From early childhood we learn to look forward to life’s landmarks, transitions, and changes. With each birthday we celebrate growth and maturity. We excitedly advance into new eras of life which gleam bright with rewards and freedoms: we are old enough to stay up later, to wear high heels, to drive a car! It’s all good until we hit the late teen and adult years. Some of life’s changes may not be so welcome now. Birthdays tend to become just a date on the calendar. Physical changes may now include extra inches on our waistlines instead of to our height. We’ve traded late-night parties for earlyto-bed routines in order to maintain energy for busy careers and demanding family obligations.
There’s no denying that change is a part of life. It’s endless and constant. Change is sometimes welcome: a promotion at work, a new baby in the family, or a new outfit that really works. Change may also be something we just have to accept. Yes, we may protest over hair loss, fuss about creeping extra pounds, and resist with much whining those menopausal symptoms, but that’s nothing compared to the effects on us when a catastrophic, sudden, and life-changing event occurs. A death in the family, a distressing medical diagnosis, the loss of a job or financial security, an injurious accident, divorce—any of these events can stop us in our tracks.
People are pattern-makers. In general, we are more comfortable with routine than with change. Do you usually sit in the same pew—and in the same place on that pew—every Sabbath? How does it affect you when you enter the sanctuary on Sabbath morning and find someone else sitting in “your” spot? Do you feel confused? A little disoriented? Maybe a bit indignant? Once a pattern is established, our left-brains are quite content to keep marching along that path. We like predictability.
Scientific, technological, cultural, and social changes are taking place at such breathtaking speed that no one can really keep up with it all. Yesterday’s revolutionary new product becomes commonplace today and will be outdated tomorrow. People constantly need to revise their skills to adapt to changing circumstances. Governments, organizations, and businesses are affected by the fast-paced times in which we live. For better or for worse, the effects trickle down to families and ultimately to individuals you and me.
The changes we are experiencing today are significantly more than the changes our forefathers had to embrace. And yet the reality is that the pace of change today is probably the slowest rate of change we will ever experience!
Without change we might eliminate some of life’s unpleasantness; however, there would be no improvement and no advancement—no beautiful butterfly emerging from a plain, dry chrysalis. There would be no refrigerators. Babies wouldn’t learn to walk and talk. There would be no graduations, no weddings, no new homes, no new jobs, no clean socks, no antibiotics, no airplanes, no new books to read, no conversions, no baptisms, etc., etc.
Virtually nothing stays the same, and all change comes with positive and negative aspects. Even perceived “good” change can create stress and require adjustment. Although that beautiful butterfly can fly freely about, now it must search for food and avoid danger. The new baby, while becoming more mobile, will fall many times. A new job may be welcomed but could require moving to a new location (maybe even to a foreign country), learning new skills, adjusting to a new boss and different co-workers. Any significant change comes with many smaller, related components of change, some that are easy and others that are challenging. The overall experience can create stress, sometimes to the point of physical illness and depression.
So if we can’t avoid change or even dictate the rate and type of changes that will come to us, what can we do? The answer lies in our attitude and in our ability to handle or react to change. Possible initial progressive stages resulting from significant change include shock or denial. These natural responses to unexpected events may be difficult to manage. The best way to progress through these stages, once acknowledged, is to feel the emotion these changes may have caused. Emotions can be painful to experience, but the only way to tackle such discomfort in a healthy manner is to let emotions run their course. Generally we can’t change something we don’t like; the only other option is for us to change our attitude toward it. Just as change itself is a process, so is the movement toward accepting it.
Here are a few suggestions that may be helpful:
Remember that you’re not alone. As Christians, we have access to amazing resources and support. First is our God, who has provided many promises of comfort, guidance, and peace to help us through life’s rough spots. Consider these examples:
- “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Ps. 46:1, KJV).
- “Though I walk in the midst of trouble, thou wilt revive me” (Ps. 138:7, KJV).
- “The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; and he knoweth them that trust in him” (Nahum 1:7, KJV).
- “Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and he shall sustain thee; he shall never suffer the righteous to be moved” (Ps. 55:22).
Along with these and many other Bible promises, support can also be found in our church family, in close friends and relatives, and in counseling services.
Seek out the benefits of the changes you are experiencing. If appropriate, think about how you can use these changes to simplify or enhance your life or work. Resist fighting the changes and look for ways to make them work for you. View each situation as an opportunity for growth.
Think things through. Give yourself time. Recognize that adapting to and accepting change doesn’t happen all at once. You will need to mentally process all the implications of the change and understand how it will affect you. Make choices thoughtfully. Connect with others. There is nothing like the comfort and counsel of people who have firsthand experience with what you are going through.
Stay positive. It is easy to find fault with changes or to condemn them, especially if these changes are imposed upon you or are beyond your control. The more positive you are, the more quickly you will be able to embrace these changes. Channeling your energy in a positive direction gives you not only a greater sense of empowerment in handling the situation but also greater control over the final outcome of the change.
Take care of yourself. Change often causes mental stress. Stress depletes energy and emotional reserves and can cause health problems—or make health problems worse. Some symptoms of stress may include:
- Back pain
- Constipation or diarrhea
- High blood pressure
- Trouble sleeping or insomnia
- Problems with relationships
- Shortness of breath
- Upset stomach
- Weight gain or loss
What can you do to manage stress? The first step is to learn to recognize when you are feeling stressed. Early warning signs of stress include tension in your shoulders and neck or clenching your hands into fists. The next step is to choose a way to deal with stress, and this involves changing how we deal with it. Some ideas include:
- Not worrying about things you can’t control, such as the weather.
- Solving little problems. This can help you gain a feeling of control.
- Preparing to the best of your ability for events you know may be stressful.
- Trying to look at change as a positive challenge, not as a threat.
- Working to resolve conflicts with other people.
- Talking with a trusted friend, family member, or counselor.
- Setting realistic goals at home and at work. Avoid over-scheduling.
- Exercising on a regular basis, which is a healthy way to relieve pent-up energy and tension. Exercise is also known to release feel-good brain chemicals while helping you get in better shape—which will also help you feel good.
- Keeping up with your prayer life and personal devotions—guaranteed sources of strength and encouragement.
- Participating in something you don’t find stressful, such as social events, hobbies, or sports.
As you explore and develop ways to accept the changes that come into your life, it is important to view change as a new adventure rather than an upset. Much good can come about as a result of change new growth, new perspectives, new horizons. Adjusting to and coping with change can have its challenges; however, with a positive attitude and some useful coping skills, change can become less problematic. Above all, remember that God dearly loves His children and has promised to be an abiding presence through all of life’s experiences.
“Think you not that Christ values those who live wholly for Him? Think you not that He visits those who, like the beloved John in exile, are for His sake in hard and trying places? God will not suffer one of His truehearted workers to be left alone, to struggle against great odds and be overcome. He preserves as a precious jewel everyone whose life is hid with Christ in Him. Of every such one He says: ‘I . . . will make thee as a signet; for I have chosen thee’” (Haggai 2:23; Help in Daily Living, Ellen G. White, 30).
Ellen G. White, Help in Daily Living
The Holy Bible, New King James Version
The Bible Promise Book, Barbour Co., Inc., 1985