Every one – from the bouncing elementary school student to the confused and newly-divorced thirty-something to the 102-year-old in our town who still lives in her own home – has a concept or perception of themselves. It’s a complex mixture of the past we’ve already experienced, the present we’re in and the future that we will live. As we move across those times of our lives, we live our story.
We are obviously carry the same identity across the course of our own story. Everybody also knows that, over time, we change- physically, intellectually, emotionally, relationally, politically, socially, spiritually, and in our tastes and personality..
But how much? How much will you change?
A recent NY Times article “You Won’t Be the Person You Expect to Be” revealed new research asserting that across your whole life, you will change a lot more than you think you will. In a huge study of 19,000 people, from age 18-68, published in the journal Science, psychologists discovered that all people maintain what they call the “end of history illusion”. That is, we remember our pasts with a mixture of hazy nostalgia and bemusement. But it never seems to occur to us that in another decade or so, we will look back on our present selves with precisely the same feelings. Or as Daniel Gilbert of Harvard University wryly noted, “At every age we think we’re having the last laugh, and at every age, we’re wrong.”
Another way to say this is that we always tend to gild our past, blissfully thinking that we have “reached the peak of our personal evolution”, while greatly underestimating or downplaying the potential changes ahead for us. We seem more comfortable recalling what we used to be than “imagining how much we would change in the future.”
Why? Researchers present two possible explanations for this. First, we have a tendency to “overestimate our present wonderfulness” (if I’m doing OK, why do I need to change?}. Second, a lot of mental energy is required because imagining or “predicting the future requires more work than simply recalling the past.” (Dealing with today is hard enough, so why press into the future?)
Dr. Dan McAdams from Northwestern has a sobering summary: “The end-of-history effect may represent a failure in personal imagination”. Warm memories of our past, when coupled with satisfaction (or even unreflective toleration) over our present, dulls our imagination for the potential of our future.
Now this study was not done from a Christian perspective, but the truths here have application for our lives as disciples and for our churches. After all, Christians and churches are not exactly known to be comfortable with change.
What the psychologist calls a “failure in personal imagination”, we could easily call a lack of faith. It is limiting yourself to what you already hold and know.
Lack of faith imagination for an individual disciple results in being dully satisfied to slog through a “Christian” life with the same rhythms, activities, words, practices, struggles and involvements year upon year upon year. You like your faith the way it is, but can’t really be described as transformation, because
“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation, the old has gone, the new has come!….we all, with unveiled faces, beholding the glory of the Lord are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” (2 Cor. 5:17, 3:18)
Lack of faith imagination for a church family results in a warm fuzzy view of the past, a white-knuckle grip on the comfort of the way things are (or we wish they still were), and a reluctance to do the hard work of imagining the future. It’s fear on steroids. We’re terrified by, and terrified to, change. But, the Lord of the church pleads,
“See, I am doing a new thing. Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” (Is.43:19)
We may not like it or be uncomfortable with it, but as the study shows, change will happen. Change comes – more than we think, often deeper and broader in our experience than we expect. Change – social, technological, relational, the ways we think or learn or communicate, in virtually everything that shapes our lives – comes.
Yes, there are some truths that withstand the inevitable rush of change. The gospel, Jesus (Heb.13:8), and all that is in the Word of God. (Is.40:8) are among the few things that never change. Everything else we encounter in life is likely to change.
What do we do? We can either fight the change that comes or embrace it.
Fight the change that will come, and every day may become a succession of battles – dominated by fear, anger, and a creeping weariness of heart, soul, mind and body.
Embrace the change that will come (not as an act of compromise or surrender, but as an opportunity for exploration) – and every day may become an adventure, dominated by joy, optimism, and a growing sense of confidence in the sustaining proimises of Jesus.
You and I are going to change, along with the world that we’re in. Change will shape who we are and how we live out the faith and mission of Jesus.
So, if you’re a Jesus – follower, consider this:
To remain boldly faithful to your call
across the years of your life journey,
you simply must embrace the change you will become.
Do you embrace or resist change? What helps you process and deal with it?