Our Strange Relationship With Change

A few years ago, Sally invited a group of women to share in a guided exercise centered on feminine Christian spirituality. After hearing her explain the program, one friend asked, “This isn’t going to change me is it?”

At the time, I saw the question as a humorous reflection of a preconceived notion of what such a program might entail. As time has gone on, I see far more nuance and complexity to what I originally saw as a narrow perspective.

We have a complex relationship with change. Let’s turn to a few of our more modern poets who have delved into the notion of change:

Don't go changing to try and please me. - Billy Joel, Just the Way You Are
I think a change would do you good. - Sheryl Crow, A Change Would Do You Good

Michael has some thoughts on it:

I'm starting with the man in the mirror
I'm asking him to change his ways
And no message could've been any clearer
If they wanna make the world a better place
Take a look at yourself and then make a change
- Michael Jackson, Man in the Mirror

How about some Dylan?

Come gather 'round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You'll be drenched to the bone.
If your time to you
Is worth savin'
Then you better start swimmin'
Or you'll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin'.
- Bob Dylan, The Times They are a Changin'

Or Bowie...

I watch the ripples change their size
But never leave the stream
Of warm impermanence
And so the days float through my eyes
But still the days seem the same
And these children that you spit on
As they try to change their worlds
Are immune to your consultations
They're quite aware of what they're goin' through
- David Bowie, Changes

Billy reminds us of our desire for the comfort of constancy. Don’t go changing, I like you just the way you are. I want things to stay as they are because this works for me. We see this in our relationships but it also reflects our broader desire to maintain, sustain, and keep predictable much of the world around us. We like particular foods and stores and coffee and paths and entertainment. Our culture is built around brands that we count on to stay true to our expectations. My original thought on the question, “Will this change me?” centered on a belief that it came from this place of maintaining.

A follow up thought on the question could stem from fear of the invitation itself: are you inviting me because you think a change would do me good? Sometimes, we see change as necessary to repair what may be broken. A flaw or something out of place could stand some change, right? Frequently, it’s easier. to see in someone else than in ourselves: he or she could sure use some change. The situations, institutions, and people around us are obviously in need of change.

In moments of self-reflection, we might see our own need for change. Perhaps in our more lucid moments, we see the man in the mirror for who he is, and who he isn’t. Changes in seasons or years tend to push us toward more introspection and time itself reminds us of the finite nature of our journey. The window of opportunity narrows and the things we see as needing change only get more difficult as we progress. The resolutions return with the habits that necessitate them – the message remains clear but the change itself remains difficult.

Dylan reminds us that regardless of whether we are ready for it or not, things around us continue to change. Perhaps we want the change, and even see it coming, but its demands may prove more difficult than we expect. The price may be too high but that’s the inflation of life, rarely does the cost of change come down. Far enough along on this journey, we begin to fear the cost of change and avoid its discomforts.

Enter Bowie to remind us of that point of departure from our younger selves who demand the very changes we’ve come to fear. Holding part wisdom, part contrariness, and perhaps a healthy dose of laziness, our older self pushes back on the very forces we once mustered against the universe pressing in upon us; as we now work to hold it all in place to the extent that it sustains our comfort.

What a strange relationship we have with change.

Is this going to change me? Consider for a moment what makes us who we are. We begin with a particular temperament and move into the world to experience it. Those experiences form us in so many ways: from how we perceive and understand everything around us to the choices we make and the ways we react to the situations we face. The journey of our life forms, and changes, us at each step along the way. The people, places, and moments shape us. Whether we realize it or not.

As we move along, we gather these experiences, habits, comforts, desires, and even flaws. They become part of us, unified to our person as our personality, and demonstrated in the behavior we exhibit in the world around us. Our choices, preferences, and reactions flow from this essence in all of its strengths, and its weaknesses, forming the person we come to be and continue to become.

A huge part of the person we become centers on the fears and doubts that come with the experience of life. And this is the well from which our opening question emerges. “Is this going to change me?” is a question of fear and the hesitation to delve into a place that might demand a price we are unwilling, or unable, to pay. The question ultimately stems from the fear of what we might have to do, or what we may need to leave behind, as part of the process of discovery.

The wild thing about what we might fear of change is that it could very well mean the release of something negative in our experience, personality, or heart. And yet, we are still reluctant to let it go because deep within us, we wonder what we become without it. The change we need or even desire may in fact fuel the paralyzing fear we manifest in our reticence to begin, sustain, or complete the journey toward it.

Maybe its Dave Matthews who has the message we really need to remember about change:

Wake up naked drinking coffee
Making plans to change the world
While the world is changing us.
 - Dave Matthews, Stay or Leave

We are changing, and not just in our photos. Reread a book you loved 20 years ago and you’ll see it. The story or message meets you where you are now and you hear it differently. Scarier, or potentially more comforting, is if you pick up a book you read 5 years ago and notice how it strikes you differently. In your becoming, that sum total of life’s experience is persistently recreating you. We may each continue to resist the changes we see or lament the ones foisted upon us, even as the subtler movements form us in unseen ways.

Will this (insert relationship, experience, learning moment, choice, etc.) change me? We hope so even as we hope not. Therein lies the beautiful paradox of the journey each of us has undertaken. The amazing strengths of our person become our weaknesses when taken to their extremes. The thrills, joys, and touching experiences of our lives become rote, boring, and uninspiring when they become so common as to be taken for granted. And the heartbreak and struggle that threaten to break us ultimately strengthen us as we endure.

Don’t go changing, but please, keep changing. For in this way we might hope to keep what is the essential us even as we become the us we were meant to be.

  • Todd Foushee

    Hi Phil. Another great, thought provoking message…. Change is one of those absolutes in life.

    I had to learn to embrace the many chaneges as they are each opportunities to grow as a result. One of the great mysteries of life meaning when faced with change, I have a choice to make….as a change agent, if I don’t get it right the first time, I merely choose again. Best this day.

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