Entries in change (21)
A couple of weekends ago I attended my 43rd high school reunion (we have all turned 60+ years!). It was the first reunion I had been a part of since graduation in (gasp) 1967. Some observations from that time:
- I don’t feel as old as my classmates look
- People didn’t recognize me, until I smiled
- The eyes are the dead giveaway to identity
- Stirring up memories is bittersweet
- Four decades go by extremely fast
I have to admit that my emotional reaction to seeing old acquaintances left me a bit perplexed. But it all boils down to comparison… the same demon that plagues all of us during adolescence. How do I look compared to everyone else? How have I performed compared to everyone else? Do people like me? Do they seem glad to see me? Do they even remember me?
My pastor in his sermon yesterday reminded me of a passage that cut to the heart of the issue. Jesus was talking to Peter in the Gospel of John, Chapter 21, informing him of his life and also how he would die. Peter, in true form, immediately asked how the Apostle John would fare. In one of the most memorable and yet loving rebukes in all of Scripture, Jesus basically says: “It’s none of your business!” Comparisons all break down in time, and the only focus that is healthy and really makes any sense is focusing on yourself, and whether or not you are doing all you can do to trust God and allow Him to lead you to live a life of authenticity.
Of course I want to change. I want to believe I am a better friend, better father, better husband, better person today than I was a year ago. And I want to believe I'll be able to say the same every year for the rest of my life. This side of heaven, there will always be room for improvement.
But wanting change isn't enough. The world is full of chronic wishers; people who want—to get in shape, change careers, become less angry, find God, fix a bad relationship, break a habit, redefine priorities—but who never accomplish what they wish for. Why? Because change is hard. It requires us to do something that is not comfortable and we usually find it easier to repeat the same old familiar patterns, regardless of how unhealthy they may be.
What does it take to go from wishing to doing? Healthy risks. A healthy risk is any action taken for the purpose of personal or relational growth despite a strong sense of uncertainty, vulnerability, or fear. So, one measure of how much you're changing is by looking at how often you risk doing something that is outside your comfort zone. If you're not taking healthy risk, then you're probably not experiencing real change.
Are you up for a challenge? Think of one significant shift you would like to make in a relationship. Perhaps you would like to be more encouraging in the workplace. Maybe you want to become more empathetic in the way you listen to your spouse, or more honest with your boss, or more passionate in your involvement with a group. Whatever stirs in your heart, focus on it and try to think of one specific, new action that would be hard for you to do, but would move you toward who you want to be.
Now... take the risk.
Does taking responsibility for your behavior help you grow? Yes. We live in an era where it seems that most people find it easier to "pass the buck" than take responsibility. Does that help anything? NO. Growth requires us to be proactive. Taking a look at ourselves, taking responsibility for what we need to take responsibility for, asking for forgiveness when necessary, and moving forward is growth. Each time we take responsibility we move forward.
So why does it seem easier to "pass the buck"? In the immediate it may alleviate shame at some level but in the long run it causes more shame because the cycle gets deeper and deeper and the shame increases thus making intimacy in relationships suffer.
I encourage you to take a look at areas and relationships in your life where you feel like you have not taken responsibility and do so. In doing this you will receive great freedom and continued emotional growth will follow.
A couple steps into my office for their first counseling session. The look on their faces is familiar: disappointment, hurt, anger... maybe even disdain. They sit on the couch, careful to leave enough space for the wall between them, and begin to present their cases. Each offers an argument that has failed them so far—accusing the other of being the primary cause of their unhappy marriage.
We will eventually need to get into the unique details of their relationship, but I already know one thing about this couple: they need to move in a new direction.
Couples can be characterized by either moving toward each other, away from each other, or against each other. This couple is moving against or away, which is a natural fight-or-flight response to hurt. But they need to start using each experience of disappointment or conflict as a trigger to move toward each other instead.
Easier said than done, I know. When facing conflict, spouses (myself included) are naturally more concerned about winning than about finding a way to move closer together. But this kind of "win" is rarely satisfying and only reinforced a battle mentality.
On the other hand, learning to change "How can I win?" to "How can I move toward?" is a dynamic shift that drastically alters both the experience and outcome of a conflict. Self-protection gives way to empathy. Stubbornness gives way to caring. And it only takes one person to make the first move.
19-year-old Dennis recently made the news after he was sentenced to 60 days in jail for stealing a beer from a convenience store. He stole the $3.37 beer to celebrate having just gotten out of jail.
I watch people who repeat the same mistakes and wonder, "Will they ever learn?" But I need to ask myself the same question. Like everyone else, I have patterns of behavior that I tend to repeat despite the negative results they produce. These patterns may become so familiar that I don't even recognize them as harmful; I continue to experience their consequences (repeated relationship difficulties, familiar negative emotions, the "bad luck" that follows me everywhere) while failing to realize that I am a common denominator in these problems.
Significant, healthy change begins by first focusing on myself rather than on the people or circumstances around me. It means asking God to search out my heart. It means being vulnerable enough to ask trusted people to help me understand how others really experience me. It means listening more and defending myself less. It means being willing to be more intentional in experiencing relationships in new ways rather than following the old, familiar paths.
Want to learn more? A good book for helping individuals identify and adjust negative life patterns is Reinventing Your Life by Jeffrey Young and Janet Klasko. For understanding how these patterns work (and can change) in your marriage, check out How We Love by Milan & Kate Yerkovich.