You read everywhere how humans innately dislike change. We are supposedly “creatures of habit” and “you can’t teach an old dog a new trick,” right? Apparently, to avoid change is to be comfortable and secure. If we do not change, we know what is coming next so there are no surprises, at least not the kind that can cause us trouble or inconvenience.
I like to think of myself as an exception to this rule of humanity. After all, I was the instigator of changing our dorm room furniture pattern around quarterly and continuing the tradition to my own place when I got out of college. I like to surround myself with people who have a spontaneous streak and surprise me from time to time. I like to be the one texting my friends for a 2am meteor shower without warning or drop by unannounced here and there. I even prefer learning exotic words to keep life interesting. BUT, I think my change seems a little measured; there is still some type of pattern to a lot of it. And I have struggled in the past to be flexible about certain things in my life, especially interruptions and hiccups in my schedule when it comes to timing.
I sort of wonder how I would react to a “real” surprise – something I legitimately had no control over. For my 30th birthday, my best friend decided to throw me a surprise party. But, the thing was, it was hardly a surprise. She had been telling me she was going to be the one to plan my 30th birthday since we were in our early 20s. And then, through a comedy of errors, I figured the whole thing out – which I was pretty grateful for since it turned out to be a Halloween costume party/almost substitutionary beer tasting/almost breakfast beer tasting combo weirdness when I told her I already had plans for the night of the party (upon which my sister called me and persuaded me to change them – thereby solidifying everything I had already figured out). And in the end, some poor souls were dressed up while others somehow got the memo that it was no longer a costume party per-say. But I do wonder if I would have been psyched or freaked out had all gone to plan and I somehow had no knowledge of it. Which, side note here, I feel like true success in planning the surprise birthday party is to do it far enough AHEAD of said one you are trying to surprise’s actual birthday so they can’t catch on … but that makes me sound even more like a planner – the fact that I just completely overanalyzed that, doesn’t it?
Somehow, I recently stumbled on some literature surrounding the concept of resilience. Resilience is measured by one’s ability or inability to adapt to change in life. Some people respond to change by letting go of what they cannot and focusing on doing a bang-up job in the small areas that they can, while others become defeated and almost self-sabotaging when they are faced with change that is largely outside of their control.
On our church’s confirmation retreat earlier this year, Pastor Judith Hardie talked to our kids about different kind of worship, different worshipping environments, and life as a Christian. “If you are comfortable all the time,” she said, “there’s a good chance that you aren’t doing much for the gospel.” The kids even looked uncomfortable when she said it, so she must have been onto something.
I think we often view all change as the same, but there are different type of changes that we encounter in this life or at least different ways change happens.
(1) There is the kind of change that we effect. I’m going to call this QUARTERLY FURNITURE change to make it memorable, since my decision to change the layout of my furniture quarterly would qualify here.
(2) There is the kind of change that is affected by an outside force. How about we call it FLOOD change since the event of a flood would certainly be an outside force and a change in the current dry land thing we have going as long as you don’t live underwater to begin with.
(3) And, the kind of change that others affect onto us. To be positive here, let’s call this one JESUS change since Jesus dying for us gives us life forever – something he affected onto us or on our behalf. (We could have just as affectively called it MURDER change, but like I said, going with the positive spin here …)
(1) QUARTERLY FURNITURE change: I think it is actually possible through a mix of personality and adaptation to grow comfortable, in the way that Pastor Judith suggested, in any of these three, but QUARTERLY FURNITURE change probably gives us the most ability to remain comfortable. Since we are effecting this change, it is a result of our decision-making. We may make those decisions quickly/nonchalantly, or agonize over making a decision for a big change such as a move to another state, deciding to adopt a child, or take a new job, yet we decide and then the change happens, in that order. We may consult God, be led by God to make a decision or effect the change, but we are a part of it. And so, because of our position in the drivers seat, so to say, there is probably the greatest likelihood that we can remain insulated and comfortable even when these kinds of changes are happening.
(2) FLOOD change: The second type of change pushes us outside of our comfort zone whether we are ready or not. We are not part of the decision-making process because this change is usually sudden, unexpected, and drastic. This change could come in the form of a death of a loved one, an unexpected encounter with another person, the loss of property due to natural disaster, or any other change that seems not to be the direct result of human action. Whether we believe God to be behind this type of change or not, we find ourselves in the wake of the change and have to figure out how to respond. We are then faced with decisions (sometimes) as a result of the change that has already happened to us. Likely this change shakes up our equilibrium, and our resilience is tested because we do lack control in some respect. We can grow from this change or move backwards, but often it is difficult to stay the same person after a dramatic type of change that falls into this category.
(3) JESUS change: Though it seems at first like FLOOD change would be the change which causes us the most discomfort, I submit that this type of change, change that results from another’s actions to us or on us, is perhaps more uncomfortable because it often has the added further change of affecting our relationship with said person who acted. Change that would fall into this category would be a spouse cheating, murder, forgiving, or personal sacrifice, just to name a few. This type of change is often uncomfortable because the action of another seems to require a QUARTERLY FURNITURE change from us afterwards. We often never see this type of change coming (like the FLOOD), but unlike the FLOOD, we often know who is behind the change – who to thank or who to be angry at or with. Like a FLOOD, following this type of change, our personality may change and this type of change can affect our relationship with the person who enacted the change, but perhaps with others around us as well. It can have something like a domino effect in our lives for better or for worse. It also can be very difficult to process because we don’t always get answers for the why in this case. While this can be true of a FLOOD as well, it can be even more difficult to deal with the lack of answers in this case, because often the details should be available to us but they can be withheld from us by the actions of the other.
So, the unspoken point in this blog post is that, though it is apparently contradictory to human nature to embrace change, there is a certain quality to being a follower of Christ that requires us to expect, navigate, and hopefully, be resilient to changes in our lives. And, while I hope that our identity in Christ affects our response, reaction, and embrace of change for all types of change (QUARTERLY FURNITURE
When Jesus first approached his disciples with the invitation to “Come, follow me,” they were faced with (1) QUARTERLY FURNITURE change. Maybe some of them consulted the Creator before they made their decision, but regardless of why they responded with a yes, this one QUARTERLY FURNITURE change was about to impact the way they responded to this type of change for the rest of their lives. You see, it is most comfortable to be in the most control possible of this QUARTERLY FURNITURE change. But, Jesus asks us to surrender our lives to him and to often follow him even when his changes would not be our decisions for change for ourselves. Saul had his whole life before him and then Jesus messed with it and Saul finally chose to make the change Christ was blinding him with (yes, pun intended).
Jesus is clear in Matthew 6:24 that it isn’t possible to choose both God and money, or put in certain alliterative terms, Christ and comfort. Furthermore, we relinquish our control over QUARTERLY FURNITURE change when we agree to follow Christ (John 12:26). But, like everything in this Christian life, we do not relinquish control one time and never struggle with this decision again. Jesus gives us the opportunity to change our lives according to his plan over and over again. Sometimes we make the right choice, denying ourselves (Matthew 16:24) and inviting discomfort into our lives for the sake of the gospel. But sometimes, we fall short and make changes to keep us comfortable instead.
If you already embrace change in certain areas of your life, perhaps you’re off to a good start. Just be sure you aren’t only embracing change on your own terms, for insulation and comfort rather than change that comes with surrendering. I still felt really involved in the decision to go to Seminary and become a pastor, but I was very certain that it was a change of surrender rather than comfort because it was a change that I never could have come up with entirely on my own. In fact, it was an idea for change that popped into my head three separate times before I ever responded with “yes” because, it felt way too uncomfortable and unnatural to me. And this usually helps me figure it out. If it’s an easy yes to change, and I enjoy it all the way, it’s probably more about me and less about God. If I resist it more than once and wonder how I came up with the idea in the first place, it starts to look more like surrendering and serving that simply a QUARTERLY FURNITURE rearrangement for fun.