Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Slow Work of Change

I'm in the "change" business. As a social worker and counselor, I am continually helping clients identify areas in their life that they want to change, and helping them find ways to make that change happen. Sometimes, it's even a little more confrontational - I point out specific areas that need to change, otherwise their life will be very unpleasant. Either way, change is something I talk about every day. In fact, the "tag line" for my university graduate program was, "Be the Change"- a quote that is attributed to Ghandi, but is often repeated by social workers. 

The more time I spend in "the change business," I am realizing that it is a slow work. Change doesn't come overnight, and it doesn't come easily. Real, lasting change, is a slow and steady process with as many downs as ups. But it's still a process that I believe in. It's a process I witness every day. 

My supervisor for my internship once helped me realize how difficult it is for clients to change. She asked me if I had ever really tried to change a habit in my life - what I eat, exercise, or something even more deep to my character. For me, the answer to this question is my anger. In college, I realize that I was a deeply angry person, and this anger spilled over into my personal relationships, most notably my marriage. I'm ashamed to admit that more than once I punched walls, yelled, cursed, and stormed out of the house. 

I'm also proud to say that I'm no longer an angry person. But I had to have many conversations with many different people - friends, professors, counselors, family, and my wife. I had to make promises to myself, and deal with the fact that I broke those promises as often as I made them. I had to want to change more than I just wanted things to be better. 

And I had to pray. A lot. Sometimes every day. Sometimes what seemed to be every moment of every day. The change took a long time. But I believe that God was deeply involved in that slow work of change in my life. 

In fact, as I've reflected on my career, and "the change business" in which I work, I've realized that it's the same work of God. A slow, committed, more-downs-than-ups, process of changing lives. 

The result is what theologians call "transformation." Paul talks about this transformation in 2 Corinthians 5, saying, "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!" As Christian, we sometimes mistake this transformation as being immediate. We forget that it's a slow process of change. Because, as Paul explains through the chapter, it is an immediate message of the change-work of God

Paul writes: So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.

It is a message of reconciliation. And even that word itself - reconciliation - connotes a deeper, ongoing process of change that involves more than just the individual. It involves the community and the relationships the individual engages every day. 

The real problem with my anger wasn't that it affected me. It was how it affected my marriage. It was how it impacted my prayers and my connection with other people in my life. And I needed to change my anger, not just for myself, but so that I could experiences reconciliation. Transformation. 

But it was a slow process. And God knows that. Mistakes, set-backs, stumbles and falls are all part of the process of change. It is a process - a work - that God is committed to in the life of each person, even dare we say, the whole world. And we are part of the ministry of reconciliation, bearers of the message that God is working a process of change in the world. 

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