But do you really?
Before I decided to stay at home full time with the kids, people came to me for counseling sessions wanting change. Needing a better way of doing life. Some came through my door with a chip already on their shoulder about the whole experience. Ready for things to fail.
“I’ve tried counseling. It doesn’t work.”
“My counselor couldn’t fix it before, it’s not going to work now.”
I would inwardly cringe, but keep my mouth closed because it wasn’t yet time to challenge their thinking. And I didn’t know their story. They could have honestly had a terrible counselor, but I suspected it was something else that caused the experience to fail. There is a reason for the saying, “People never change.” Change is hard. Listening to wise counsel that goes against the way we are used to functioning is hard even when we know our way of doing things isn’t working.
We want better lives. We can look at other people who appear to have what we want. We might even know what we need to do to get there.
But, there is one common denominator in why change does not happen. I’ll give you a hint…it isn’t because “counseling doesn’t work.” (However it might be said that you are expecting counseling to do something it wasn’t intended to do)
If you haven’t seen the change you want in your life it is because you are not yet willing to give something up.
Wait…hold the excuses for just a moment. I know they roared to life with that statement. All those well rehearsed reasons why you are the way you are, why you seem to be stuck in a cycle of bad experiences. How do I know? Because I am human, too. I have my own list.
Our lists of reasons are like our childhood security blankets. We hold them close. We even enshrine them depending on how deep the pain goes. We can hide behind them, secure.
Wait….what? Secure….This messed up turmoil that my life has become? You are calling that my security blanket?
Yep. It is there to shield you from the terrifying moment of giving something up. You know what it is like to live the life you now have. It might be painful. It might be ugly. But, it is known. Letting go is like Peter stepping out of the boat to walk towards Jesus on the water, wondering what is going to happen when he steps out. It is leaving behind what seems solid, the boat (even though it is storm-tossed), to what looks uncertain but is in the direction of Christ. To have something we have never had, we must have the courage to do things we have never done.
I’m going to share a recent example from my own life. It is simple. Trivial. But that’s why it works here. Short, simple, and to the point. No deep-seated emotional turmoil of mine to wade through. You have your own.
Ever since my third child was born I’ve contemplated establishing an exercise routine.
I was a competitive gymnast for 10 years, so I was pretty used to being physically fit growing up. It came with the territory. My husband still brags to this day about the ridiculous number of push-ups I could do in a set back when he met me. His bragging has embarrassed me in recent years because nowadays I might be able to eek out…oh…say…5? 10 Maybe? That number used to be in the hundreds. My core muscles are gone. My posture not great.
I missed feeling as strong as I did then, but I also knew I wasn’t willing to give up the time, energy, and focus it took to be as strong as I was in high school. Still, even though I didn’t desire to be that physically fit…I could make…yikes…a change…
I had my list of reasons/excuses. No time. Too tired. I spend my energy chasing kids. I don’t feel like it. I’m not that bad out of shape. In the back of my mind I wanted to feel stronger physically, I just lacked the motivation. I KNEW I would feel better if I exercised. I just didn’t want to get started because I also knew how hard those first weeks would be. Painful, and no results to show for it.
To get the change I wanted, I had to give something up. For me it was giving up 30 minutes of curling up on the couch in an exhausted pile after the kids went to bed to write, read, or watch tv each night. Sounds dumb. Sounds easy. But guys, that first week I felt the sacrifice. I wanted to quit and give up on change. I hurt. I was more tired. I doubted I had what it took to stick with it, and that even if I did stick with it I wouldn’t see results.
I am pretty hardheaded when I set my mind on something, as anyone who knows me well at all can attest. So I pushed through. I made a plan to get through what barriers I knew I would face like upcoming travel that interrupted my routine.
After a couple of weeks, something (gasp) changed. My workouts went from feeling like sacrifice to feeling like freedom. I was getting stronger. My efforts stopped depleting my energy and started fueling me. It became a way to wind down after a long day. I felt sharper mentally. And my sleep felt more restful. I changed the way I thought about working out. I learned to embrace the process instead of worrying about results. Weird huh?
So what do you need to give up to get the change you want? Can you name it? Those deep things can be hard to identify. You might be able to name it right off, or it could be something nebulous and unclear at the moment.
Of all the things we must give up in order to change, I think emotional pain is the scariest one.
It feels like if we “give up” visiting and revisiting the ways we have been hurt by others that it will be forgotten. That our experience and our struggles will no longer be validated. I’m not saying you should pretend it never happened, but it might be time to stop using it as the reason for why you are stuck in the same old cycles in life. It’s weighing you down and keeping you from the life you desire. You can blame a person or circumstance all you want. I’m not even going to say that you aren’t justified in doing so. But what I can say with confidence is that holding on to it like a banner will not help the change process. Learn from your pain, yes. Define yourself by it, no.
For some it might be a relationship. Or doing what you need to do to ditch a habit or addiction. It might be giving up fear and taking a leap to pursue something God has called you to that you aren’t sure you are up for.
What might you be holding on to? Pride. Fear of rejection. Fear of loss. Fear of being alone. Of being misunderstood. Of failure. Of not being good enough. Maybe it isn’t fear at all, but a method of operating that we use to define ourselves. “I’m too________. That’s just the way I am.” Stop looking for the “why not” and start looking for the reasons why what you want is worth what you have to give up.
Initial soreness and fatigue will leave you not wanting to continue the journey. You’ll doubt the sacrifice is worth it, that change really will happen. (And those doubts will probably creep in at multiple points along the way as you grow to new places.)
The difference between the people who change and the ones who do not are the ones that are willing to do the work it takes to stick through the “it gets worse before it gets better” phase. Pretty soon shedding that dysfunctional security blanket will feel like life-giving freedom instead of sacrifice and pain.
Maybe you can’t identify that thing that is holding you back. Seek wise counsel, be it a pastor, mentor, or mental health counselor. A counselor is never going to be able to do the work of change for you. That’s on you. A good counselor, however, will serve as a guide, an encourager, and a listener to challenge the ways of thinking that aren’t working for you any longer. The question is, are you brave enough to stop making excuses, let go, and see what happens?
A big question: Can you change without God?
Well, sure you can.
I know what some of you are thinking. Don’t throw stones at me yet. You can change the way you think. You can change the way you behave and the choices you make. You can change how you spend your time. You can change the way you react. You don’t have to be a Christ follower to do that. But one thing you can not do without God is find healing for a broken soul–what so often lies beneath things we’ve spent our lives trying to change but find it impossible. Although, if you want to get technical God gave you the air in your lungs, and the willpower that drives you….so even when we think we do things without him, I don’t think that’s entirely possible. It definitely takes more energy and fruitless effort to try to change on your own because you are fighting against the help that is already waiting and available to you.
When seeking a changed, life immerse yourself in Christ and who he intends you to be.Those messages are throughout scripture. With him, you do not travel the uncertain road alone. You can borrow his strength. He gives wisdom. He brings people into your life to encourage you. He can provide the motivation you lack. And he can extend grace for the moments you falter and fail. Have the courage to ask God what really needs to change inside of you, and then hold steady and actually listen for an answer. What you think needs to change might not be it at all.
Please don’t misunderstand my ramblings. I do not judge you and the struggles you face. I certainly don’t make light of how difficult it is to change. It took me a year and a half to convince myself to exercise for 30 minutes every evening ;). A small change for a small issue. But, I do want you to know that lists of reasons and excuses will never help you get the change you want.
Name the goal. Define what you have to give up in order for that change to happen. Make an honest assessment to see if you are really ready to go after the life you want. The answer might be no, or not yet. You might need to make a smaller measurable goal. Make a plan. Have people to encourage you along the path and hold you to the words you say. Most of all, pray and be sure that the change you seek honors God and the person he created you to be.
I hope you guys have a great rest of the week. To those of you on a journey towards change, I salute you. Keep going.