May 11, 2015

Dealing with Change

John C. Maxwell once said, “Change is inevitable. Growth is optional.” I like this statement because it reminds me that change is a process, and that we do have a choice in how we approach it. We can fear change or embrace change. We can choose to learn from the experience or we can deny opportunities for growth. How we view change in our lives will determine if we are willing to grow through the process that moves us from point A to point B and beyond. I have blogged about my "transition phase," about how I feel like I am stuck in this wilderness, not seeing great movement forward, but only little steps here and there. I have found the process of change in my life to be terrifying and at times frightening. At other times, I have tried to embrace the change, hoping that my attitude and my willingness to experience the outcome will have a positive impact on my life. It seems, however, that regardless of my approach to change, I am still stuck in this "in between" place.

I asked the Lord about this last night, how when I close my eyes while praying often I imagine this desert place, sort of a isolated and lonely place. I see stretches of white sand, the dark brown of the mountains, and the piercing blue of the sky. Then I see the Lord as He calls me to keep on moving. I see a blur of a motion, really, but I sense it is His presence and He is calling me to keep on walking, to keep on following after Him. I don't know why I imagine this place, but it comes back to me over and over again. It is like my "quiet place," where sometimes I imagine sitting next to the Lord while we both look out at the ocean. I know people might think that is weird or wrong, but I have always been imaginative, and perhaps this is just something that happens to me. I don't know...

So I see this wilderness place, always this same place. I asked the Lord why this is so, why I see this or why I feel like I am stuck in this place. The Lord says to me it is because I am in transition. I ask, rather naively, when will I be out of "transition" because I am getting pretty tired of this place. He answers "when you are with me permanently." Hmmm...

I started to think about these words as I drifted off to sleep last night, how I consider this transition place to be a negative place, a place of trial, rather than a temporal destination. I consider Paul words to the Philippians in chapter 1, where he said how he longed to be home with Christ, but chose instead to remain for the sake of his brothers and sisters and to fulfill the calling of God on his life.

In Philippians 1:24-26 he says,

But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith, so that your proud confidence in me may abound in Christ Jesus through my coming to you again.

Last evening I realized that living in transition is a normal part of the Christian experience. It is our "lot in life" to be of the world, but not in it. Often we think that we are just passing through this life, that we are on a journey toward eternity, and that the view from the sidelines is just passing by us. It is like those long car trips I endured as a child, especially the ones through the heartland where all you saw out the window was corn and hay fields. Mile after mile of exactly the same thing, with no change in sight but for the occasional farm house or side road.

Yet, when I think about my life, I realize that living in transition is part-and-parcel with my calling in Christ Jesus. How I choose to live my life, live in that realization, can have a direct impact upon my satisfaction and contentment. For example, I have been praying for the Lord to move me, to move me to another state so that I could "begin" the life He has in mind for me. By "life," I mean the life I feel He has in mind in order to settle me, to give me a job where I can teach full-time. I don't see that happening here in Phoenix, and I have felt the call to move to the SE USA. Yet, nothing has materialized to help me do that yet. I assumed it was because of five things:
  1. I need more teaching experience (minimum 3-5 years)
  2. I need to finish my PhD (or be ABD at the least)
  3. My son needs to finish his schooling and graduate with his BA/BS degree
  4. My parents needs must be met in long-term care arrangement
  5. I lack the financial resources at this time to go anywhere
So I have felt that I was stuck in this place, in Phoenix, until the Lord moved me physically to another state. However, when I consider the words of the Lord that came to me just as I was drifting off to sleep, I realize that no matter where I live, whether in Phoenix or Alabama, I will still be "stuck" in this place. I am in transition until I go home to be with the Lord. I will never feel satisfied, content, and happy because my heart longs to be one place only, and that place is with the Lord in eternity. I have never really grasped this truth. I have accepted it, of course, but I have never really put words to the feelings of why I am so unsettled, so not at peace (deep down inside). I have temporal peace, and I have temporal contentment. Yes, I have spiritual peace too, but the peace I long for, the peace I want every moment of every day is the peace that only will be mine in heaven. There is no other peace that will satisfy the longing of my heart, and it is the peace that comes from living in the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ, our Prince of Peace.

As I think about my life in these terms, I realize that I live in transition because it is a fact of the Christian experience. We begin this transition the moment we accept Christ as our Savior. We are transformed into His likeness, and through the process of sanctification, we are becoming more and more like Him. This process produces good fruit in our lives, but it also produces a deep longing to be with the Lord permanently. This is how I feel, this is why I am so dissatisfied with my life right now. What I want, I cannot have, so I must wait. Until the Lord returns for me or He calls me home, I wait to enter into His permanent presence. I experience temporal joy whenever I rest in His presence through the power and indwelling of the Holy Spirit, but it is not the same thing because I don't want to leave Him. I want to remain with Him always, to sit at His feet, to worship Him, and to remain in His presence where I am safe, secure, and satisfied. Yes, this is the true longing of my heart.

It is difficult at times to understand this journey, why I experience certain things, and why I don't always understand what is happening to me. I want to make sense of it all, to put it into perspective, but so often, the words and concepts fail me. I just don't get it. I don't get what the Lord is doing in my life, and why I am where I am on the path. Sometimes I panic, and I think I am on the wrong path. Then other times, I feel confident that I am right where I belong. I wish I had it all figured out, and I wish I could relax more. I know I generate a lot of stress for myself by not resting enough. The Lord calls me to rest, He reminds me to rest, and He assures me that rest is what I need. Yet, I struggle, I strive, and I contend with Him over what will be today, over what will be tomorrow. 

Oh Lord, how is it that you put up with me?

Today, I know nothing more than this...that I am where I am because it is His will for me to be here in this place. I may not like it, like the comfort or the fit, but the Lord has determined that for now, this is where He wants me to stay. I may long to move to another state, to go someplace different, but for now, I remain where I am. I look forward to the future, hopeful that whatever the plans the Lord has for me, they will be good. I know that the Lord has a good plan in mind for me, and I know that His will is coming to pass. I guess I am starting to grasp His bigger plan for my life, how it is not about the minutia of details, but rather how it is about His overarching plan -- for salvation, for sanctification, and for future glorification. I see the details, of course, but I am starting to see that what I do in this life is immaterial in so many ways. My life, the details of my life, are immaterial. Yes, there is good work, lots of work to be done -- for Christ and His Kingdom -- but the way I do this work, the place I do this work, and the skills required to do this work, well they are 'neither here nor there.' I am seeing that the Lord can use me just as I am, and He can move me, make me, change me, to suit His needs because of my willingness to allow Him to do so. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me because it is CHRIST who strengthens me. It is not up to me to get strong, to be approved, to become SOMETHING. No, the Lord does it all, in me and through me, and as a result, His will is accomplished. I don't have to do anything but to rest and relax and allow Him free reign to complete His work in and through my life.

Therefore, I embrace the desert space, this wilderness where I walk alone, following after the Lord. I embrace the change that comes as I take little steps forward, knowing that in time, I will arrive at my final destination. Until then, I rest in the knowledge that today I am good. Today, my needs are met with sufficiency, and today I am right where He wants me to be. 

He is good, so very good. All the time, He is good! Amen, selah!

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