Here 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.