidays at their sprawling velveteen rabbit of a house. I couldn't imagine anything destroying the solid friendships and comfortable familiarity of these people who embraced and enveloped me like a favorite old coat. But something did. A betrayal in my friends' marriage, an ugly divorce, divided loyalties, hard feelings all conspired to bring it to an end. Then the parents retired and moved away. Later, a sentimental journey to the old retreat house revealed that new occupants had gutted, then abandoned, the site. It was a rude awakening for me, but a necessary one.

My mistake was in idealizing people just a little too much, and forgetting that too much of what we put our faith and security in here on earth simply can't support our weighty hopes and expectations.

Fear of change

Some people are natural-born risk takers who welcome change as eagerly as rock climbers who thrive on working without ropes or safety equipment. They like the thrill of the unexpected; it makes them feel alive. But for those of us who like things predictable, who like the security of our routines change can be scary.

We don't want to see our kids grow up or dear friends move away. We don't want to see our hometowns burgeon with new growth. We don't like all the traffic or seeing the old buildings torn down to make room for the new. We don't want to see our friends (or ourselves) get old. Even when our circumstances are miserable, we may choose the familiar misery over the frightening unknown. Leave it like it is, we insist. I don't want to make new friends. I don't want to learn new things or have to change my habits or attitudes. I've formed my opinions; don't complicate my life with new information! You may be able to preserve the status quo for a little while with such an attitude, but the price is high: You stubbornly cling to habits, events and people you've outgrown. It gets harder and harder to make things stay the same. While others move on, you grow more isolated and out of touch. Eventually, you find yourself the lone inhabitant of your cocoon, where nostalgia and fantasy are all that remain to keep you company and feed your imagination. In effect, you've stopped living.

It's true, change forces us out of our comfort zones, stretches us in ways that might hurt for a little while. But the rewards can be astounding. In releasing the stale familiar, we clear the way for new experiences that can feed our thirsty souls and re-animate our lifeless dreams. Purged of the fears that held us back, we emerge as better people, more free and certainly more interesting.

Facing denial

One of the trendier phrases to come down the pike in the last decade is He/She's in denial. Unfortunately, the sentiment has become trivialized through overuse; now we hear it uttered most often as a punch line. But clichés tend to become clichés because they are so true. Many of us would rather deny what we don't care to accept. For example, I was so giddy over the comforting rituals in my adopted family's household, I chose to ignore revelations of dysfunction and the nearly-manic efforts of my iron-willed Mom to keep up the appearance of one big happy family.

Job's surprising lesson

Think about Job in the Old Testament; a comfortable man whose life was the epitome of worldly success. He had wealth, position, friends, a great family. Then the bottom dropped out when God took it all away to prove to Satan that Job's faith was solid not just the product of a charmed life. At his lowest point, having been stripped of family, home, health, status and his good name, Job cried out ... Terrors are upon me; They pursue my honor as the wind, and my prosperity has passed like a cloud ... The days of affliction take hold of me ... He has cast me into the mire, and I have become like dust and ashes (Job 30:15-19, NKJV). Talk about cataclysmic change!

Job's big question to God at that point was (to paraphrase), What did I do to deserve this? He then vents his frustration: Oh, that I had one to hear me, that my Prosecutor had written a book! Surely I would carry it on my shoulder, and bind it on me like a crown; I would declare to Him the number of my steps; like a prince I would approach Him (Job 31:35-37).

What started out as a wager between God and Satan evolved into something else altogether for Job mainly, a lesson in humility. God responded to Job's cheeky complaints with a withering Who-do-you-think-you-are-to-question-me? reproof that left Job shaken and chastened. His final reply to God was brief and abashed, ... I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know (Job 42:3).

Job, who thought he had all the answers, left his encounter with God with a much clearer understanding of the word omnipotence. Though his was an extremely painful experience, he grew spiritually as a result. He was changed and for the better.

Trying to figure out God

What an exercise in futility to try and second-guess God's methods! When it comes to change, we are limited in our ability to see how hard-to-fathom, uncomfortable changes play into God's Big Picture. As we're reminded in 1 Corinthians 13:12, For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I am known (NKJV).

How God gets us to the point of blessing is His business. He owes us no explanations. To paraphrase Job, His ways are too wonderful for us to understand the operative word being wonderful. Whether we label changes as good or bad, happy or sad are irrelevant. It's simply one of the mediums God uses to shake us out of our complacency and our ruts.

Living in the now vs. drowning in the then

We all seem to come equipped with a nostalgia gene: something in us that thinks the past is preferable to this present moment; something that yearns for the warm, soft-edged memories of times gone by. That same gene airbrushes out all the bad parts of the less-than-perfect past, and convinces us that the present moment is defective, not a place we want to linger. What a waste!

We certainly don't want to forget what we've learned from the past. And in our old age, when our bodies can no longer do what we command them to, memories can be a special comfort. But for those of us whose minds and bodies are still vibrant, we must remember that the present is a gift to experience in its fullness right NOW not to just look back on in nostalgia and regret. It's time to embrace change.

Change is a river, and in its deliberate, eternal journey, it carries away our most bitter tears just as surely as it folds into itself the moments we'd hoped would last forever. And if we allow ourselves to trust God, He will help us not only cope with change, but also learn to celebrate its wonders and possibilities.

Change will happen, whether you choose to go with the current or cling desperately to the crumbling riverbank. Only when you learn to surrender control of your circumstances and release yourself to God's direction and care will you begin to experience the fullness of a life entrusted to Jesus Christ and the miracles He has waiting for you. In the meantime, take these words as God's promise in the midst of change:

"Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,' says the Lord... (Isaiah 54:10, NIV).

Now, repeat after me: CHANGE IS GOOD!

Background Information

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Other Things to Consider

Transitions: Changing Jobs, Moving

Relationships: Communication Gaps

Parenting Teens: Communication Problems