Change can be pleasant, unpleasant or both. Think about your experience of life during this pandemic, for example. But the kind of change you don’t want to miss out on is Adaptive Change—and believe me, it is definitely worth the struggle involved, as unpleasant as it invariably will be. In fact, it’s the unpleasantness that helps make it so transformational. It is what I have learned to think of as “second level” change.
“First level” change is the stuff people do to accommodate the new situation without any reorientation to life. So for example, a person may change her/his diet to lose 30 pounds in response to a doctor’s concern for a serious health condition, but once the health situation abates somewhat, the person resumes eating in ways less mindful and slowly the symptoms return. Or in response to a spouse’s lack of responsibility, the other partner picks up the slack. These “first level” changes accommodate, but nothing of conversion or transformation have occurred.
“Second level” change occurs when people are willing to look at their “shadow” (the assumptions and beliefs about ourselves and the world we normally don’t notice or pay attention to). When we are able to reflect on a troubling situation and our relationship to it with a fresh curiosity and without judgment, new insights can be born and new places for growth can occur. People take responsibility for their lives in a different way altogether.
In the examples above, the first individual may hear the doctor’s concern as a “wake up call” and take a look at what good health really means to her/him. S/he doesn’t drop the 30 pounds right away, but s/he begins to address her or his orientation as a human being to their responsibility to themselves and the body they’ve been given for the present, regardless of whether they like it or not. The over-functioning spouse above may decide to “just say no” to picking up the slack as s/he becomes aware of what old messages are running in his or her head about “how good people always help others” or some such outdated identity in their shadow.
Adaptive Change in my own life occurred heavily during my mid-life transition, which began about my 38th year, but hit me full force at age 42 when I experienced a significant loss. It was in the fallowness of grief and depression that I found a ground within myself to stand upon. It was a long process, and I needed counseling to help me find my way through the confusion. Today I actually find that I walk differently than I once did. That’s how big a change it was.
As long as we do not incorporate lament and doubt and confusion and anger into our worship and conversation in authentic ways in church, we will not help people claim a deeper faith formation. The book Falling Upward by Fr. Richard Rohr is a gem when it comes to helping us to grow personally so that we can contribute to more mature communities of faith.
There is a reason people are leaving church for places and people who speak of spirituality in more experiential and honest ways. We have so mystified the language of faith in the church many times that it no longer speaks in real, helpful ways to people, and they are starving. Of course they will go. They need to feed their starved souls with something more than words of good cheer, positive thoughts, and happy love language. Children need these strong containers for their faith formation, ie. Jesus loves you, God can be trusted, The Golden Rule, Forgive and forget, etc., but we are so afraid these days (and so confused) about what we should say or not say to our youth about so many topics (since there is no longer the sacred canopy of common beliefs and such in our communities) that we end up saying virtually nothing.
Our culture of community must begin to coalesce about the commonly valued resource of our children in order to place such a high priority on their faith development that we are willing to commit to our own faith development and our investment in them. Our individualistic culture of “I raised my kids, I’ve done my time in church” will not work. Those who are the elders in the church need to look more deeply at their own souls, be willing to do their own Adaptive Change, and the forthcoming change in our communities will reflect this.
Enjoy the inherently pleasant and unpleansant work of Adaptive Change in your life today.
With Love and Light for the journey,