By: Archibald D. Hart, Ph.D., FPPR.
There are really only two types of people – those who accept the need for change and those who don’t. The former grow; the latter stay trapped in a prison of stagnation. I usually don’t shirk change, but I must confess I don’t always like it. I prefer the status quo and the comfort of routine. I don’t want anything to change – just to get better! But this is wishful thinking. Waves of change are constantly breaking upon our shores, so it is important to be ready for change.
Change comes in all sizes
Thinking back on my life, it seems that I’ve had more than my fair share of big changes. I changed careers in my early 30s (from Civil Engineering to Clinical Psychology) and citizenship in my early 40s (we moved from South Africa to the United States). Both have been the best and, I believe, God ordained. But it’s the little changes that fascinate me. Really big changes, those that make us better people of God, are the accumulation of thousands of little changes. It is here that God does his finest work of sanctification. A little bit of change here and little bit there, and soon a masterpiece begins to emerge.
Change comes at all stages of life
Are you about to graduate from high school or college? You’ll be facing some changes. Starting a new job? Getting married? Having a child? Is an offspring going away to college? Having problems in your marriage? Becoming a grandparent? Facing retirement? You name it, and every life transition brings a whopping demand for change.
Change isn’t always pleasant and we don’t always choose it, it is forced upon us. Why, just this past month I tried to help a woman whose husband has walked out on her, a wife grieve the untimely death of her husband, and an engineer who got fired from his job. Each, in his or her own way, was facing horrendous changes. What were they to do? Only one thing – embrace it; receive their catastrophes as from the hand of God and cooperate with the changes as from the hand of God and cooperate with the changes that must follow. To fight these changes will only increase their depression and bitterness.
Can people really change?
I recall reading an article by John Rosemond, the syndicated family therapist, who tells of his experience attending a high school reunion. He was eager to see how much his friends had changed after 20 years. To his amazement, he found that they had changed very little. Same habits, expressions, and quirks! Of course, they were plumper, balder, and grayer but really not that different.
By and large, people don’t change their basic characteristics with age. Personalities remain intact and habits have an everlasting endurance. And this is precisely why we need the gospel and the Holy Spirit – we cannot change much without God’s help! Furthermore, while there is a lot about ourselves we cannot change – such as our appearance, gender, height, color, and intelligence – there is much we can and must change.
How can we effect change?
Humans are like stones. By instinct we resist change. Resistance to change forces us to test the need for change. Obstinate resistance needs to be overcome, however, because it will get in the way. So if you fear change because it reveals your deepest insecurities, seek out someone you can talk to and share these fears. Getting them into the open is the first step toward embracing change.
How can we help the change process in ourselves and others? Here are some key points to keep in mind:
- We can only be change agents if we have embraced change for ourselves. There is a positive correlation between our commitment to change and our ability to help others change.
- All change follows a definable sequence of stages. First there is denial – we refuse to accept the need for change. When we’ve overcome our denial, we move into the stage of resistance. We see the need for change but resist it tooth and nail. Then comes exploration – we check out the new state of affairs. Finally comes commitment. We are reconciled to the changes and live at peace with them.
- Discipline yourself to become knowledgeable about the change being forced upon you. If you are fighting cancer, find out all you can. If you are being divorced against your will, talk to others who have been through it and survived. Knowledge is essential, so become a frantic learner and discover as much as possible about what can help you to change.
- Be prepared for a lot of reversals and disappointments. Unfortunately, change is not a linear process. It comes in spurts and sucks back as much as it delivers. Also, you cannot always recognize moments of change at the time they are occurring, as they are too painful.
- Our greatest opportunities for positive change are to be found in times of apparent failure and disappointment. In God’s eternal plan there is no such thing as failure – only forced growth! He may not cause bad things to happen to us, but he always uses them to fulfill his work of grace in us.
- Never attempt any change without leaning heavily on the resources God has provided. Humanistic models for change have never been very effective. Dr. Gerald May once wrote: “The power of Grace flows most fully when human will chooses to act in harmony with divine will.” The only effective strategy for helping people change is one that empowers them to use the resources of the gospel. Then change is not something to be feared but embraced.
This article is produced by the American Association of Christian Counselors. For more information, write AACC, PO Box 739, Forest, Virginia 24551, or call 1.800.526.8673. The information contained in this article is provided to AACC members for information purposes only. AACC assumes no responsibility for how this information is used and in no way endorses the counseling services provided by the person or counseling centers that provide this information.