Saturday, January 21, 2006

Transformation is optional

At the Christian nonprofit organization where I work, the talk these days is all about transformation. It’s the latest in a string of buzzwords designed to capture the essence of the day-to-day work we do. The assumption, of course, is that everyone likes the idea of transformation. After all, one of the most popular television shows of the last couple seasons has been Extreme Makeover. I’m a fan of the Home Edition, but I have friends who are hooked on the plastic surgery one and its sister shows The Swan and The Biggest Loser. If your marriage needs a makeover, there’s Wife Swap and Trading Spouses. If it’s your kids who are the trouble, there’s Super Nanny or Nanny 911 to the rescue. (“You’ve been very, very naughty.”)

It sure is fun to watch all those other pathetic losers get dressed down and fixed up. Boy, those people need help!

Trouble is, when it comes to ourselves, we’re not so keen on change. Witness the popularity a few years back of the business management fable Who Moved My Cheese? Or Tolstoy’s great comment: “Everybody thinks of changing humanity and nobody thinks of changing himself.” We’re actually pretty comfortable with the way things are in our own lives. Status quo may not be winning any Emmys, but it doesn’t require us to get our hands dirty.

This blog is about children of divorce and there are some pretty dire predictions about what can happen to us. We can end up poor, neglected, undereducated, unmarriageable, unspiritual, exhausted, strung out, self-centered, and downright unfriendly. But it doesn’t have to be that way. You can buck the trend—assuming you want to. But what if you don’t? What if you’re pretty happy and satisfied with things as they are? In that case, there are a couple of things you must do to ensure that you stay safely ensconced in your comfort zone.

1. Don’t pray. I’m pretty sure I read this somewhere and didn’t just make it up (unless I’m a lot wiser than I give myself credit for). If you know the reference, send it to me. For now, I’ll risk plagiarism and just give you the quote as I remember it. “To pray is to be in the presence of God, and to be in the presence of God is to change.” This is assuming that your prayer is more than the “Rub-a-dub-dub, thanks for the grub” variety. If that’s all you’re praying, or if your prayers consist entirely of God’s Divine To-Do List, then you’re safe. But if your prayer consists of not only speaking to God but pausing long enough to listen, to enter into real relationship with your Creator, you’re in trouble. That’s just the kind of set up God uses to change people. Before you know it, He’ll start showing you how you need to change and even how to do it. He’ll begin equipping you for change. Minor changes will begin to occur without your having been consciously aware of them, and the big changes will begin to gnaw on your conscience until obedience is your only option.

2. Don’t forgive. There’s a reason you’ve got that chip on your shoulder. You earned it and why should you give it up all that easily. And besides, who’s asking you to give it up? Has anyone actually asked your forgiveness for the heartache they’ve caused you? You’ve got a right to be angry, so hang on to your anger and bitterness as long as possible. The minute you begin to let go of them, you’ll start to change. You might find out that the problem is not so much in the people around you as it is in you. But if you can just hold on to your anger and withhold forgiveness, pretty soon bitterness will take root in your soul. It will drive roots deep into the soil of yesterday and keep you stuck there, unable to move beyond your past. If you don’t want to change, this is one of the best methods.

3. Require others to live up to your expectations. Even if you’re not perfect, the people around you should be and you have a right to expect and demand perfection from them. If they fail to live up to your expectations, you should sulk and wallow in self-pity. The alternative is to see others for the imperfect people they are, accept their shortcomings and limitations, and learn to alternately extend grace to them and hold them accountable for their actions. But that would be an awful lot of trouble.

4. Live in isolation. Being in community means that others can see the rough edges in your life and hold you accountable for change. It also means you can see good and bad character in others and use that as a mirror for your own life. Living in isolation, however, means that you can validate your own behavior or justify it by any means you find convenient. There is no one to question you or make you feel guilty. It should be noted that married people can live in isolation just as easily as single people. Isolation is as much a state of mind and attitude as it is a state of physical reality.

A former boss of my mine, who lived and worked in a mini-whirlwind, was fond of saying, “The only constant is change.” But change is messy, chaotic, and awfully disruptive. By following these four tips, you can stay safely ensconced in familiarity and comfortable dysfunction. The choice is yours.

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