Change isn't easy.
told by Deborah
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.
And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, descending from heaven from God, as lovely as a bride on her wedding day.
And I heard a shout from the Throne, “Look! God’s home is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; all people will be His people — God Himself will live with them! He will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.”
And the One who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” And he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
Then he said to me, “It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega: the beginning and the end.”
This well-known passage from Revelation envisions a world in which death is eliminated. There is no more suffering or pain, no sorrow nor grieving. Wrong-doing and injustice cannot exist — for God will rule over all people, everywhere.
It sounds … well, divine.
However, in order to reach this ideal, everything that has gone before has vanished without a trace, destroyed in a terrifying fire and brimstone-laden version of the Flood (without a Noah to rescue the animal species) which John of Patmos recounts at length, relishing every gory detail. To attain his version of A Perfect World requires that this earth and all of its inhabitants must go through hell — literally.
And I wonder. As easy as it is to scoff at poor John the Exile’s angry screed, perhaps we should offer him both sympathy and thanks — for his (bad) example.
In his frustration and impatience, John expressed the sort of all-or-nothing thinking that all flesh is heir to. In short: when first efforts fail — knock everything down and start over.
It’s only been a short while ago; I’m sure you remember how, throughout the holiday season, we were inundated with advertising enticing us to “celebrate in style” with extravagant feasts, liquor-laced fruitcakes, sugar cookies, chocolate candies, and high-calorie beverages. For the less-ambitious among us there were offers of 2-for-1 pizzas, free bread sticks, and discount coupons for drive-through restaurants. Gloria in Excesses, Deo!
It’s the New Year. Now is the time for new beginnings, a fresh start, a “new me:” a new diet, more exercise, civic involvement, enrolling in night classes, learning Italian, engaging in daily bible study, praying more and swearing less. Our minds are filled with ideals as glorious and transformative as John of Patmos’ heavenly-new-world dreams.
A new year, a new beginning, and we’re ready to rock and roll. At least for a few days. Or a couple of weeks. Then the enthusiasm fades, the hoped-for successes are slow in coming, we slip back into old patterns and habits, get bored, and pretty soon we’ve given up. Maybe next year. Another time. Maybe it’s just not meant to be.
It would be ever so much easier if we could erase the flab and the failings, change our work schedule, our energy level, our body type, our culture, our community, our family history and our chromosomes — and then, then all would be well. You know: if only we could have a shiny new, unblemished, utterly different beginning to work from.
You know: one sent down from heaven.
Just like John of Patmos wanted.
Change is not easy. Let me say that again: Change. is. not. easy. Human beings are creatures of habit and convenience. We are inclined to repeat what has worked for us before — with the understanding that what has “worked” is not necessarily what is the best for us (or for others), only that it has caused us the least discomfort. This may translate into what is quick, or easy, or familiar — even when it “works” to our disadvantage.
Battered spouses, abused children, the intimidated and victimized very often remain in situations that are harmful — even deadly, simply because it is familiar. There can be a sense of security in the knowledge of “this is how things work” — even if the workings result in bruises and broken bones, broken hearts, and broken lives. Even a sense of fear (“Don’t say anything to upset her,”) can be part of a familiar — recognized, expected, and thus, comforting — pattern. Terrible things can be “normalized” as a current expression gives it.
The same is true for substance abuse. Hangovers are a misery, the DTs are horrifying, the craving for drugs is agonizing, the risk of death from overdose or tainted product is ever-present. But the addict can rationalize these as “just how things are” in his life.
Most of us have not “normalized” behaviors as dangerous as these examples, yet we’re all inclined to make excuses for the things we do: “That’s just how it is.” But that isn’t how it has to be.
Change is not easy; it doesn’t “come down from heaven,” all at once as a clean and shiny new beginning. Change takes place one day at a time, sometimes one minute at a time — and always one decision at a time. It is a process, a series of choices. One mess up or mistake doesn’t negate all that went before, nor spoil any chance for the future. It is a warning; a signpost: Here be dragons — so watch your step.
Changing behavior takes practice. It also takes patience.
And so, to succeed, we slouch onward, toward our new ideal — not leaping tall buildings like Superman or Wonder Woman, but as ordinary mortals. With patience and self-acceptance (and self-forgiveness), we can face the challenges and setbacks of establishing new behaviors, rejecting old patterns, learning new ways to be.
Meanwhile…. Our consumerist culture entices us to believe in instant success, immediate (“Amazing!”) results: weight loss, clear skin, pain relief, great credit, sound sleep, a new language — many of which require almost no effort (“Easy!”) and all readily available… for a price. And we are often tempted by their claims. Because we wish they were true.
Seriously, who wouldn’t want to learn a new language while you sleep — without bothering with any of those pesky verb conjugations or memorizing a new vocabulary? And it sure would be great to eat whatever we want and still lose weight!
But the world doesn’t work that way. Miracles are few and far between.
Which brings us to One who figured largely in the Exile’s imagination, and Who is central to our own faith and belief. As His followers, we proclaim that new life has indeed “come down from heaven” for us — in the form of Jesus Christ. In His life we have life.
The holy Lord showed us the Way we are to follow. He is our Guide and Teacher in how we are to live; what we are to hope for, work for, pray for, and believe in.
And He lived as we live.
Yes, there were powerful works of healing, nourishment, and restoration. No one was outside the grace and mercy of Christ’s ministry: the young, the old, women, men, Gentiles, Jews, Samaritans, the deaf, the lame, lepers, and even Roman legionnaires — all were precious in His sight. These miracles were part of the Lord Jesus’ revelations of God’s compassion and expansive, unlimited love.
But beyond these holy demonstrations were the far greater — and far more numerous — examples of His wild-ranging, fearless and faithful presence among us. As Christians have declared since the beginning: the Lord Jesus walked with us; born of a woman, living as we live, loving as we love, grieving as we grieve, suffering as we suffer, dying as we die. He did not engage in divine shortcuts; not even when hanging upon the cross.
Jesus brought forth upon this earth a new beginning: an affirmation of God’s care and compassion — and of the holy commitment to our world, and all who live within it. It is not to be destroyed, but redeemed. We are called to be part of A Work in Progress: a Kingdom built on Christlike lovingkindness. Simply put: God hasn’t given up on us. Each new day is a renewal of the promise (and the opportunity): there is still time.
If God has faith in us, who are we to argue?
Christ's peace and joy be with you,
What change do you want to make in your life?