Time for a Change

church-304637_1280Here we are back in Lent, the season when I first took the plunge to write for this blog.  Last year, I focused on mindfulness. A year later, I want to focus on change.  Lent is a time of change — you need look no further than songs such as Change Our Hearts and calls from the readings to repent (i.e., change your ways) to see it.  As Christians, we have a unique take on change.  I was reminded of this during a brown bag session on making changes in your life that I attended at work.  In general, it was a good session with useful information.  But one thing rubbed me the wrong way: the presenter’s reminder of the old adage that the only person we can change is ourselves.  I just smiled and nodded at the time (I certainly wasn’t going to change the presenter), but upon reflection, I disagree wholeheartedly.  (I suppose this audacity to believe that I can change others is part of what keeps me Catholic, even when I think that the Church’s imperfections are not all my fault!)  Allow me to cite some examples showing that Christians believe in changing others:

  • In the early history of Catholicism, the drastic change in Augustine’s lifestyle (from partying to piety) is attributed to his mother Monica’s constant prayers
  • A more modern story in Catholicism is that of Sr. Helen Prejean, who was able to convince Pope John Paul II not to allow for any exceptions in his condemnation of the death penalty.
  • In the Quaker faith tradition, John Woolman is credited with changing the hearts of companions in faith on the issue of slavery, years before the United States got around to abolishing it.
  • Couples heading into marriage often talk about their partner as “bringing out the best version of me” or “challenging me to be the best version of myself.”

Changing others is possible, but misguided notions of change are all too prevalent.  As a gay man, I know that there are people who want me to change my sexuality; it’s not going to happen.  How do the examples cited above avoid this pitfall?  With patience and humility.

  • Monica’s constant prayers took years to take effect, during which time, she undoubtedly had to let go and let God do the work
  • Sr. Helen had no formal authority over Pope John Paul II, and yet somehow through patient dialogue, her truth won out
  • Woolman’s efforts to convince the Quakers to condemn slavery took years of heart-felt dialogue before they won out.
  • Evidence that healthy couples use the same techniques is in the results: through loving dialogue over the course of their years together, a change for the better can come about.

As a choir boy, I’ve heard enough of They’ll Know We Are Christians to last me the rest of my life, but isn’t it talking about this type of change?  Our love for others should be so sincere that it actually makes a difference — it changes something!

May your Lent be full of change for you, and through you, for others as well.

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4 thoughts on “Time for a Change

  1. This is a really good reflection. I think that you hit on something important in that those who changed because of others were able to do so because the “other” let go so it could happen. Those who hope for change on behalf of others always need to closely examine their own motives — do they want someone to change because it will make them more comfortable, or make them feel “right,” or because they don’t like having their own assumptions challenged? Or do they truly want change for the good of the other person? I think it can be very hard to tease the two apart, since we can come up with all sorts of rationalizations for why what we want for someone else is really for “their” good.

    I’ve always felt that the real message behind that “you can’t change others” mantra is that you can’t CONTROL others. And wanting to control others almost always comes from an ego-centric or insecure place. True change is more gentle, and those waiting on it are far more patient.

  2. I really enjoyed reading this and it reminds me that I must always strive to love others even when they make it hard to do so. I have several friends who weren’t Christians when I met them. Though they still aren’t true followers, my love of them, even when others condemned them as weird or strange, has made them start talking to me more about God. It has taken YEARS. I agree wholeheartedly that in order to help someone change you MUST have their best interests at heart, and you can’t force them. That only drives them away. We are called to love everyone especially when no one else will. That is how you change people. It sparks their curiosity. It makes them seek out this God that causes people to love them regardless of what they may have done or who they are.

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