#5 - Coping with Change
A common areas where Christians struggle is the power of "changing circumstances" to affect their faith and Christian practice in a negative way. For example:
- Your elderly mother is put into a nursing facility, leaving your dad alone at home.
- You live 120 miles away; your younger, unmarried brother lives in the same town.
Can you see the "problems" that will arise with these changes in living arrangements?
- Conflict as to who is primary care giver.
- Loss of work and family time traveling back and forth.
- Decision whether to bring dad in with kids or nursing home with mom.
- Broken routine of regular worship.
- Conflict over financial responsibility for care expenses, etc.
For example the following situation:
- You've just moved to a new city with your family.
- You're happy for a new job, new opportunity.
- Your wife misses her parents and your children are having trouble in their new school.
- The church you now go to has less people and programs than your old one.
- What will be some of the issues here?
- More arguments.
- Stress for failure of children in school.
- Loss of intimacy because of pressure and anxiety.
I give two common types of experiences to show that "changes" bring new situations to get used to and new problems to solve. These bring stress, anxiety, depression, even physical illness or family breakdown.
So whether it's:
- A new school
- Declining health (yours or family member)
- A first or subsequent marriage or the breakup of a marriage
- A new baby or job or retirement from a job
- A failure of some kind of adapting to greater responsibility
Changes are difficult and learning to cope with change is a large part of our maturing process - older you get the more changes there are. Now changes in every area of our lives are inevitable, there will always be changes, we cannot avoid the fact that our lives will encounter change from time to time (some for good, others not so good).
So the first thing we need to understand and accept is that there will be change, no need to be surprised or upset when it finally occurs.
If we accept that change is a natural (if not always easy) part of life, we can more easily learn the things we need to do to cope with it.
Coping with Change
Obviously this lesson will not exhaust all of the more positive ways to deal/cope successfully with change.
Hopefully, what I share with you will help you see what God provides us with in order to support us in times of change in our lives.
1. Keep "Change" in Perspective
There is an ebb and flow to life that bring natural changes with them - try to keep this in mind. Solomon said that there was a "time" for everything under the sun and all the things he mentions in Ecc. 3 have to do with change
Birth, death, beginnings and endings, war and peace, searching, giving up, building and tearing down…are not all these things part of change?
The "coping" problem that change engenders is one of dealing with how we feel about the different set of circumstances that face us due to change. We get nervous and depressed because we think:
- The change will change everything, when in reality only a part of our lives will be different.
- The change is too fast, when the real problem is that we're slow in accepting the inevitable.
- The change is for the worse, we say this because we are judging only the immediate results and not the long term effects that may yield good fruit.
- The change is not what you wanted, of course we think this when our will is crossed, but since when is our will the criteria for what is good or best?
Change is less unsettling when we can see the big picture and not just the small universe of our own lives.
- Children marrying (even marrying someone we're not crazy about) may be traumatic for the moment, but in the long run many children realize that they want peace with mom and dad, and they want their parents' support as they begin raising their own families.
- It was difficult for some of our members here when we went to bilingual services because each group (Eng/Fr) lost some intimacy and convenience of always speaking their own language. But look at what we gained in rich fellowship and a more satisfying worship all together.
Keeping "change" in the perspective that:
- Changes in life are constant and
- Most changes work out in the long run.
Keeping this perspective helps lower the panic and fear level that comes along with the many changes we face in life. Another way to cope with change more successfully is to…
2. Entrust God with the Changes
One of the questions that most epitomizes how we feel about change is the following: "How will I ever be able to deal with this change?" All this talk about the difficulty of dealing or coping with change is usually a sign of fear:
- Fear that we won't be able to adjust.
- Fear that we'll be left behind.
- Fear that the pain will be too great.
- Fear that what was precious or comfortable for us will be lost forever.
- Fear we won't like what change brings.
Now I'm not saying that these are not legitimate feelings and concerns.
- A woman has surgery for breast cancer and her concern for the changes that will result from this is real.
- A 47 year old man loses his job with the company he's worked for for 25 years and this will bring serious change into his life.
- A couple decides to sell their home and move to a retirement community.
- A young person chooses to go to college far away from home.
- A young couple has their first baby.
These are real life scenarios that will cause upheaval and uncertainty in anyone who experiences these kinds of changes in their lives.
Of course there will be fear, anxiety and stress, but what I'm saying is that there doesn't only have to be fear, anxiety and stress. For the Christian there is the avenue of prayer that brings us into the presence and protection of almighty God.
In Heb. 13, the writer expresses his utmost trust in God in the face of all circumstances when he writes:
"Let your character be free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, 'I will never desert you nor will I forsake you,' so that we confidently say - 'The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid. What shall man do unto me?'" - Heb. 13:5-6.
Of course change is threatening, frightening and difficult - but it is not impossible, nor does it have to be the cause for a negative experience. God assures us that He will always be with us to watch over us and to provide.
It's easy to believe this while times are stable and predictable. It's when we find ourselves in the eye of the storm that this promise is difficult to believe. But this of it, is anything too difficult for God? Do changes confuse God or make it any more difficult for Him to care for us?
On the contrary, I have found that it is in the process of change and upheaval that my relationship with God grows stronger, more intimate and more spiritually satisfying.
Perhaps this is because while everything around me seems to constantly be changing, I then see more clearly the unchanging nature of God's love and care for me that remains solid as a rock.
Different people react to "change" in different ways:
Some simply resign themselves to it. This is a kind of a passive/aggressive approach to change. They don't resist it but they don't accept it either. The change doesn't change them, it merely changes their circumstances.
Some fight change - any kind of change. This is how they cope with it, they resist it. Sometimes we do have to resist change because the change is a bad one. But some people resist change because they are against any change at all.
And still others promote change. These people love change because change is the antidote to their boredom and lack of sense of self. These are the folks who make change happen because they like change - any change.
Hopefully I have described to you a more healthy and Biblical approach to dealing with change in your lives:
- Accept the fact that changes in life are natural and inevitable. Don't be surprised or hurt or panicked because change is normal.
- Try to keep the changes in your life in proper perspective. Don't overreact or overestimate the impact of changes you face.
- Put your trust in God. God is aware of every change and circumstance, we need to trust Him with the outcome of the changes in our lives.
Whatever we need, He will provide, whatever we lose, He will restore in His own way. Of course there is one final change we all should look forward to as Christians and that is the change we will undergo when Jesus returns. Our mortal bodies will be transformed (changed) into glorious ones in order to dwell in heaven with God forever. I Thess. 4:17 (no more change)
So in a way, the many changes we undergo in life prepare us to experience the greatest and final change when Jesus comes. Let's cope with change with faith, trust and hope that we will be found worthy to be changed into glory when the time comes.