Changeby Heather Adams
by Heather Adams
Some self-disclosures are in order. I am an oldest child, and first-borns are notoriously and scientifically proven to be less adept at dealing with change than others in the birth order. I resist change with every fiber of my being, whether it’s as small as an upgrade in technology or as significant as a new stage of life. I’ve been married to the same man and I’ve lived in the same neighborhood and I’ve held the same job for my entire adult life, and I’d like to keep it that way, thank you. And yet, life.
Our daughter recently left for her first year of college, and while this is an exciting change, it’s also been at times heart wrenching and intensely painful. Her absence from our home is palpable and striking. I miss her infectious laugh, her shimmering energy, her lively stories, her lovely friends, her questions about my day, her strong opinions, and her kind, kind heart. (The list of what I don’t miss is much shorter, and mainly includes her constant thievery of my phone charger and the colony of her shoes that populated my kitchen). Of course I am excited for this new chapter in her life and all that it will bring. But this sea change has left me bereft, and hollowed out, and knocked me a bit off my game.
Life is a constant stream of changes, some small shifts that barely register and some seismic events that alter our entire universe. Starting a new school or a new job. Retiring at the end of a long career. A birth. The death of a parent. A marriage, or a divorce. Moving. A new boss. The loss of a beloved pet. Illness. Travel. To live a meaningful life means that we inevitably encounter our share of these changes, and many, many others.
Those of us who resist change have a varied garden of reasons for so doing. For some of us who crave control, the uncertainty and unknowns of change feel downright uncomfortable, a wool sweater on our hot sweaty neck. For some of us who love the life we’ve built brick by brick, change feels like an assault, a hammer to the foundation of our lifework. Others become mired in the inescapable fact that change inevitably involves loss – the reality of what is now means that what came before is gone, or modified, or forever altered.
I’ve often been dissatisfied with my inability to process change in a more flexible and adaptive way. I’ve been searching for ways to meet the challenges of change in a healthier, happier, more positive manner. The author Cheryl Strayed in her powerful work Tiny Beautiful Things offers generous gifts to her readers on dealing with change and love and loss. We must first open ourselves and fully experience all of the conflicting emotions that accompany a significant change in our lives: “Let yourself be gutted. Let it open you. Start there.” And from there you jump in, and do the hard work of shaping your new world order. “What’s important is that you make the leap. Jump high and hard with intention and heart. It’s up to you to make your life. Take what you still have and stack it up like a tower of teetering blocks. Build your new dream around that.” (Excerpts from Tiny Beautiful Things).
And as Christians we encounter the duality of Jesus as both a change agent and a rock-steady foundation of our lives. In times of chaos and tumult, we have the constant touchstone of our faith to ground us, to center us, to calm us, to guide us. God’s love for us and presence in our lives is an anchor in the waters of the unknown and a tether in the winds of the uncertain. We know from God’s word that this is so:
- I am the Lord, and I do not change. Malachi 3:6
- Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Hebrews 13:8
- For God has said, ‘I will never leave you; I will never abandon you.’ Hebrews 13:5
Change, my friend, it is a coming. We know this. Can you open yourself to it, the good and the bad, the joy and the pain, and plunge your raw and real self into the new waters? Can you know that God is there with you in the depths, your oxygen and your compass, as you chart your new course?
“See, I am doing a new thing!”
My guess is that you have been thinking about making a change. Perhaps a new job, perhaps a new gym membership, perhaps a beginning or an end to a relationship. In fact each of us — unless we have somehow reached the very pinnacle of self-exploration, the very end of the road of our personal evolution – should be thinking about making a change.
What is the spark, the seed, the sprout of change? Perhaps it is nothing more or less than a desire to live a life in which we clearly hear the resonant beauty and unique pitch of our own voice. The beloved poet Mary Oliver puts it this way:
One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
their bad advice –
though the whole house began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world.
What is the fuel, the food, the furnace of change? Perhaps what propels us to and through change is only ever that about which we are passionate, enflamed, or captivated. More from Mary Oliver:
What I Have Learned So Far
Meditation is old and honorable, so why should I not sit, every morning of my life, on the hillside, looking into the shining world? Because, properly attended to, delight, as well as havoc, is suggestion. Can one be passionate about the just, the ideal, the sublime, and the holy, and yet commit to no labor in its cause? I don’t think so.
All summations have a beginning, all effect has a story, all kindness begins with the sown seed. Thought buds toward radiance. The gospel of light is the crossroads of – indolence, or action.
Be ignited, or be gone.
What is the constant, certain, ceaseless feature of change? That our God can speak to us and motivate us through it – “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up, do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43: 19). And that our God comes along side us on this unfamiliar pathway to steady our step – “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified, for the Lord your God goes with you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6).
Change Times Three
A little mental exercise. Clear your mind. Take a couple deep breaths. Now spend several moments thinking about the rhythm of your day. When you think of the ways in which you normally spend your waking hours, what feelings emerge: Are you in a comfortable routine? Are you in a boring rut? And what exactly is the difference between those two?
And one more question to spark our discussion: when is the last time you’ve tried something new? I’ve spent some time this past week reading about the many psychological, physical, and spiritual benefits of trying or learning something new, and the positive impacts such efforts can introduce into our lives. My take-aways:
~ Trying something new immediately sets us down outside our comfort zone – a place where growth happens in a more immediate and tangible fashion. Creativity lives there too, and laughter.
~ Trying something new inevitably enhances one of two desirable qualities – confidence or empathy. If our new endeavor goes well, we grow in courage and confidence to tackle another new thing. If it doesn’t go so well, we grow in empathy for others who encounter failure and in appreciation for those who have succeeded in this arena.
~ Trying something new awakens us to the wonder and freshness and amazements of this life. Routines tend to dull us to our own worlds, dampening our capacity to be awestruck and astounded. Remove the gauze of familiarity.
~ Trying something new increases the nimbleness of our brain, enhancing our gray matter and potentially staving off dementia. Who doesn’t want to supercharge those synapses?
This next week I’m challenging all of us to try one new thing in three separate areas of our lives (yes, for us math whizzes, that equals three new things!).
First, try something new in your physical routine. If you exercise at the gym, try a new class or a new sport. If you walk, pick a new and previously untried route. If you don’t exercise, pick a day to stroll around your block or head to the mall to walk from one end to the other. Challenge yourself in a physical way to do something you haven’t done before.
Second, try something new in your closest relationship, whether it’s with a spouse or a friend or a child. Pick a new activity or event to attend together, send a love letter, surprise your partner with a day trip to one of the charming towns near Des Moines. Look at your relationship with fresh eyes. Approach this person as if you are seeing them for the first time.
Third, try something new in your relationship with God. Pray at a different time of day, read an essay about faith, pick out a new testament book and read it from start to finish, meditate, or pull up your favorite hymn on Spotify and sing it at the top of your lungs. Seek a connection to the holy spirit on a whole new channel.
A bit of inspiration as we take three small steps off our familiar pathways this next week:
Sonnets to Orpheus, Part II, Book XII
Want the change. Be inspired by the flame
where everything shines as it disappears.
The artist, when sketching, loves nothing so much
as the curve of the body as it turns away.
What locks itself in sameness has congealed.
Is it safer to be gray and numb?
What turns hard becomes rigid
and is easily shattered.
Pour yourself like a fountain.
Flow into the knowledge that what you are seeking
Finishes often at the start, and, with ending, begins.