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Friday, June 29, 2018

Coping with Change

If there’s one thing we can count on in life (other than death), it’s change. We experience change every second, every minute, and every hour of every day. In the few seconds it’s taken you to read the first couple sentences of this article, things have changed.

The truth is that we all struggle with change…and you know it better than anyone! Change has been known to cause an overwhelmingly high amount of stress and anxiety. Maybe if we could eliminate change, we could also eliminate all stress and anxiety. Wouldn’t that be nice?

What changes are you facing right now? Are you getting married, changing jobs, moving, graduating, retiring, changing churches, facing the ailing health of a loved one, etc.? Chances are you’re probably struggling with at least some of the changes going on in your life right now.

Although this struggle is not unusual human behavior, I believe it’s possible for us to reach a place where much of the anxiety we currently experience when we face change disappears. Let’s dig deeper.

Why We Struggle with Change

In the midst of facing changes in your life, have you paused to consider why change is so hard? Is it because your past experiences show that changes make you less happy? Is it because the changes interrupt your comfortable life? Is it because you don’t know what to expect?

During the past couple years, I’ve spent a little time contemplating why change is hard for me.  I think all three of the examples I gave above are applicable for me in some way, but the underlying reason why I struggle so much with change is because it invades the controlled environment I’ve worked so hard to create. In other words, change is the arch nemesis of my security.

Intrinsically, I feel most secure when I’m in complete control of my environment. Being in complete control of my environment is achieved when I can (1) explain why things are the way they are, (2) predict the outcome of the events which occur in it, and (3) control the outcome of these events. Changes can assist me in accomplishing these three objectives, inhibit me from accomplishing them, or have absolute no impact on my ability to accomplish them. When changes occur which help me accomplish them, I easily embrace them. But on the other hand, when changes occur which prevent me from accomplishing them, I resist them.

I’ve observed that most of you aren’t much different from me. Most people I know have the same desire to gain security by gaining control of their environments. They easily embrace changes which bring them more security and they resist changes which take away some of their security.

The biggest problem we all face is that most of the changes which occur in our lives make us feel less secure. That’s not to say that they actually make us less secure, but until we’ve experienced the end results, we may feel less secure. I’ll give a few examples. When the opposing candidate becomes president, we feel less secure and resist the change. When we grew up on hymns but our church decides to sing more contemporary songs and fewer hymns, we feel less secure and resist the change. When a family member we love passes away, we feel less secure and resist the change. In the end, these changes may actually be very good for our security, but when they are initially announced, we feel like they’re going to take away some of our security.

Change is inevitable. We may try to eliminate change, but ultimately, there’s nothing we can do to stop change. It’s part of life. But that doesn’t mean we have to live in constant anxiety every time we see or experience a change in our lives. How? What can be different? I think it starts with reevaluating the place(s) from which we derive our security.

Our Place of Security

In my previous article titled 5 Places We Search for Security, I claimed that many Americans search for security in money, material possessions, jobs, other people, and personal skill sets. If we want to ensure we get these things, we have to take some steps to take control of the environment around us. For example, if I found security in money and therefore wanted to become a millionaire, I’d almost surely fail to get there unless I made a concentrated effort to make more, save more, and spend less. Most likely, I wouldn’t randomly become a millionaire. The same could be said for anything in which we search security: We have to make a concentrated effort to get it. Tying this in to my discussion from a few paragraphs ago, if we hope to get what we want in order to feel secure, we have to take control of our environments.

But the problem we run into over and over again is that there’s nothing we can do to take complete control of our environments. You can take Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace class which all but guarantees to get you out of debt, but that doesn’t mean you’ll succeed in getting out of debt, even if you follow every piece of his advice to a “T.” We may think we have the ability to control everything around us, but we don’t, no matter how much worldly power we possess.

For all of human history, we have recognized that there are things which are completely outside of our control. But for the most part, we’ve always believed that someone or something has control of them. In ancient history, most civilizations believed in a multitude of gods which each had individual control over particular things such as rain, fertility, and war. In the midst of these polytheistic civilizations, another civilization arose which believed in one God who had control over everything. This civilization documented the events which occurred throughout their history in a book called the Bible. Throughout the Bible, there are stories upon stories which demonstrate their God’s dominion not only over every aspect of life, but also over all the other apparent “gods” of the civilizations around them.

Based on extensive and thorough research, I’ve concluded that this God which is spoken of in the Bible is the one true deity who does, in fact, have control over everything in the entire universe. This could be good or bad. It would be bad if we knew that the character of this God was manipulative, evil, and unjust. But thankfully, that’s not the way he’s depicted in the Bible. The Bible depicts this God as being good, just, and loving. He works everything in the entire universe for both his glory and the good of all his people.[1]

If we truly believe something, then we’re naturally going to live in accordance with our belief. When we apply this principle to this situation, we see that if we truly trust in this God, then we will have absolutely no reason to be terrified or anxious about change. Why?

As I shared above, the Bible claims that God works all things for good for his people. What would be the best “good” we could have? To be completely secure/satisfied. This is ultimately what every single one of us longs for and the end to which we all do everything we do.[2] So if God works everything for good for his people, then that means every change we go through is going to somehow lead to a greater level of security. This security is not found in the things of this world, but is found in him. As Jesus, God’s Son, once said:
Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.[3]
When Jesus told us not to be anxious, he wasn’t telling us to trick our minds into not being anxious. Instead, he was saying that if we truly trust in God to take care of us, then we won’t have any reason to be anxious. He’s in complete control of everything, meaning that he not only is able to promise us security, but he’s able to come through on that promise! Why would we be anxious about that?

But Change, Even Good Change, Can Still Be Hard

Even though we may know that God is in control and we may trust him wholeheartedly, change can still be hard. This is where I need to make a distinction between it being hard and resisting it. If we truly trust God, there’s no reason for us to find ourselves in a place where we’re resisting change. But we still may find ourselves in a place where we have a hard time with the change simply because it’s different.

For many years, when I observed change, all I could think about were the things I was losing. As an example, when I graduated from high school and went to college, I had a very hard time with the change because I knew I was going to grow apart from all my high school friends. But within a few months, I had made a whole new set of friends. I may have lost something, but I also gained something.

I think it’s important for us to observe both the gains and the losses when we experience change rather than just observing one or the other. When it comes to the losses, it’s quite okay to acknowledge that we’ll never again get to experience what we experienced before. It can be extremely therapeutic and beneficial to spend some time grieving over the losses. But I also think it’s just as important to begin looking ahead to the new experiences to come. Go ahead and celebrate the gain you anticipate receiving from the change. There’s probably some great stuff in the change to look forward to!

I hope this article has given you a new or rejuvenated perspective on coping with the inevitable changes in your life. What is one thing that stuck out to you? What’s one thing you’d add to what I’ve written?

[1] See Isaiah 48:9-11, 43:6-7, and Romans 8:28.
[2] I discussed this topic more in depth in a few previous articles I wrote: The Biggest Hindrance to Your Happiness, Pursuing Happiness vs. Pursuing God, and The Most Satisfying New Year’s Resolution.
[3] Matthew 6:31-33.

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