Moving Forward: Making Peace with Change

Rev. Ed Goode, UCC Fort Thomas

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens…

  • Ecclesiastes 3:1

It was a sad day for me earlier this week.  I had to say goodbye to the Gillette Mach 3 Turbo razor that I’ve had for at least the last fifteen years (possibly closer to 20 years). I’m not 100% sure when I first purchased this razor but it has been a looooong time. It was time to let it go as there was so much gunk buildup over the years that the blade would no longer stay on when I was shaving.  I tried cleaning it but alas, it is time to take it to be recycled with other shaving supplies at the Cincinnati Recycling Hub.  And honestly, I’m a little bit sad about it.  I have prided myself on the fact that I have kept the same razor for well over a decade and that it has simply been me replacing blades along the way but keeping the same razor.  And here’s the thing – for the last few weeks, I’ve even tried to fudge things a bit – just keep jamming the blade back on after it falls off and thinking that I could still make it work.  That is, until I gave myself a pretty decent cut the other day.

Change is hard.  I picked up a new razor at Kroger the other day only to find out that they no longer made the Mach 3 Turbo and I had to get a different type that feels very weird when I use it.  I’m used to the weight and the solidness of the one I’ve had.  This one worked well, but it just didn’t feel the same.  I even hopped onto eBay to see if anyone was selling any Turbos.  (They were).  But would it really be worth it to go through the annoyance of ordering one on eBay?  After all, the new one worked just fine – I just need to get used to the change that was necessary.

As you can imagine, there’s a bit of a parable in this.  I’m reading Sarah Bessey’s new book Field Notes for the Wilderness: Practices for an Evolving Faith and this morning I read the third chapter, entitled, “Make Peace With This Truth: You Will Change” and the chapter begins in this way:

Dear Growing, There isn’t an easy way to say this to you, so I suppose I’ll simply say it. You won’t emerge from the wilderness unchanged. You are already changing and you will keep changing, and this is both a relief and terrifying at the same time, I know.1

Already changing…will keep changing…relief…terrifying – yup all of it.  I’m living that in a big way right now just in my own personal life.  Our children are all legally adults now, two are in college, the third is nearly there.  We’re looking at the reality of being “empty-nesters” in just a few months (side note – I don’t feel old enough to be an “empty-nester” – that’s for old people, not people like me) and there are other things that are changing in our lives.  Add to that all the changes going on around us in the world – the world we live in today is far from the same world that it was 5 years ago, 10 years ago, 25 years ago.  And, like me with that razor, I can try to cling to what was and hope I can just make it keep working or I can allow myself to enter into those changes.  Bessey put it well when she wrote, “Well, I’m fine with releasing this and that, but this particular thing? That I’ll hold on to until the bitter end.”2

One of the most beautiful things in the Book of Acts in the Bible is the ways that these early believers are faced with change after change.  Philip is forced to make a choice about whether to baptize the Ethiopian man on the road – is that ok to do?  (Acts 8:26ff).  Peter receives a vision about eating foods he’s never eaten and going into the home of a Roman Centurion named Cornelius (Acts 10).  And there are many other stories of similar moments as this new movement of God is at work.  This is one of the things that I love about the two denominations that I am a part of.  My Presbyterian ordination is rooted in the message of the reformers that the church is “once reformed, always reforming according to the Word of God and the call of the Spirit” and in my UCC congregation where I serve we affirm that “God is still speaking.”

Bessey shares a beautiful blessing mixed with honest truths about change about halfway through the chapter when she writes:

Father Richard Rohr writes, “Most of us were taught that God would love us if and when we change. In fact, God loves you so that you can change. What empowers change, what makes you desirous of change is the experience of love. It is that inherent experience of love that becomes the engine of change.” This has proven truest to me in the wilderness. You’re being changed and transformed, yes, but it’s because of God’s love for you and in you and with you. Your faith isn’t meant to be unmoved. Be moved.

Open your hands. Release your expectations. Don’t try to craft the narrative anymore. Don’t erect new guardrails for the swift course of the Spirit in your life. Your faith isn’t going to be a dusty antique, held behind glass, a monument to who you used to be. It’s dynamic and evolving, changing in fits and starts and mistakes and glory because faith is somehow so human.

I know you have an idea of how this ends: you don’t, not really.

I know you have a preference for how this journey unfolds: you will be surprised.

I know you have a long list of things that you can’t imagine questioning or changing or releasing: eventually you will.

I know you want some control precisely because you feel so out of control: now you’re learning the difference between agency and control.

I know you feel like the old version of you is dying: you’re being born again.3

I love each of these. I love the truth that we do not control what will happen but we have agency instead in how we respond. But I especially love how she ties change into the idea of being born again.  My early years of practicing my faith were deeply rooted in the idea that there was your “born again moment” – that one moment when you prayed a prayer and that was it.  But she gave words to a reality that I have felt that these last 34 years of following Jesus have had born again moment after born again moment.  I can fight the moments and hold to what was or I can receive them and live into them.

I had a dream a few years ago around the time when my wife and I were wrestling about whether to make a major change in my ministry setting. I was walking a gravel path out in a wide open space and I came to a point where the road kept going but there was a path that turned off in a new direction as well. I couldn’t see where the new road went but I could clearly see what was ahead if I stayed on the same path. There was a mountain lion standing a little ways down the path. That was the last part of the dream I remembered but it was one of the things that led us to make the decision to step into the change and the blessed unknown.

Finally, she ends the chapter with a blessing of sorts that speaks to deeply me.

You are being born again, my friend. The old versions of you will be left behind. Sometimes it’ll be on purpose, other times it’ll surprise you. But one of the kindest things I can do for you is to simply bless your transformation. God is faithful to you in this, too.4

I wrote a few months ago about “that was 14 Ed’s ago” of how many different shifts have taken place in my life. But even though I said “14″, the reality is that I cannot count the number of Ed’s there have been and how many born agains there have been.  But God is at work.  God is changing me and changing us.  This is a parable not only about us as individuals but about the church and so much else right now.  Some of the 20+ year old Gillette Mach 3 Turbo razors we have used over and over and grown so accustomed to are no longer working and it is time to move on to something that will feel new and will feel different and will tempt us to try to find the exact same replacement on eBay.  But stick with the change, embrace it, welcome it, be open to the still-speaking Spirit in it.

And as Sarah ended the chapter… “You can love who you are becoming…”

(as you can guess, I cannot recommend this book highly enough)