The last two posts have been about change (here and here). This post and the next are intended to wrap that up for a little while. This one shifts our focus a bit, and the next one will get practical about how you and the church you’re part of can successfully help people make needed changes. After that, I promise I’ll find something else to discuss…at least for a while!
You hear it all the time, “So and so just hates change.” Whoever ‘so and so’ is, it’s simply not true. No one hates change. At least, it’s too simplistic to say that people hate change.
In their book Switch, brothers Chip and Dan Heath remind us that people freely choose change all the time. Think, for example, about the choice to get married. It’s like asking to have your whole world rearranged, but people wholeheartedly make that choice all the time.
What about having a baby? Ask any parent if that changes things and get ready to witness a good, deep belly laugh. Babies change everything, but, presented with the choice between sameness and babies, people keep on choosing babies.
What about changing jobs? One of my shepherds at church recently made a career change after 27 years. To leave behind the same office, the same schedule, the same everything you’ve been used to for that long is a huge risk, and while I’m sure he had a lot of trepidation about that choice, the fact remains that he did make it.
From big stuff like job changes, babies, and weddings to little stuff like trying out that new place instead of eating at the old place, everyone chooses change–at least certain changes. (About the image at top: When was the last time you saw someone talking on a cellphone that resembled Zack’s from Saved by the Bell?) The idea that people (or even certain people) hate change just doesn’t hold up.
The examples above also show that it’s not the scale of change that frightens us either. People choose changes of all sizes. We choose little ones more often, but the big changes are the ones that bring us the most joy and satisfaction.
So what is the difference between a hard change and an easy change?
If we don’t hate change, how do you explain all the times we do try to avoid it?
Answer: We don’t resist change. We resist loss.
Going back to the story of Abram, the hard part of God’s call was the word “Leave.” Abram had to let go of what was familiar, what was near and dear before he could obey the other command to “Go.” Doing so meant the beginning of a whole new chapter in the Story of God, but still leaving meant loss.
And loss is hard to accept.
In Matthew 19, a man with a lot to lose walked up to Jesus, asking about eternal life. Before this encounter, by anyone’s estimation, he would have qualified as a good, righteous man. He was honest, faithful, and loving. At the same time, he knew something was off; something was standing between him and God. He asks, “All these [commands] I have kept. What do I still lack?”
What do I still lack?
That’s a huge question.
And a huge assumption.
This man who has so much assumes that coming near to God means gaining even more. He pictures himself as an empty vessel that needs to be filled with the right insights, the right ethics, the right habits. In truth, though, he is not an empty vessel. (None of us are.) He is a vessel filled with things both good and bad, and so the process of spiritual transformation requires not just gaining but also losing.
The man is looking to find out what he lacks –what else he can gain–not what he needs to let go of. On this occasion, however, Jesus tells him he needs to lose. He invites the rich man to sell all of his possessions. Then and only then will he have room in his life to follow Jesus.
Put yourself in that man’s shoes. In that instant, what would have flooded your mind? Thoughts of the awesome opportunities sure to come your way if you follow Jesus? Or thoughts of terror at being asked to sell everything?
I for one would have been terrified. I would have replied, attempting to clarify, “No, no give me one more thing to add on; tell me what’s missing, Jesus! Give me another commandment or bit of wisdom.”
But Jesus knows what we need to hear. The one thing we lack may be the courage to face loss.