In a previous post (New Wine, New Skin) I shared my thoughts on personal transformation from the perspective of the individual changing. Today, after some discussion with friends, I want to write about the same topic but from a different angle. And, although I’m a little late to the party, I’d like to jump onto the Frozen bandwagon!
If there’s anywhere in the world where change should be allowed it’s in fellowship with Christians. We certainly encourage change, but we don’t always employ the grace that allows it. Life and heart change, not simply the acquiring of knowledge, is the bedrock of Christian growth.
There’s a huge difference between encouraging something and allowing it. The two certainly must be conjoined if people and organizations are to grow. But often we encourage something but don’t make room for it to grow wings and fly. I’ve been careful over the recent years to employ both of these aspects in the work I do. I encourage participation and then step back, create space and allow others to take flight. My observation of people and organizations has revealed that neither of these are default settings. They must be intentionally applied.
I have a very good friend who recently took some time to reflect on her life. She needed to contemplate why things were not they way she desired. So, she read some books, spent time away from others, even sought out professional and peer counseling. Through the pain and embarrassment of her past public failures and time spent in intentional reflection, she changed – she became a new creation. She was an improved version of her old self. Even from her countenance people could see the shift. They complimented her on how she looked “revived” and how “peaceful” she appeared – and she was. On the inside she had made some very crucial, healthy shifts and it was noticeable.
She was always a courageous, speak-her-mind kind of woman. So, when she again showed her no-nonsense personality in the midst of a disagreement, but now with far less negative impulse, there was murmuring. “Ah, see, I told you she hadn’t changed,” people snidely said. And even though she had truly changed, the issue wasn’t with her but with the lack of grace from others. It’s the kind of grace that allows people to transform and wriggle their way out of the old cocoon into a new creation. It’s the grace that we all want applied to us but often don’t extend to others.
Despite the, “That’s just Nadine!*” comments, she continued on her trajectory of change. Her husband was delighted and supportive. She could see the metamorphosis herself, but many others wouldn’t allow her to be released from her previous prison. They, in subtle ways, reminded her of her past. Although she didn’t let this kind of calloused insensitivity dissuade her from pushing forward, in the quiet of her heart she was hurt by those whom she thought would not only encourage change but allow it. It stung.
Jesus suffered from a similar fate.
Jesus tried to reach the people he was closest to, his hometown. This went as well as a porcupine in a balloon factory. Despite his wise teachings and miracles of great power, they wouldn’t accept him. They took and continued to take offense of him. What I’m going to share next is my opinion. The passage doesn’t give a lot of details, but I think we can fill some in to add depth.
As they experienced his miracles and listened to his teaching they recalled what he was, a common contractor. He was not a religious leader. When they thought of his origin they recalled he was just a man – he had sisters and brothers and a Mom – nothing special here from their perspective. And perhaps the harshest part was this, they said, “Isn’t his mother’s name Mary?” Wasn’t she the woman who got pregnant out of wedlock? Wasn’t she the one everyone had talked about because her and her betrothed couldn’t control themselves 30 years ago? For another slap in the face, they don’t even mention Joseph by name, it's just, “the carpenter’s son”. Wow! Talk about not being able to escape your past! Jesus had grown in wisdom, taught with authority and performed miraculous signs all attesting to his divinity, humanity and his desire to set people free – but the same grace that should’ve released him from his past is just as abscent today. Is this really how we treat people? I think it is. My friend’s recent experience is evidence enough of this harsh reality. And we treat people this way because we just can’t let it go!
In Luke 4, the people initially looked upon Jesus favorably. Yet, he knew their hearts would eventually turn against him. Again, we’re no different. Perhaps for a little while we’ll admire the changes we see in a person, but as soon as their foot slips just a bit – when they display a small slice of their old self – we are quick to say, even triumphantly, “See, I told you she didn’t change!” Do we believe this births anything excellent in the person who’s striving for life transformation? It certainly doesn’t pour fuel on the fire of refinement. It can partially smother some, stunting growth and causing them to walk on eggshells for fear of failure. For others it can entirely quench a small flicker terminating healthy growth. These flames need to be fanned into a full blaze and a lack of grace won’t get the job done.
So, here’s my challenge – as you see people striving for life change, be grace-filled. Be generous with the leeway and support they need. The LORD is. Remember, much like you, they’re in process and may still be struggling to escape the trappings they’ve lived with for 20, 30, 40 or more years. Let it go!
And here’s my encouragement - to you who are splitting that old skin and crawling out as new creation, keep going! Don’t let the naysayers squash you! You are changing. Keep your chin up! Eventually you’ll become what the LORD intends for you to be as long as you focus on his beckoning and not the “I told you so” of those around you. Your past is the past leave it there no matter how often hell or others remind you of it! Let it go!
Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. ~Philippians 3:13-14
*The name of the person is not, Nadine.