Change happens in our lives whether we like it or not so we must learn how to mold our lives so that we bend, rather than break, in the midst of change. This is one of the most important challenges to our current spiritual well-being. Fortunately there are ways to prepare so that our faith grows and strengthens during times of change. Here are some of the principles that I have found most helpful:
1. Identify or establish stability zones. By this I mean identify those aspects of your life that are not going to change. Routines and relationships that draw you close to God and to each other need to be identified and nurtured during turbulent times. That is why I think that maintaining regular and familiar spiritual disciplines is so important. These practices maintain our sense of order and security in the world. Without them we have no anchors for our lives.
2. Stay put. The tendency when life falls apart is to move because we think there will always be more and better opportunities elsewhere. And of course sometimes this is necessary, but moving always adds to our emotional and spiritual instability. It uproots us from the stabilizing influence of friends and the spiritual communities that anchor our lives. If you do need to move, it is important to unpack and establish new routines quickly. Living out of suitcases and boxes gives an impermanence to life that can be very destabilizing.
3. Surround yourself with "at home" items. This is something I learned when I lived on the Mercy Ship Anastasis and traveled constantly, rarely feeling I knew where home was. Family photos, pictures of my favorite at-home scenes in Australia, and making a meal of familiar comfort foods all helped me relax and feel secure.
4. Establish and maintain friendships that have the potential to be stable. Many people I know specialize in disposable relationships. Every time they move they close the door on the important friendships they have forged and look for new relationships. Nothing can be more disruptive in tough times. And of course, Facebook, iPhones, and email make staying in touch much easier, so there is no excuse for giving up friends anywhere in the world. Part of the privilege of my life is that I have literally made friends all over the world. Nurturing these friendships have helped me tremendously. Reminiscing on the good and the bad we have shared together often gives me confidence to face new challenges.
5. Identify enemy factors. What are your greatest temptations and destabilizing influences? That is what I mean by enemy factors. A little introspection and honesty gives all of us an idea of our own particular areas of struggle. How have you dealt with these in the past? What practices could you establish now that could make you less vulnerable to these enemies in the future?
6. Affirm the good, don't concentrate on the bad. The more we focus on the good things in our lives, no matter how trivial they may seem in the overall scheme of things, the easier it is to handle the bad. Unfortunately bad news always tends to travel faster and speak louder than good. The internet instantly and constantly puts us in touch with disaster. Hunting for the glimpses of hope and redemption often requires a lot more effort. That is one of the reasons I try to post regularly on things I see that reflect the hope of God's kingdom. It is also why I love to write about the kingdom and the hope that God gives us for the future.
7. Avoid surprises. Our normal response to sudden change is rejection. We dig in our heels, cling tightly to what is familiar, and try to barricade ourselves into the world that is passing. But it is important to think about how the world is changing and how we, as God's people, need to change now in order to be more effective in the future.
8. Look after yourself. I love the imagery of how God dealt with the stressed out prophet Elijah in 1 Kings 19. Here he is running away from Jezebel frightened and depressed. He wants to lie down and die. And God lets him lie down. God gives him rest, food, and water. Only then is he led to the mountain of God. I think that God knows how important good sleep, good food, and good exercise are for all of us and encourages us to keep our minds and our bodies healthy. When I get too busy I stop working out in the garden and sometimes I stop doing regular exercise. Neither of these are good for me and my spiritual and emotional as well as my physical body suffer.
What other methods do you employ when you are trying to handle the stress of change in your life? Please share them in the comments below.
Christine Sine is executive director of Mustard Seed Associates and author of several books including GodSpace: Time for Peace in the Rhythms of Life. She describes herself as a contemplative activist encouraging a way of life that interweaves spiritual practices with concern for justice and environmentalism. She blogs at GodSpace.