A businessman friend of mine was in a restaurant in a large city to meet a prospective employee. As he waited his arrival, a family passed by on their way to be seated. He hardly noticed them, until the husband – a total stranger – turned around. He looked my friend in the eye and said, “You are going to have a spectacular year.”
My friend was speechless. The only thing he could think to say was “Thank you.” The enigmatic prophet then added, “The Lord wanted me to tell you that,” and continued on into the dining area. When my friend got to his table, he looked for the man, but couldn’t find him.
One wonders how most people would feel if some prophet told them what was going to happen in their lives during the coming year. Would they rather hear that everything in life was about to change or that everything was going to stay about the same?
Unless things are going badly, most of us would probably prefer the status quo over the experience of significant change. We have learned – sometimes the hard way – how to act and think in our present situation, and correctly perceive that a change, for good or ill, will require us to change with it. And, frankly, that is not something we’re sure we want.
This reluctance is understandable and normal. Even the political progressive likes to have his dinner at the same time each night, takes her coffee the same way year after year, and reads the paper each evening in his or her favorite chair. People have spent a lifetime digging the rut they are in and feel they have earned the right to enjoy it.
We may want to decorate our rut, make it more comfortable and secure, but please don’t force us out of it. We want to feel differently – happier and more peaceful, less angry and greedy – but we want that to happen without having to change our routine.
People often resolve to change things about themselves at the beginning of the New Year. They want to weigh less, but they don’t want to change their eating habits. They want to become more spiritual, but they don’t want to get up early to pray or meditate on Scripture. They want to resolve conflicts, but they do not want to go to a counselor or sit down with their adversary. So nothing changes. The disinclination to encounter new (and potentially uncomfortable) experiences prevents us from making positive, life-enhancing changes.
Over the years I have asked hundreds of people about the conditions in which they have experienced the most spiritual growth. Nearly all have reported that they have grown most in times of hardship and conflict. Having heard that same report again and again, I came to believe that difficulty was essential to spiritual growth. Now I’m not so sure.
Perhaps the necessary condition for spiritual growth is not hardship, but change. The status quo is the enemy of progress. We won’t grow spiritually until we get out of our rut.
Hardship – illness, conflict, bereavement, unemployment, etc. – change the situation in which we operate and, in so doing, create space for personal and spiritual growth. But space for personal and spiritual growth can be created in other (more exciting and less painful) ways as well: by acts of generosity, changes in routine, new friendships and exploits of faith.
I’ve often seen people experience rich personal growth when they first begin going to church. I’d like to attribute this to the preaching, but I don’t think that is the case. Rather, their change of routine – prompted by faith – has created room for spiritual growth. New activities result in a “disequilibrium,” as Mark Scandrette puts it, “that can create space for change.”
Perhaps our number one New Year’s resolution should be: “Create space for change.” We can do that by volunteering time to help the homeless or feed the hungry, by taking a class or attending church – there must be a million ways. But one thing is for sure: we’ll find little space for change – and little room for growth – until we do something to climb out of our rut.
First published in the Coldwater Daily Reporter, 12/28/13