A few years ago, I came across an article in the Psychology Today magazine. The article described what the author called “HOT” WORDS.” Whenever we hear a hot word our blood pressure rises, our hearts beat faster, and our body temperature climbs. Psychologists found that the one word that had the biggest effect on people is the word “CHANGE.” No matter if it refers to a physical change like moving from one place to another, a mental change like trying to remember our doctor’s directions, or a spiritual change like trying to accept a loss, people react adversely to the word “CHANGE.”
As human beings, we dislike change so much that when we talk about change we avoid using the word. In the business world, corporations don’t change they reorganize. In the building profession, people don’t change a house they do a make-over. In the automobile industry, engineers don’t change cars; they make innovations, modify, or adapt cars. In the world of religion, we don’t change we undergo a conversion. We hate the word “CHANGE.”
It is important to recognize that with every change there is a transition. Change is the external, the physical situation. Change is what we do when we move from one city to another or from one job to a new job. Transition, on the other hand, is the internal process that we must go through to adapt to the change and the new situation it presents. Until we successfully transition from the old way to the new way the change doesn’t take place.
Knowing the difficulty that people have when it comes to change and transition in today’s gospel Jesus directs a parable to the chief priests and elders who are having a difficult time changing their minds about John the Baptist. They see John as a nuisance, a problem. Even though John’s words of repentance had changed the minds, the hearts, and consequently the behaviors of tax collectors and prostitutes, the chief priests and the elders were not going to change. They were satisfied with who they were and what they did.
The chief priests and elders saw the need for change in everybody else but not in themselves. Drawing from the law, they were quick to demand others to change. But their marching orders often failed. So they responded to the resistance by increasing their efforts. The power struggle between the chief priests, the elders, the people, and Jesus did not bring about a change. It brought about anger, opposition, and eventually the death of innocent people including Jesus. One of the most important insights about the need to bring about deep change in others has to do with realizing that deep change must start in us.
The spiritual writer, Henri Nouwen believes that change is a transition from disorientation to a new-orientation. This transition may be experienced within the sudden surprise of a new and unexpected experience or as a slow enduring process of pain and anxiety. This means that we don’t have to stay awake at night and wonder about what needs to be changed in our lives. We already know when changes need to take place in our lives because of the uneasiness and pain that are caused by changes. We know when changes are taking place when we take the uneasiness and pain and contemplate the personal and perhaps communal transitions that must be made to accommodate and live with the changes.
Like the hatching of a chick, the blossoming of a flower, and the development of a frog, changes require time and effort. Our spiritual growth requires leaving behind the old and being open to the new. Change happens to all of us. I believe that God lets us know what needs to be changed. I believe God gives us the support of others to change no matter how slow or how fast it is done. God never says you must change. God encourages us to change so that our lives will flourish. So that we will reach are full potential. I believe that God’s encouragement generally comes by way of other people. Perhaps a modern parable tells us how.
There was once a small boy who banged a drum all day and loved every moment of it. He would not be quiet, no matter what anyone else said or did. Various people, who called themselves teachers and other well-wishers, were called in by neighbors and asked to do something about the child. The first so-called teacher told the boy that he would, if he continued to make so much noise, perforate his eardrums. This reasoning was too advanced for the child to understand. The second teacher told him that drum beating was a sacred activity and should be carried out only on special occasions. The third teacher offered the neighbors ear plugs. The fourth teacher gave the boy a book. The fifth gave books to the neighbors describing a method of controlling anger through biofeedback. The sixth gave the boy meditation exercises to make him calm. Like most placebos, each of these remedies worked for a short while, but none worked for very long. Eventually, a real understanding teacher came along. She looked at the situation, handed the boy a hammer and a chisel, and said, “I wonder what is inside the drum?”
Fr. Bob Kelly