‘But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.’ (Gal. 5:22, The Message)
My clients often ask how change happens. Perhaps you too have wondered how you can move away from unhealthy traits and move towards the ‘fruits of the spirit’ referred to in the above scripture passage. I believe that change is a process that occurs in three stages. Hopefully the following will help by giving you more understanding of what to expect.
First, you must acknowledge what negative traits that you want to let go of. Recognize what self-defeating, relationship-defeating, and choice-limiting strategies you have used to cope with fear and pain. Some of the more common habits you may want to say good-bye to are: rage, blame, false guilt, overspending, overeating, a judgmental and critical attitude, emotional or physical affairs, chemical dependencies, approval seeking, and playing the ‘victim.’ As strange as it may seem, the first stage in the change process is an ending of something familiar. The pain of letting go may trigger overwhelming feelings. It helps to know this is normal and although tempting, is not a time to give up. Instead of quitting, this is the time to press into God through prayer, His Word, and His people for comfort and encouragement.
The second stage of change typically brings with it a period of confusion. This is a disconcerting season where you have said good-bye to the old, but the new is not yet familiar. On the surface, things may appear worse instead of better as others are also unaccustomed to your new ways which may have disrupted the status quo. I imagine that it feels similar to what a trapeze artist experiences when she or he lets go of one bar and has not yet grabbed the next. You may wonder what in the world you are doing here! During this time you may be tempted to go back to old dependencies for comfort, but doing so will ultimately end in destruction. Remind yourself of God’s grace through changes you have already survived. Your hope during this stage is dependent on your being rooted in Christ. He is faithful and you can anticipate that after the ‘shaking’, you will be left standing on a firm foundation found only in Jesus.
The third stage is a time to say ‘hello’ to the new things in your life. You welcome the sense of relief, peace, and energy that are becoming a consistent part of your experience. You begin to enjoy the spiritual enrichment that the fruits of the Holy Spirit bring to your innermost being. Although you still need to be intentional to make your new habits a regular part of your life, as time passes they become a part of you. And as a result of newfound fulfillment and satisfaction, you are motivated to keep cultivating life-enhancing choices.
The three stages of change are similar to what I observed growing up on a farm in Nebraska. In preparing the field for crops, my father first spent long hours preparing the ground. During the good-bye stage you must ask our Heavenly Father to prepare the soil of your heart. Only when the soil is prepared can the seeds be planted. During the hot dry summer, the young plants required tender care and weeds that threatened new life had to be pulled. Similarly during the middle stage, new ways of being need encouragement to grow while the roots of ‘weeds of the heart’ are removed. And without fail, fall was a season of harvest.
My prayer for each of you is that God gives you the grace to say good-bye to those things that limit you; that the roots of your being grow deep into the soil of His love; and that in due time you will reap an abundant harvest produced from abiding in Him. May you rejoice in God Who is faithful to complete the good work that He began in you through Jesus Christ.
Are you ready for change in your life? We’d like to help. Join us at our next New Life Weekend.