Why is it that change is so hard? Change, it has been said, is the only constant in life, yet we resist it and it takes a huge toll on us. There are bigger changes in life that cause us to be at risk emotionally and physically. If, in the past year, you have moved, or changed jobs, or gotten married, or gotten divorced, or had your children move out of the house, or had a loved one die, or had a new child or a grandchild, for instance, you are at risk for some sort of physical difficulty due to the stress of those big changes. If you’ve had more than one of those things, the risk factor increases.
Smaller changes may have an even bigger effect on us because they are always going on and we don’t expect them to cause us problems. The stress of the smaller changes is cumulative and we might just melt down or have some sort of explosion after a number of them have built up and our reactions can be surprising to others and to us too. We tend to ignore the building up of stress in life until our body shows some symptom that gets our attention. Chest pains or stomach pains or headaches or muscle aches or a disease may get out attention and help us see that we need some sort of centering in our lives if we are to survive.
Our Christian faith, and perhaps the Episcopal Church more so in particular than most denominations, gives us tools for paying attention to the stress in life and quietly offering our pain to God in prayer. Just sitting quietly for 20 minutes a day can turn life from misery to peace. Describing the stress we are going through by journaling or talking out loud can help us release all that tightness and know that God is with us. Praying – pouring out our heart to God in private devotion or corporate worship – connects us. Contemplating the great love of Christ for us helps us know that we are not alone. We don’t have to bear our pain ourselves, the Church teaches us. We can let go and surrender and God himself will absorb our suffering.
As we come to accept our powerlessness over change, a new lightness presents itself. We come to see a light in the midst of whatever darkness we have experienced. And we come to feel lighter, less heavy and less burdened. There is a new hope and a new freedom we experience after we accept that change is constant and pretty much beyond our control. We come to see that change actually is good, that change is life-giving and that without change we cannot grow or learn.
Embracing change and trusting that God will heal all our losses is an early step. A later step is to discover that God has change as an integral part of life and salvation. Not all change is good but God is good and whatever change God is not directing in our lives, God will eventually correct. We need not fear change so much as we need to accept it and look for God’s hand. How often we hear, in the various stories leading up to the birth of Christ, an angel say to someone, “Be not afraid.” Every time an angel says that, big changes are on the way, yet an invitation to trust is issued. When we accept that and choose to trust, all is well. As long as we fight against it, life is hard and cold and miserable.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1.1). The prelude to John’s gospel helps express the truth that God is above and beyond change. God himself does not have to change but his changelessness is such that his ways are ever new. The Christ event is a brand new expression of who God is in a world desperate to hear good news. God forgives us. God loves us as we are. God accepts our shortcomings and faults. God does not wait for us up in heaven. God comes to us right here, even in the dirt and filth of this world. We don’t work our way up to God. God comes to us wherever we are and takes us to himself. That is a brand new expression of who God is. It is exciting and stimulating and remarkable.
And yet, John tells us, Christ is not God changing his mind. God has always forgiven us. God has always loved us, always accepted us, always come to us rather than waiting in heaven for a few of us to climb the ladder to him. God has never rewarded the good and punished the bad. God has always loved us into loving him. The Word of God in Christ is an eternal expression of who God is and how God works.
This very moment, with all the various changes we are going through, has been in God’s mind forever. With God the past, the present, and the future are all going on together right now. God has seen this moment forever and has already brought about goodness. We are limited to the present. That’s why we get afraid about change. We cannot see how it will turn out. But God can. Whatever is not desirable in any change we are going through, God has already acted to heal and resolve. Whatever is good in the changes we are going through, God has already orchestrated. God corrects what is not good for us, causes what is good for us, and nothing that occurs defeats his ultimate will for us. God is eternal and his love for us is eternal.
Live in trust. Love in trust. The brand new grace of Christ has always been and always will be. Change is the reminder that we are temporary and that the life force of God is always breaking forth in and around us. The love of Christ is so very old that it is completely new every time we experience it.
Be not afraid. Change is constant. But God is ever-constant. And God’s good purposes will be accomplished.
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.