A common theme in the work of substance abuse disorders is that people change in stages. In fact, we all might apply this same process in the course of changing careers, making difficult decisions, letting go of sinful habits, or even choosing to love or be loved. On the one hand, change seems natural and even simple. To the one fighting addiction we say, “Just say ‘no.’” To those who mourn, we say, “It’s time to move on.” To an adolescent, we say, “Grow up,” as if in a brief moment all the wisdom of the ages and the calm of the sages can miraculously pop into our brains.
Christians have even more reason to believe that change can be that straightforward. Take Saul of Tarsus who later becomes our beloved Paul, the Apostle. He started out “breathing threats and murder” (Acts 9:1) against Christians. He actually thought that he was the righteous one doing God’s work. I’ve been there before, thinking I am right and everyone else is the problem. Yet, behind this way of thinking is arrogance, pride, ambition, and even selfish independence, and thoughts become words and behaviors that land like a tornado spitting out shards and blasting sand while flattening all in its path. At this stage, it is impossible for man to affect change.
Fortunately, God does not leave us as He found us. As life unfolds, (and more importantly, as God prods), we are prompted by events or relationships to look into the pros and cons of our beliefs, our feelings, and our actions. Saul gets an eye opener at the point of blindness. When the husband decides to leave the accusing wife or when the parents put out their grown son in an act of tough love or when coworkers stop inviting the braggart to lunch – a similar crack forms, letting in just enough light to create ambivalence. Change talk begins in uncertainty. “Who are you, Lord?” asks Saul (Acts9:5). The next stage of change begins with listening.
Some days I get tired of hearing myself talk. I wonder why my family or friends get so quiet, and I begin listening to my own voice. This may sound weird, but when this happens I am reminded that listening is much more enjoyable than feeling the pressure to fill gaps of silence with superfluous words or reach for something profound to say. When listening, I am more open to differences, not only of opinion but of culture, of spiritual maturity, of complex or more importantly of simple thoughts that challenge my tunnel vision. How quickly Saul does a 180 when he listens to the voice of Jesus. Saul answers, “Lord, what do You want me to do?” If only we could change so dramatically, so immediately. And maybe for some, this is so. I remember the day that I accepted Christ – I knew there was no turning back. Many of the sins that were a part of my daily life ended that day. Yet other sins over the years have been revealed and some of these habits have been harder to break.
What I’ve learned to accept is that the most important stage of change is the action stage; that is, to walk the changed life. And sometimes, like those who struggle with addiction, I stumble and fall and get up again to put heart, mind, body, and soul into the belief that “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26).
Lord, God, be with me in the here and now and in the daily changes that I need to make in my thinking, doing, feeling, and being. Though I may need to ask You this again tomorrow, I know that nothing is impossible for You and I can rest in Your promise to change me now and forever. Just wish it could always be in the twinkling of an eye. : )