Change IS Possible
People can’t change. If I had a dollar for every time I have heard these words uttered, I’d have a pretty hefty savings account.
It wasn’t until I recently heard my sixteen-year old niece proclaim them that I knew I’d had enough. I responded, “Honey, if I didn’t believe people could change, I wouldn’t even bother getting out of bed in the morning. People can change, that is, if they choose to do so.”
When my friends at the Benedictine Center invited me to facilitate a Great Conversation, I knew exactly the topic I wanted us to explore together, “Change IS Possible.”
We began our morning exploring what the Judeo-Christian tradition teaches about the nature of change. Creation is not limited to a one time historical event; creation is an ongoing reality in each of our lives. God continues to create, and recreate, all living things through his Spirit: “Behold I make all things new.” I can’t imagine a more dramatic form of change than that. Each of us has the potential, through our faith journey, to be transformed by the Spirit into the image of Jesus himself.
Our Benedictine brothers and sisters offer a more concrete understanding of how such transformation unfolds. They emphasize a life lived with a commitment to stability, conversatio, and obedience (from the Latin audire)—careful listening.
Since listening carefully is the essential practice in Benedictine life, we devoted the entire morning to listening—listening to our stories.
What do our stories have to do with change? Quite a lot, actually. Psychologists have found that if we aspire to change our lives, we do so by changing the story we are telling ourselves about them.
For over three decades, psychologist Dan McAdams has studied the stories people tell about their lives. He has found that the most generative adults, that is, those who live lives of service and care for the common good, tell more redemptive stories. A redemptive story features the bad things that happen in life followed by the good things that often result from such challenges. Those with a redemptive outlook believe that suffering is inevitable, and yet they keep their hope alive through the stories they tell. Conversely, those who tell more contaminative stories lament that after X happens (for example, the loss of one’s job)--one’s life will never be as good as before X happened.
Identifying these two different ways of interpreting the events in our life stories, redemptive and contaminative, gives us a clearer sense of the choice at hand. As one participant observed, “There are stories I have told that can cost me my life. I don’t want to do that. A story that is worthy of my life is honest and authentic and life giving.”
Mindful of Our Narratives
How aware are you of the story you are telling yourself? Becoming mindful of our inner narrative is crucial, because the story we tell ourselves, both consciously and unconsciously, has tremendous power over our thoughts, feelings, and actions.
Change IS possible, and it begins with listening carefully to the story we are telling ourselves about ourselves (and for that matter the story we are telling about our families, our communities, our country). The implications are vast.
Advent is a season of new beginnings, a time to prepare our hearts for the birth of Jesus, a time to sing a new song, and tell a new story.
Howard Thurman’s prayer, I Will Sing a New Song, is particularly well suited for both this upcoming liturgical season as well as our aspiration to experience change in our lives. It’s featured in his book, The Mood of Christmas:
The old song of my spirit has wearied itself out.
It has long ago been learned by heart.
It repeats itself over and over,
Bringing no added joy to my day or lift to my spirit.
I will sing a new song.
I must learn the new song for the new needs.
I must fashion new words born of all the new growth
of my life--of my mind--of my spirit.
I must prepare for new melodies that have
never been mine before,
That all that is within me may lift my voice unto God.
Therefore, I shall rejoice with each new day
And delight my spirit in each fresh unfolding.
I will sing, this day, a new song unto the Lord.
May you have a blessed Advent and Christmas season!
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