One of the toughest realities of life is that the most difficult and painful areas are often the ones that we most need to grow. As it relates to our whole being, this might be a particular physical challenge (e.g., overeating) or the way that we communicate with others, or our response to repeated anxiety. Whatever the area(s), what I am speaking of here often involves longstanding habits or aspects of our temperament that usually developed early in life, sometimes related to various experiences that we have had. For example, a particular style of handling interactions with others might be the product of our biologically driven temperament, a style used by our parents, and a few key experiences that left a lasting impression on us among other factors. Almost always the question isn’t whether it is nature or nurture, but rather it is just how nature and nurture interact with each other.
Regardless of the underlying reasons that resulted in who we are, and the habits and perspectives that we embrace, the reality is that very often we are confronted with roles and situations in our adult lives that challenge these modes of operation. It might be particular demands at work or home that force us to deal more effectively with our tendency to avoid uncomfortable interactions. It might be our relationships with those close to us who challenge us to be open to new changes or opportunities in our lives which we aren’t comfortable taking on. Or it might simply be the passage of time, and the fact that changes in our mind and body (e.g., decreased metabolism) might behoove us to alter our lifestyle in a more healthy way.
As people who are naturally set in our ways (for various reasons), the idea of changing longtime patterns or “defaults” is often met with resistance of many kinds. We can easily rationalize why it doesn’t need to happen, or there is no guarantee it is going to work, or even that it is just too painful and hard of an undertaking. Depending on how far we get in the discernment of potential change, there is undoubtedly an internal battle that ensues, which is easily as, or is more disconcerting, than appears above the surface.
Yet, here again we are confronted with God’s natural law and his design of human beings and the world. While I am convinced that God is a merciful Creator, who understands the dissonance we feel when pushed to change, it is self-evident that he created us as complex beings who are constantly in need of growth not just so we can flourish, but also so those around us and our communities can, too. And so while it is quite human to find reasons and excuses to not be open to various changes and growth, in some ways when we do this, I daresay that —often not intentionally— we are rejecting God and His design in the process.
Again, as beings best understood and valued by the Creator, it is likely that God recognizes that our intent is not to reject Him, but rather that we are just anxious and overwhelmed by what it would mean to alter a pattern of behavior or perspective that has long been our mainstay. Still, in some ways, when we close a door on potential growth, and avenues of greater flourishing, it’s like we are picking and choosing from the whole being God created us to be.
In effect, we are saying to God, “I’ll do that and that, but there is NO WAY I am doing that! Or if you want me to do that, you are going to have to work a miracle with me, because I don’t even know where to begin” (even if ideas and possibilities do exist to start the process of change). In doing so, we are basically telling God that we refuse to utilize our capacity for His purposes, even though we have been given the capabilities and resources to at least make a reasonable, concerted effort to do so. Again, while all this is understandable, it’s almost as if we are preventing a fuller expression of the being (self) that He created.
Recently, I was having a conversation with a couple of church leaders after presenting on the topic of wholiness. We were talking about how, unfortunately, many people view the Christian faith as first and foremost one of doing, not of becoming. While the former is an important and necessary aspect of our Church and our faith in many ways, it is theologically well understood that the essence of our faith, the most important pursuit, is becoming who God calls us to be. Yet, often times, we assume that if we are doing the right things (e.g., going to Church, tithing, volunteering for functions), then we will be “taken care of.” In the process of this discussion, one of the leaders specifically characterized a few particular parishioners who repeatedly volunteered for church functions. While noble and conscientious in many ways, he noted that they have such an irritable, abrasive manner that it makes it very difficult to be around them. And yet based on previous discussions, this area of growth didn’t seem to be equated with religiosity in the same way that all the “doing” had been.
In the end, it’s really a question of what we want for this life, and what we don’t. It’s understandable that sometimes, as autonomous beings, our biological temperament, past experiences, and basic desires drive us towards a particular “way of operating” even if other reasonable options remain that could open up new horizons. Yet we should know that thousands of years of theological understanding and thousands of scientific studies support a simple idea. That is, the better we align with God’s design of who we are, the happier, healthier, and more harmonious people we will be. While pursuing positive growth isn’t as simple as just making a choice, it is reasonable to say that starting this process is as simple as orienting our will in a “can do” direction, not a “can’t (or won’t) do” mindset. When we open up our will to a possibility of change, we are opening ourselves to His will, too.