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The Challenge and Promise of Change
By: Susan K. Rowland
Researchers report that the more we welcome change into our lives, the healthier our brains remain and the younger we feel. That’s not surprising. Enthusiasm about new things is a characteristic of the young and the young-at-heart. So we’re encouraged to take up a new hobby, learn a language, take a class, travel—anything to keep those brain cells active. New activities challenge us and keep us alert and open to life.
How do you feel about change? Do you resist, especially when change involves old and dear rituals, customs and practices? Sometimes we love change. Sometimes we don’t. But whether it’s welcome and expected, or sudden and unasked-for, change is a reality of life. In fact, it’s the one thing we can count on.
We might adopt either of two extreme attitudes about change. One is a demand for constant change and novelty. The other is the rejection of change—the settling in and stagnation that refuse all challenges and insist that things stay the way they are. The first—the demand for novelty—is often seen in young people. As life goes on, we may resist change and try to hold on to what’s familiar. We might even become angry when changes are forced upon us.
These different reactions to change are natural—but not solely defined by one’s age or life experience. Young people, just starting out in the world, are often curious and open to new challenges. It helps for them to be enamored of change, for they’re going through the biggest changes of their lives. But later in life, many people are attracted to stability, not change.
Many of the changes we experience as we age are not all that welcome. Where did those wrinkles come from? Why don’t I have the energy I used to have? Why do I have these health problems? What is my purpose in life now that my kids are grown and I’m retired? It’s no wonder we wish we could stop the clock and settle into a comfortable place in life where there are no unpleasant changes.
God and change
Author Matthew Kelly writes: “Change is one of the laws of the natural universe. Nature teaches us that everything in this world is constantly changing. Everything God created is constantly in the process of either growing or dying.” Still, Kelly writes, there are certain things that never change: “Truth does not change; the supernatural realities of faith, hope, and love do not change; and God does not change” (Rediscover Catholicism).
Change is essential to life. Our physical bodies are in a constant state of repair and renewal. Our minds need to be challenged to stay healthy. And our spiritual journeys are characterized by conversion and growth.
Change is so essential, but too much change can result in chaos. We won’t grow properly or deepen our commitments if we rush from one thing to another. So God has built into us both a desire for change and a desire for stability and regularity. Thus our lives swing between change and sameness. Nature gives us distinct seasons. Each in its turn feels new and refreshing, yet each season is the same, year after year.
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In our Church year, we move from Advent to Christmas to Lent to Easter, fast to feast, over and over again. Yet each season feels new again every year. The rhythm of life is God’s way of helping us embrace both the necessary changes in our lives and the seasons of sameness.
Conversion: The most essential change
The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that the essence of the Christian life is conversion, which is a radical reorientation of our whole lives. There’s no more important change demanded of us than turning away from evil and toward God. “The human heart is heavy and hardened….God must give man a new heart” (CCC, #1432).
This radical, interior conversion is necessary for every person. Jesus warns us, “[W]hoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it” (Mark 10:15; Luke 18:17). We must change in order to grow into spiritual maturity. That’s the main task of this earthly life. The need for growth and change doesn’t diminish, no matter how old we get. We never “arrive” in this life.
A new attitude toward change
Sometimes we’re afraid to change. Some changes have been unpleasant: the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, a move we didn’t want to make. But many changes have been wonderful: a child’s birth, a marriage, a graduation. The milestones of human life are changes, and we look forward to and celebrate them.
If each of us listed all the changes in our lives, we’d find the majority of them have been pleasant, wonderful milestones we celebrate. Even many changes that were unpleasant at the time later turned out to be blessings. We wouldn’t be the people we are today without change.
We often find ourselves resisting change, especially after a certain age. We try to find a groove—a comfortable, predictable path. We try to build a life that works for us, one with few challenges and emotional upsets. When things aren’t going well, we may look back to the past and say, “That’s what we should be doing. It worked then; we should go back to it.” But we can’t go back. God insists that we keep moving forward—toward God.
Authentic changes bring us closer to God. Life is going to throw us changes that we don’t understand or choose. Can we see them as gifts from God, opportunities for holiness? Can we turn them into growth moments? With God’s help, the answer will be yes.
Imprimatur was granted for this article, “The Challenge and Promise of Change,” by Susan K. Rowland, from Auxiliary Bishop Joseph R. Binzer, Vicar General, Archdiocese of Cincinnati, 7-19-2011.
Susan K. Rowland is a freelance writer from Arizona and the author of Make Room for God: Clearing Out the Clutter and Healing After Divorce (St. Anthony Messenger Press). See her Web site, www.susankrowland.com, and her blog, www.susankrowland.com/blog1.
By: Frank Frost
The quirky, funny and poignant movie, The Station Agent, is about three characters whose lives converge at a time when all three are facing change.
■ How do you feel about change?
■ When have you resisted change only to find that the change was a good thing?
■ What will you do differently the next time you are faced with an unwelcome change? How can you help others through change?
Fin (Peter Dinklage) is a dwarf whose reclusive life of building and repairing toy trains is turned upside down when his friend and employer dies unexpectedly and bequeaths to him a real, albeit abandoned, train depot in symbolically named Newfoundland, New Jersey. Fin is determined to live a hermit’s life in the depot, seeking comfort in the predictability of trains and train schedules.
Olivia (Patricia Clarkson) is a wacky artist who’s dealing poorly with the death of her young son two years earlier. His death was a factor in her separation from her husband. In her pain, she also demands privacy and solitude. But she gets her life entangled with Fin’s when she nearly runs him down on a rural road—twice.
Joe (Bobby Cannavale), on the other hand, can’t tolerate silence or isolation. He is a hotdog vendor who has set up his truck next to Fin’s depot. He has put his own life on hold to run the business for his ailing father. Joe’s need for human interaction and tactless inquiry into Fin’s life counterbalance the others’ impulse to go it alone.
Gradually and reluctantly, Fin and Olivia let Joe into their lives, and it appears all will be well, until a new change in Olivia’s life throws them all into crisis. Each must face the deeper causes of his or her resistance to change before fully learning to accept and trust each other. But it’s only through changing and opening themselves that they learn to connect and achieve some peace in their lives.
Next time you watch The Station Agent, ASK YOURSELF:
By: Joan McKamey
“I embrace change for the most part. There have been a few things—a crushed hand, surgeries, injuries, invasive breast cancer and job loss—that I didn’t consider to be changes for the better, but I try to see the positive that comes out of these changes. God has put people and opportunities in my path that have helped me get through the most trying of times,” says Judy Ambler of Olathe, Kansas.
■ What are the deeper issues that Fin and Olivia face, making them resistant to change?
■ What allows Fin and Olivia to finally confront their demons?
■ Do I have inner barriers that limit me in accepting change?
Judy hasn’t let the hard knocks of unwelcome changes get her down for long. She says, “I had lost my job and wanted to contribute in a positive way. I thought a proactive job club would help others network and find their dream jobs—and just maybe I could re-ignite my own career.” Using her experience as project management consultant, Judy helped start the Career Transition Ministry (CTM) in her parish in 2002. She continues to lead this ministry.
Judy says, “Holy Trinity’s Career Transition Ministry is a faith-based outreach networking ministry. We’ve had panel discussions; a job fair; projects for the out-of-work; guest speakers on various job search topics; workshops on the job search, resume writing, interviewing and networking; and presentations on LinkedIn. CTM meets twice monthly. I also meet with people one-on-one as needed.”
Already an active parishioner, Judy saw that she could offer her skills and knowledge to CTM: “networking, planning, interpersonal, facilitation, organizing, consulting, human resource management, budgeting and time management. The knowledge I bring is also of a personal nature: I’ve been where the attendees are and have experienced much of what they have.”
Loss of employment can bring strong feelings: “abandonment, loss of trust, loss of loyalty toward corporations, loss of self-esteem. We don’t know what God’s plan for us is, but we must be patient, and good things will unfold. If needed, I give them the name of a counselor who has volunteered her time to those out of work. I also direct them to counseling services in our county,” says Judy.
The loss of one’s job leads some to question God while others lean on their faith. Judy says, “A male attendee told me that, because of CTM, he’s now going back to church. Others have clung to their faith knowing that something better will come along. With faith and trust in God there comes hope. CTM is an outreach ministry to the greater Kansas City area, so people of other faiths come to our meetings. We don’t always pray as a group, but I’ve shared an employment prayer with them and pray for our members with other parish groups.
“Sometimes you land on your feet, and other times change takes the wind out of your sails and hits you hard. The challenges of change vary depending on how flexible you can be with opportunities that come along, but also how many changes come and how close together they occur. Change can present opportunities to grow in your profession, try a new profession and explore the possibilities that God has put in your path.”
By: Jeanne Hunt
Lots of change has come to the residents of Simpson Avenue this past year.
The Reilly house has new owners. Following Margie’s death, Fred’s kids moved him into Maplecrest Retirement Center in July. Art, Camille and their brood, including four foster children, have moved into Fred and Margie’s old family home.
Two doors down are Betsy and Rob. Their house feels empty now that Rob, Jr., left for college. Betsy and Rob struggle with how to reconnect as a couple.
Jim and Susan live next door. Their lives were turned upside down last August when Jim lost his job. Rob and Jim occasionally enjoy a cold beer; talk always turns to employment and retirement worries in an uncertain economy.
At the end of Simpson live Jeanette and her daughter in a house that’s looking a little run-down. Jeanette’s a single mom who was diagnosed with MS about a year ago. That’s when Todd left her; he couldn’t deal with the possibility of a disabled partner.
Whether planned or thrust upon us, moments of change present elements of both challenge and opportunity. No matter what change comes, it’s important to realize that we’re not alone. God may be inviting us into new ways of being, turning us in new directions. We need to recognize the hand of God in the change and embrace the opportunity for growth.
When we surrender to becoming something new, we move forward. What’s essential is learning to trust God—even when the change is unwelcome and appears wholly negative.
Thanksgiving Day comes to Simpson Avenue with much gratitude in spite of some difficult changes. Camille and Art invite their new neighbors to their home for the feast.
Fred laughs with delight as he holds one of the foster babies and remembers raising his own children in this same house. Betsy tells Camille that she and Rob have rediscovered each other. Jim talks with Rob about starting his own business. And here’s Jeanette with a pie. She’s so thankful for her Simpson Avenue neighbors who have teamed up to do repairs on her house and help with childcare.
Fred offers the prayer: “Good God, we’re grateful for a year of change. Some of the changes were unwelcome; some desired; all stressful. Yet knowing you’re right here leading us is cause to be grateful. Thank you! Amen.”
By: Jeanne Hunt
(for praying alone or with others)
Preparation: Place seven unlit candles on a prayer table.
“Now Thank We All Our God” (or similar hymn)
Generous God, we stand together as your grateful people. We are diminished and changed by some of the events in our lives. Yet we are stronger and more vibrant in faith because of your care. Hear the prayers of our grateful hearts. Amen.
LITANY AND RITUAL
Response: “Thank you, Lord. Thank you, Lord. We just want to thank you, Lord.” (Light a candle and say the response after each prayer.)
For the daily bread you provide…
For the grace of acceptance and the courage to change…
For the compassion of family and friends…
For the grace to trust you in the darkness…
For the ability to find joy in little things…
For the hope to walk into all you have planned for our futures…
For the peace that heals our hearts…
Let these candles burn throughout our time together as a reminder that all is grace. We make this prayer in Jesus' name. Amen.