The Speed of Change

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If we really want prayer, we’ll have to give it time. We must slow down to a human tempo and we’ll begin to have time to listen. And as soon as we listen to what’s going on, things will begin to take shape by themselves.”

— Thomas Merton in Seeds edited by Robert Inchausti

Every spring, I pay close attention to the maple tree outside my window. I try to catch the day that it shifts from having buds to having leaves. But I can never seem to capture that moment of change.

The word “change” encompasses so much, and the process of change spans a broad continuum of speeds. At one end of this spectrum is the slow, hardly noticeable process of change. You look, and then look even closer again, but nothing seems to be happening. You have faith that a process is gently unfolding, but it takes a long time to see the result. This is my maple tree. It’s also my prayer practice. I know daily prayer is making me more peaceful and deepening my relationship with God, but day to day, I can’t see any difference in myself.

The other end of the change process continuum is the lightning-strike disruption that takes your breath away. Something happens – a diagnosis, an accident, a death – and your entire life instantly shifts. Life now falls into a “before” and an “after.”

As a planner, I dearly want to put some measure of control around every change process. But I don’t know if preparing for either type of change is possible. Both feel immensely vulnerable in different ways.

The slow unfolding change brings the vulnerability of waiting. Persevering even though nothing is visibly different. Trusting that all the energy you’re putting into change will eventually generate results.

In contrast, disruptive change plunges you into the vulnerability of being broken open. Suddenly the world is different. You wonder how everyone else can still be focused on the mundane, talking about nothing more significant than the weather and the price of gas. From your viewpoint, everything is now life and death, chaos and uncertainty. The life you had previously taken for granted now seems incredibly fragile. The superficial parts of life are stripped away and are replaced with a knife-edged clarity on the essence of life. And once seen, this is never forgotten, as much as we might wish it would be.

I think the only way we survive the challenges of both speeds of change (and everything in between) is by grounding ourselves in prayer and people. Hopefully, prayer gives us the strength to continue – whether to wait out the slow pace of change or to survive just one more day as the world underneath our feet shifts during disruptive change.

And people provide another type of strength by being God’s hands in the world. They can often see a change when you can’t detect it in yourself, and can provide valuable feedback and encouragement. They share their stories of persevering through slow change. And in times of disruptive change, the best of humanity often comes through. People bring food and send cards. They help with the business of surviving – keeping you fed, doing your shopping, calling to let you know you’re not alone.

It seems that all change is challenging, even the changes we work so hard to bring about. And as we age, the slow changes seem even slower, and the disruptive changes strike more frequently.

Although God doesn’t promise us life with no challenges, He does promise to be with us through it all. Instead of trying to control it ourselves, maybe we’re simply asked to take the time to listen, pay attention, and trust that we are not alone. And although that’s not easy, it can often be enough to sustain us.

A Closing PrayerA Blessing For Courage During Change

Blessed are you, caught in the process of change. You who persevere during what feels like endless waiting for things to shift; to see results from days, weeks, or months of continually putting in the work to make things better. And blessed are you who are just trying to stay upright and breathing as your life is unexpectedly disrupted by a change you could have never seen coming. Blessed are we who can let go of our burdens, for just a moment at a time, and find rest and peace in the presence of God, who is always with us. Amen.

13 comments

  1. As I read your words, I found myself mentally repeating, “I will live with confidence in faith and not in fear.” I”m not sure if that’s Scripture or words I learned from a prior blog post, but it’s what struck me. Easy words to recite but not so easy to live. You really captured the essence of change, Tacky, and how important it is to have support of some kind, any kind, to help along the journey. I’m blessed to have you at my side for the ride(s). Your words continue to provide comfort and meaning.

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    1. I don’t think I can take credit for the “I will live with confidence in faith and not in fear” but it sure is a good mantra! And you’ve been one of the people who are God’s hands in the world for me when I’ve most needed it.

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  2. Wow amazing clarity about change. Living through both types of change myself, reading your spiritual perspectives on change reminded me that God is always with me whether I realize it or not. Thanks! Have a great day! Deb

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  3. Cathy my son just read your post I’m change. It gave him the chills. Shows that your words are deep truth. He said “that’s a professional’! Deb and Adam

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    1. Wow – I’m thrilled that Adam both read the post and that it touched him. It seems like everyone struggles with change and although the specifics are different for all of us, vulnerability and fear are a constant.

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  4. One huge ‘Amen’ to your sharing this week! Thanks so much! Re ‘Although God doesn’t promise us life with no challenges, He does promise to be with us through it all’ – I once questioned Fr Bill Barry about that, and he replied “Yes, God has promised to be with us always, the question for us is, ‘Is that enough?'” Lots to ponder and pray about…

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    1. Often when I’m in the middle of scary change, it doesn’t feel like God being with me is enough. I just want the scary stuff to go away! But, of course, I do manage to get through the change to the other side, and then I can see clearly how much God’s presence did indeed help. Thanks for sharing that question from Fr. Barry – it’s giving me more to think about.

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  5. As always, spot on. My daughter starts high school in the fall, just completed 2 weeks in the woods, and will do another week of french immersion next month. It feels like overnight she’s become more independent, what feels like more distant. It would be a lie to say I wasn’t struggling with this change, even though I could not be more proud or happy for her. It just seemed to happen suddenly, though clearly it was building all along

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    1. Shauna, that does sound like a big change. Although it’s inevitable for her to be growing up and becoming more independent, I see how it can feel like you’re suddenly losing your relationship with your daughter. But I know you are a great mom and have built a solid, enduring relationship with her since she was born. The relationship is going to change, but the core of the bond you’ve built will be forever. You can look forward to the joy of building an adult relationship with your daughter that will be different but still meaningful.

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  6. I love this post and especially, “The slow unfolding change brings the vulnerability of waiting. Persevering even though nothing is visibly different. Trusting that all the energy you’re putting into change will eventually generate results.” Thank you for your insights and beautiful way with words.

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