Change is hard. We resist it. I resist it. I prefer the familiar, the known, the comfortable. It helps me make sense of the world. I’m drawn to rules and routines because it reduces the level of chaos in my life.
Some rules, routines, habits, and customs are life-giving. They help shape our faithful living as long as they remain realistic and manageable, rather than become yet another piece of evidence of how we have failed to live up to some standard (our or others). When that happens, we can fall into the trap of unhelpful self-judgment leading to the downward spiral of self-condemnation.
This means that personal change, or what we in faith would call spiritual transformation, must come from the inside working of the Holy Spirit in our lives rather than from the outside critique of others. I know from personal experience that the changes I’ve made in my life and the spiritual transformation I’ve experienced never was aided by constant nagging from others or from their very willing desire to point out my many faults. Some “trolls” don’t just live in cyberspace. Such change and transformation, if it is to be real and lasting, comes from the inside out.
This is not to say that feedback from others should be ignored simply because it comes from outside of us. Those who love us enough to be truthful with us are indispensable partners in our personal and spiritual growth. We need to hear from them. While such feedback may not always be pleasant to receive, if we can avoid getting defensive, it can be an important ingredient in our work of personal and spiritual growth.
Even then, making a change in the way we live our lives, rather than displaying the pretension of change (see the New Yorker cartoon above), is still no walk in the park. If we fail (and often, we will, at least in our initial efforts), we can spiritually beat ourselves up and see ourselves as complete failures, which then reinforces unhelpful self-judgment. But if we succeed, we actually open ourselves to another danger of developing a self-righteous stance in the world. In effect we’d be saying: “See what I did! Why can’t
everyone be like me?”
Personal, spiritual change is hard. As we seek it, we should avoid connecting it to God’s grace-filled love for us. God loves us whether we make a desired change or not. This is actually the most liberating news we can receive. It can give us the grace and the courage to become what God desires for us.