Opening space for change – 10 ideas for when change is thrust upon us
How do you go dealing with change and which changes do you find the hardest to deal with? For me, the pandemic restrictions highlighted that some of the most difficult changes are those that are forced on us and that block our sense of freedom. These unwelcomed Covid-related changes created difficult and ambiguous emotions for us to deal with. We might have felt anger one moment seeing someone flaunting the rules with decadent illegal travel, or guilt in the next when restrictions were relaxed for us but not those in another part of Australia. But the changes also provided an opportunity to reimagine a lifestyle more locally-based, communally engaged and compassionate towards those particularly impacted by isolation.
Unchosen change is difficult because it feels like we have no control over what’s going on, but letting go of the old and co-creating the new can bring empowerment and unexpected opportunity. Adopting some intentional strategies opens space for the internal emotional transition that changes call us to and allows greater acceptance of those aspects of change that we can’t control.
Here are ten ideas to open space for change in your life.
- Do some weeding or pruning
Pull some weeds out in your garden, if you have one, or in a neighbour’s property or park. For example, the above image shows The Rev’d Lee Gauld of Stafford Parish pulling out some weeds in her garden on 21 June 2022. Starting with some sort of action gives yourself a message that you’re actively participating with the changes in your life. As alluded to by Jesus in the New Testament, weeds stunt growth in surrounding plants by using up their vital supplies of water and nutrients, so removing them leaves space for something new to grow. Ponder what ‘weeds’ could be removed to benefit your own life. Alternatively, if the scriptural metaphor of pruning is more your thing, trim some shrubs with clippers and reflect on what spaces in your life would benefit by being ‘opened up’ with a prune.
- Name your fears and other difficult emotions
Acknowledged emotional discomfort can become a strong motivator for change. We can tend to focus on the visible aspects of change external to us, but it is the internal, emotional transitions of change that often hold us back. For example, naming your fears of the unknown, or even in some cases of the situation staying the same, can be a way of enhancing your motivation to make changes.
- Foster ongoing stability to help you flex
Unwelcomed, rapid or large quantities of change can be emotionally draining, so look for the ongoing activities in your life that refresh you and give a sense of a strong base (eg regular worship, your favourite relaxation pastime, or regular contact with someone who listens to you or makes you laugh when life is too serious). Resilient tall buildings have strong foundations so that they are embedded enough to flex when changing forces act on them – just like Jesus’ parable of the house built on rock in the face of life’s storms.
- Work out what’s within your control and focus on that
Be guided by the Serenity Prayer:
Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change
Courage to change the things I can, and
The wisdom to know the difference.
Even if an event or situation is out of our control, our attitude to it or how we respond to it are things we can influence.
- Pray for insight and for acceptance
Sometimes seeing our situation differently, rather than as a problem to be solved by jumping into rash action, will transform the situation. Pray for fresh, curious eyes and open ears to accept the opportunity for reflection, learning and considering new possibilities, rather than for quick answers to rush into. Moses and the Hebrews in the wilderness took 40 years to learn this, when the actual distance from Egypt to the Promised Land might only have taken them 40 months! It can be hard to accept this message, but our God’s wisdom is sometimes encountered in the wilderness transitions of life – when all feels like chaos and we want to rush back to slavery in Egypt or push on to Canaan.
- Ask “What is the next thing?” and do it
Inertia is the quality that keeps us stuck, if we’re at rest; or travelling in the same direction at the same speed, if we’re moving. If we’re feeling stuck or overwhelmed by the size of the change we’re facing, just considering the next little step we want to take can help. Acting on a small change in a slightly new direction can initiate a larger chain of outcomes that may well surprise us – despite how reticent we might feel. The present moment is what we have agency to influence, so how we engage with now is what creates a flourishing future.
- Experiment and seek to learn something new
Consider the simple four-step learning cycle:
- Connecting (learnings with previous experience), and
- Deciding on the next step(s).
Try something new or adjust a familiar activity (eg try out a new hobby or exercise group, or travel a different way home from work/church/study) as an experiment. Think of the outcome not as success or failure, but learning. Use this learning as the basis for future experiments. Challenge yourself to spend as much time on the reflecting and connecting (feeling/reviewing) steps as on the doing and deciding (action-oriented) steps of on next actions.
- Ask a curious question of yourself
Instead of rushing to solutions, spend time framing a curious question that will open up the issue you’re considering. For example, “Accessing what resources would help me see this situation differently?” or “What am I not considering about this that would open up the issue further?”
- Create a new ritual/practice
Develop a new practice that will help you stay in the ‘chaos of not knowing’ rather than rushing to unhelpful solutions. For example, following the loss of someone or something we love we might keep a symbol (eg a photo, or other memento) of a quality they/it inspire in us, to use our grief and loss as a springboard to positive action.
- Address an emerging need in your community
What changes are we seeing around us at a local community level that are providing engagement opportunities for us to us collectively respond to in our parishes? Rising cost of living pressures and the competing commitments many have on Sunday mornings are just two examples, that our faith communities can respond creatively to. If our parish strengths don’t align well with the emerging needs we’re discerning, then we can partner with a local Anglicare service, school or other community service who is better equipped to address the issue.
Trying a few simple strategies can help us navigate the internal emotional transitions through the unexpected external changes of our lives. We’ve all bumped into changes thrust upon us in the past two or three years that have impacted us in different ways. Adopting some simple practices and reflecting on the scriptural motifs of weeding, pruning, setting foundations and embracing the wilderness of unknowing can help us. They will open space for us to let go of the old and stay with the unknowing of the in between long enough for the new to bring surprising opportunity. Want to read more on addressing change and applying it in a parish setting? See Alban Institute consultant and US United Methodist clergyperson Gilbert Rendle’s insightful book, Leading Change in the Congregation: Spiritual and Organizational Tools for Leaders.