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 Prayer – A 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.