Recently as I sat in a pastor’s office, I noticed a small etched sign he kept on his desk. It read, “When you are through changing…you’re through!”
At first I smiled. This short aphorism reminds me of many I’ve seen before. I remember a poster from my high school days that said much the same thing: “He who isn’t busy being born is busy dying.” (Dylan Thomas, or was it Bob Dylan?) I recalled when one of my sons was a preschooler and adopted some new behavior, how I’d described to an older member of my church, “He’s going through a transition right now.” The member, who had children older than me, chuckled and said, “Robert, your kids will always be going through a transition for as long as you live!” She was right!
As I thought a little deeper about the truth of the message on the pastor’s desk, I realized that change is life, future, hope, resurrection. I also realized that change is stressful, hard, painful, and involves grief and mourning. “People don’t fear change,” Ronald Heifetz once wrote, “they fear loss.” When we change, we leave behind old familiar things…ways of doing things, patterns, habits, attitudes, behaviors that are comfortable.
Change takes faith. Abraham and Sarah, the letter to Hebrews reminds us, “stepped out not knowing where they were going.” Stepping out not knowing where we are going…that’s what happens every time a couple gets married, every time parents have a baby, every time a child goes to school on the first day of kindergarten or a young person heads off to college. That’s what happens every time a pastor moves, every time a congregation opens its doors to a new pastor. That’s what happens every time a church launches a new Bible study, tries a new worship style, initiates a bold new mission, or welcomes someone into its communion. That’s what happens when people lean into the future, reach out to others, open their hearts and minds and doors. Change happens. And it’s not easy. But it is life. When you’re through changing…you’re through.
I remember an older woman, a member of a church I served, who developed cancer. She fought it, won some time, but eventually it recurred. Her last months were spent in hospice care. She and everyone who loved her knew the inevitable outcome.
During the last many years of her life, she had found great delight in studying Spanish. She attended classes, practiced with friends, had a tutor, read books, and used her ever-increasing fluency in service to the church and to others through her involvement in missions and hospitality. She was a saint.
While she was in hospice care during the last weeks of her life, I stepped into her room to find her repetitiously writing out Spanish grammar exercises. She was preparing for her tutor to arrive, and was cramming the last bits of homework that was due.
Stop for a minute and think about this with me. She has only a few weeks to live and she knows it. For what purpose was she learning Spanish verb tenses? She was doing it, I feel, because growing, learning, practicing, improving, changing – these were for her the ultimate sign of life. They were her expression of faith and hope, even in the face of death. Change and growth are life. When you’re through changing…you’re through.
I pray for all those congregations going through change, and all those pastors and faithful laypersons who are leading through the stress of change. I also pray that this means my prayer is for each and ever pastor and congregation! Because, “When you’re through changing…you’re through!”
Yours in Christ,
(With all the intensity of Annual Conference preparation, then presiding at Annual Conference, and then traveling to another annual conference, I’ve slipped out of the habit of writing regular blogs. For anyone who noticed, sorry! I’ll try to do better.)