17 February 2021

Living through change – a few thoughts

One thing I have learned throughout my life is that I am, and I believe we all are, creatures of habit who consciously and unconsciously seek to establish and maintain relationships and routines in our lives that give us a sense of meaning and well-being, of connection. We tend to like things to be “on an even keel” and for nothing, or as little as possible, to “rock the boat” of our lives and unsettle us. We somewhat instinctively want to enjoy “fair weather” and for things to remain on track. However, there is the dynamic of change with its potential to disrupt and alter the course our lives – change is part of life and not always welcome.

Many of us make meaningful changes to our lives be it with regards to marriage/partnership, family and friends and work and career; these are all changes we make out of choice and we “set our sails” with a considerable degree of certainty and no small measure of adventure. These changes and choices have meaning and value that is very personal. However, I have come to realise and accept that some changes in life are “changes beyond us”, change that may be unexpected and often beyond our ability to control. Such change can at times be a wonderful surprise, when a long-lost friend turns up unexpectedly or you hear you’re going to be a grandparent, but it can also be traumatic, the loss of a loved one, a serious change in health or relationship or redundancy. Change like this can bring a sense of loss and overtake our understanding of our world and our sense of meaning and value and we can find ourselves grieving and struggling as we live with uncertainty and a sense of disconnection. The COVID 19 pandemic is one such change and is a significant global upheaval affecting our lives and our well-being on a scale that and in ways that we are not used to, especially in the developed West.

We try to come to terms with the unsettling loss and uncertainty we experience in different ways. We can live in denial as if it’s not real. We can avoid facing change and drown our sorrows or live in the past with the complications that can bring, or we can discover new ways of coping, of accepting and of living with and beyond the changes we are facing with renewed meaning. There are a number of key phrases and words that come to mind such as: trust/faith, hope, love, acceptance, “learning to live with”, “being present” and “choosing not losing”; all are qualities and activities of making and maintaining meaningful relationships and connection with each other and our world in all the changing circumstances in life.

Journeying through change is challenging, especially when the frustration and pain of the loss and change cause us to look back to “better times” – it’s not easy to step forwards while looking backwards. In my own life and journey, and journeying with others, I have come to see and value the importance of being real with myself and significant others, be that God, my partner, my best friend or my confidant or counsellor and not pulling the wool over my eyes. This has enabled me to be more self-aware in the context of my life and become more present to discover and rediscover, and be meaningfully and mostly pleasantly surprised, by who I am (my unique identity) and what is important to me (my values, relationships and direction in life). I have discovered that my faith and relationships have changed and deepened in the struggles of life, with an increased resilience and a faith and hope beyond the immediate but at the same time touching and colouring the present I am facing.

Unexpected and traumatic change does not necessarily have to become a defining factor in our lives in the long-term, even if for a considerable time, it overtakes us. In my roles as a counsellor I have repeatedly been humbled and inspired by people who have been through the most traumatic change and awful tragedies and emerge very much alive and in life. Having taken, what seemed an impossible “rollercoaster” journey through their grief and loss they have come to the point where they would say “I know who I am now!” and “I didn’t know I could grow so much through this!” Facing any change that we seemingly have no control over can be the opportunity for new understandings and beginnings, and growth outside our “comfort zone”. It gives us the opportunity to not only discover or rediscover our identity and values but also to grow in confidence to be who we need and want to be as we step out into each new day. Stepping forward in difficult times of change can be like the overwhelming fear that comes before sharing and doing what you haven’t had the courage to say and do before, “I dare not, I cannot” and the resulting relief and often elation at the end of all the uncertainty because you stepped out in faith, in hope and in love – I did it! I got through it! It wasn’t the end of me! All is not loss! Working through change can be the opportunity to move forwards with renewed courage and. As many say “onwards and upwards”, and as CS Lewis says in the final book of the Narnia Chronicles, “The Last Battle”, as the children and others take the journey of faith – “further on and further in”.

With regards to “Living Through Change” the emphasis has to be on the word “living” and not on the word “change”. The Prayer of Serenity says so much about the direction to take on our journey to wholeness in life and relationships in the middle of lifes’ uncertainties:

God, grant me the Serenity

To accept the things I cannot change…

Courage to change the things I can,

And wisdom to know the difference.

We don’t have to journey through life alone.

Tim Wade

Chaplin