So often in life we are faced with situations that we feel like we don’t have the ability to change. This has happened to me several times this past month. I had an unexpected health challenge. I took on extra duties at work. I found out that something that I had planned on, hoped for, is not as doable as I thought. None of these situations are completely impossible - things rarely are - it takes grace to find our way towards the positive change that we desire.
Recently God has been teaching me about contentment. What does contentment really look like, I ask, when I have this unsettled feeling about an area of my life and I think God wants me to make a change but the change, challenges and risks that it would take to get there just seems so daunting?
I have been learning that God is not in a hurry. God-initiated change often happens very, very slowly. I'm learning how to communicate with God in a way that looks like this, "God, if you want this change to happen, then You need to help me, heal me, and grow me to the point where I'm ready to take the next step." This is completely counter-intuitive to the way I have previously understood how things work for a Christian. I always thought that if God led me to do something different then I had to do it right then, whether I actually wanted to do it or not.
Over the past several years I have been learning ancient monastic spiritual formation concepts that have led me down a different path of understanding - one that puts the onus of responsibility for getting me to where God wants me to go onto God's shoulders instead of on my own. I'm learning how to communicate and partner with God towards change through several basic concepts.
1) Unexpected and unwelcome change is often an indication that there is an internal work that God wants to do inside me through my current situation. This is often the first stage in the change process. Change happens from the inside out. If I can lean into the internal change process, then I am better prepared for a different way of being and doing once the change occurs externally. This is often the reason we experience roadblocks to the change we desire, because God has a more important internal work that needs to happen before we can move forward into the change we hope for and welcome with open arms.
2) Many of the desires for change that bubble up from inside of me (often first noticed in the form of discontentment) are God-given desires. God wants me to be whole. If the change I feel drawn towards is a movement towards greater wholeness in a particular aspect of my life, then that is likely to be a change that God wants for me as well. This question of wholeness helps me to discern which of my desires for change are from God and which ones are potentially a result of external pressure from society or other people.
3) God wants to help me, to give me what I need to move towards the change that I sense God inviting me into. In short, God wants me to ask specifically for divine intervention in the areas where I feel weak and inadequate. To better understand this step of the process, I often ask myself the following questions that help me navigate my way forward.
What do I need from God to be okay with the situation as it is today?
How can I reframe my mindset from negative to positive in my current situation?
Who has God put in my life that can help me in this current stage and/or encourage me as I move towards the desired change?
What do I need from God to be okay when the change does takes place?
So, back to contentment. What does contentment look like in the midst of all this? It looks like trust. It looks like patience. It looks like grace. I am learning to trust in the change process and to trust God to lead me through it. I am learning to be patient, to savor the companionship of God in each stage in the process. I am learning to live in grace, to allow God to extend grace to me and to give myself permission to show grace to myself in this very, very slow process that we call change.