The grief of transformation
"People do not fear change, what people fear is loss"
I have been deeply considering the mechanics of change and transition. After all, the basis of Christian discipleship is transformation of our person to be more and more like Jesus. The church, is to be a instrument of change. Not only in the lives of its members, but a credible witness of the power and presence of the living God in its neighborhoods, cities, regions, nations, and the "ends of the world". Change is a fruit of healthy Christianity.
Yet, as Ron Sider points out in his provocative book "Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience", Christians often experience the same degree of moral failure as non-Christians. In fact, we tend to experience more guilt as we experience what Martin Luther King Jr., described as the distance between our "isness" and our "oughtness".
What Jesus understood, but his disciples then, and his disciples now struggle with, is that change is really about loss. Jesus speaks about discipleship in terms of "losing life to find it", and that death generally proceeds true life (John 12:24). What Jesus is talking about is loss before gain. Letting go before accomplishing. Dismissing things prior to developing things.
This means that new character can not develop in us, until we allow the old character to die. It means that desired practices will not surface until we are willing to part from current, and often deeply held practices.
This leads us to a few provocative axioms of true change:
1. When we are not experiencing desired change, there are often deeply held beliefs, behaviors, and bonds that we fear losing. Think of the battered spouse who will not separate from the batterer. It is not that he or she does not desire a better marriage or safety. Indeed, battered spouses breath and pray for liberation hourly. However, the battered spouse often fears being alone even more than they fear the pain of abuse. It is the loss of companionship and its cultural implications for worth and esteem, that is the primary driver of behavior. This deeply held conviction effectively blocks real change.
2. Postive change is often accompanied by real pain. We deceive ourselves if we think that loss, even when badness is being replaced by goodness, is not painful. To stop abusing alcohol is incredibly positive, but sobriety often means death to important social and relational connections that have been established over years. Some of those friendships may have been of critical importance in the past, so loss is present. Death does not hurt, by dying does...
3. Healthy Change allows for the grieving of loss. Humanity naturally grieves loss, even when that loss is necessary. When our friends emerge out of unhealthy relationships, we are often quick to encourage them to move on. We rarely encourage them to take the time to mourn the loss of relationship (I am convinced that all significant relationships require an investment of ourselves) and to process what the relationship meant to them as they move forward.
4. Healthy change is driven by faith while unhealthy change is driven by fear. When we are driven by fear, the focus is on ourselves. What will happen to me;, how painful will this be, etc. Faith is not the absence of fear and concern, but it is the focus on the promises and presence of God to transform us into His image. It is collaboratiing with the will of God for you. The most common command in all of the Bible is not "love one another", or "worship God", but "do not be afraid" because fear will block our ability to love or worship.
Do you desire a change in character, habits, outlook, or situation? Perhaps its not your desire to change thats in dispute but your inability to deal with loss. Take time today to have a funeral for attitudes, habits, situations, and relationships that are in the way of what God desires for you. During your funeral, get real and allow yourself to genuinely mourn over the loss. It is then, that you are ready to experience transformation.
May God bless you today,
Pastor M Traylor