Change is hard. I was struggling with that reality when I sat in the café with Emira, my Middle Eastern friend who is returning home very soon. She’s been counting down the days.
“I’m excited of course, you know. But I cry every day. Really. You don’t see it. But I realize what I’m leaving behind.”
It is the bittersweet element of change. We cannot prevent it, and we often crave it and go to great lengths to make it happen.
And yet, the old economic truism of “opportunity cost’ kicks in here. When we say “yes” to one thing, it usually means “no” to a host of others. We cannot consistently have our cake and eat it too.
I’m thinking about the changes and seasons happening in my own life. Children growing up and heading off to college. The prospect they will not return for any measurable length of time. Or that they will. Change we will need to accept in either case.
What are the ways we can cope with and even leverage change in our lives for good – both personal and global good?
Here are 8 suggestions:
(1) Acknowledge, accept and embrace it. Maybe easier said than done? Perhaps. This is possibly the longest step. Recognizing change on the horizon is key. But sometimes it takes us by surprise, and in those moments, too, we need to acknowledge it for what it is.
Someone I’m close to received a tough health diagnosis two years ago. It will affect her, her husband and family for the rest of their lives. She told me, “I think in the beginning it was just pure shock. And I feel as if it’s put our family and our plans on hold for a couple years. But now I want to move forward.”
I encouraged her to take some time with her husband to take stock of what they have accomplished so far as part of the process of moving ahead. This is a key part of the process.
Embracing the change – whether perceived good or bad, limiting or limitless – is also a part of this step. Leaning into it and discovering just what you might be able to achieve even with an obstacle ahead, takes time. But when you get there, you feel reenergized to face the challenge head on and overcome.
(2) Journal it. No matter what, keep some type of record of both what’s happening and how you’re feeling. It could be through voice memos, a document on your computer or a real pen and journal.
However you choose, don’t miss the opportunity to see how you not only deal with the changes your facing but also how the Master Designer works in and through you to bring about new perspectives. Then, you will have something to share with others (even a child, perhaps) later on.
(3) Don’t travel through it alone. Discuss it with others. Sometimes it’s tough to be transparent, true. Find at least a couple trusted people whom you can invite into your journey. As you share your vulnerabilities with them, they are more likely to share theirs with yours. Mutual trust grows.
Some people prefer just a few. Others blog openly or post on social networks about change and the challenges they’re facing as a result. Some find it best to work with a therapist or to develop a small accountability or prayer group. However it works for you. Just make sure you do not allow yourself to remain isolated in this challenge.
(4) Learn about it. Yes, become a student of your particular change or challenge. If, as in the case of Emira earlier, you are experiencing a sense of great sadness as you anticipate a change, research it! Find a book at the local library. Do a Google search (be wise as you filter through what you find). Check out books on Amazon (read the reviews).
I’ve found as I’ve taken more of a “student” approach to changes and challenges in my own life, that I become less tossed around by my emotions and more pragmatic, and even optimistic, in my approach. (A side benefit is I learn I’m not alone!)
(5) Look for the hidden clues to new beginnings. In every change, there can be a loss. But then emerge many unexpected gains. Keep a keen eye out for those!
My work involves time spent with many young moms from a wide range of cultures. So, even though my children are much older now, I regularly get to interact with little ones.
In truth, I believe God knew I needed this type of focus for this particular season of my life. I have wisdom I can speak into the lives of these young moms. But I also believe God did this for me, to buffer the challenge of change and the impending empty nest. He loves me this much.
I’ve also had the great fortune to travel down a new road as a blogger, writer and entrepreneur. I’ve delighted in new friendships through a vibrant online (and annual in-person) community. This has been a huge refreshment for me.
(6) Find ways to be others-focused. While self-reflection is needed and valuable, it can also be a sinkhole if you remain in it for too long. There is a time to move on and to simply “get over it.”
Service to others, even in small ways, often allows us to shift away from our own circumstances. This can be good when it gives us a healthier, more mature perspective. And this is often what’s needed at this stage.
Don’t mistake this suggestion as one that encourages you to escape from the issue you’re facing. You cannot give what you don’t have. So, if you’ve skipped all the other stages and thrown yourself into service to others too early, you may find it unsustainable.
Note here I’ve listed “others-focused” as #6 in this process. Most people need to go through several other stages before they are ready to take this on. But it is a necessary and valuable step to turning change into good, both on the personal and global level.
(7) Reframe. Devote yourself to the new. You are ready to look forward. This part reminds me of what the Apostle Paul says in the New Testament book of Philippians: “…forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (3:13b-14)
You’ve taken time to mourn. To reflect. To appreciate what was in the past. Now it’s time to embrace the future. Devote yourself to that, whatever it may look like, and you will find yourself more able to handle the change you’re facing right now as well as those on the horizon.
(8) Don’t settle, stretch. Finally, one key to overcoming the struggle of change is to push. Yes, even until the end, even if you are sick, even if the challenges seem insurmountable.
I know of an international friend going through an unbelievably huge challenge right now. Changes she had never expected. Lots of curve balls that want to make her give up.
And yet, as another friend offered to her, I repeat to you.
“Sometimes we think God is oh so teeny, and our problems fill the room and overwhelm. This is not the right perspective on God. In fact, the opposite is true. God is the one who fills the room, and our problem is the one that really is tiny.”
Through change good and bad, we must push ourselves to go beyond the challenge and leverage it for good. Good for both ourselves and our immediate circumstances, yes. But also good for our world.
We must understand the decisions we make are consequential, even on a global level. We do not see how it all works out. But the Master Designer does. And each choice as we travel through seasons of transition matters. Each choice has a much larger impact than we can imagine.
How do you grapple with change? And how can you become more effective as you travel through it?
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