The week between Christmas day and the start of the New Year is a delightful time to collect thoughts, review events and ponder the possibilities of the upcoming year. It is a time to take a deep breath and enjoy the afterglow of being together with friends and family. Taking account of the people, places, and happenings that have enriched our lives provides fuel for our ongoing engagement in this business of being alive. Recalling the mistakes and wrong decisions we have made can help us to use our energy for living in a more fruitful and meaningful way.
That brings me to the question of whether or not we can change. Can we be different than what we have been? Sure, we can, but in most situations that requires effort and determination. We need a strong will, a good plan, an abundance of motivation, and continuous encouragement to make significant lasting changes in our lives. Sure, we can change, but sometimes we do not. Sometimes we find it easier to stay the way we are and to continue doing the things we do, and not doing the things we don’t do, even when we wish it was otherwise.
I have a friend who recently reached a lifetime goal after years of working toward it in an on-again off-again sort of way. Having not heard from him in some time, I was not sure what was happening in his life. The challenges and setbacks that he has faced on his journey would have been enough to sink most of us. Yet, somehow he kept coming back for more; he kept on trying. His success, after all these years, is a testimony to the fact that we can change, we can be different. Human beings are indeed resilient creatures.
No doubt there is a spiritual dimension to our efforts to improve the way we live our lives. Those who walk by faith and seek to live in a way that reflects the reality of Jesus Christ, find themselves in continual dialogue with the teachings of Jesus. What would Jesus do? As we listen to scripture and to the way the church has heard God speaking through the centuries, we get a sense of what God might be saying to us. As we ask questions about the ways God has been at work in the world through the lives of people, we get some idea about how God might desire to work through our own lives.
While we are full participants in setting the course for the living of our lives, the most significant change comes to us, not as a result of our resolve, determination, or plan. No, it comes to us as a gift. It is that gift that changes us in the most profound ways. It changes us in ways that we are altogether incapable of changing ourselves. It is the gift that God gives to us when God looks at us and says, “I love you.” It is the gift that God gives to us by taking on flesh and living among us. It is the gift that God, after looking at all our broken pieces, awkward moments, and utter failures, gives to us by calling us children of God, God’s own sons and daughters. Being loved with that kind of love is the most transforming event that can ever occur in any human being’s life. We cannot help but be changed by it.
Most of the changes we seek to make in our lives are based on someone else’s idea of what we ought to be. Whether we are talking about our health, our appearance, our work habits, or how we spend our free time, the changes we seek to make are changes that we think are important because someone told us it would be good for us and make us better. Whether it was a doctor, a counselor, or talk show host that gave us the idea about what we needed to change, the idea was probably a good one. We would all benefit from healthier hearts, clearer communication, and more organized lives.
I am pretty sure that God does not mind us taking steps to improve the quality of our lives so long as we realize that it is not what we do that causes God to love us. Our efforts to be better people, more efficient, healthier, wealthier, and smarter are not what God desires most. What God desires most is for us to know that we are loved right now, today, in this moment. Change or no change, we are loved. Not our effort, but God’s gift is what brings to us the most radical change our lives can ever experience. Yes, we can change, but more importantly we can be changed by the unconditional love of the One who always welcomes us and never leaves us.