Change inevitable

Some change is forced on us.

I was downsized from a job I held for 24 years. I was given a choice: Accept a buyout or a 40 percent pay cut along with an increased workload. My job was eliminated.

Some changes we choose.

I volunteer with an organization called We Care We Share in Lorain, Ohio. It offers a food pantry two afternoons a week. I learned from a friend that volunteers were needed there, so I showed up one day and began volunteering. I didn’t have to do that, but I chose to.

Some change is inevitable.

Some of the hairs on my head are turning gray. My eyes also change over time; I’m due for another check-up one of these days. I’ll probably need a new eyeglasses prescription. The joys of aging.

If there’s one constant in life, it’s that there’s nothing constant in life.

Moment by moment, we change

No two days are exactly alike. Change is the name of the game.

The car I drive is 23 years old. It’s still running pretty well, but the mechanic recommended $1,600 in repairs to keep it up to speed. I’m not sure the car is worth that, so we’ll probably replace it in the near future.

I’ve attended three funerals in the past two months. All were for senior citizens, thankfully, but still: People wear out, just like cars do.

There’s no anti-aging pill that lasts forever, much as science has tried to find one.

We make choices literally every minute of every day. To get up in the morning, or not. What to eat for breakfast. Or not. Whether to show up for work or an appointment on time. Or not. Whether to look for a new job, a new relationship, a new residence (including a new location sometimes) …

We bought a house a year and a half ago, after renting for 3.5 years. We did some remodeling in the kitchen last fall because my wife wanted to put her touch on our home. That’s certainly a good thing. But what to remodel and how to do it were choices we had to make – and you’d do it differently, I’m sure.

I won’t even get into politics. We all know the contrasts between our current president and the previous one.

Think big picture. We change presidents every four or eight years. Change is inevitable.

The U.S. Constitution is more than 200 years old, but even that has been expanded. And new laws are passed all the time, federally, at the state level and locally.

Change changes us

Hearts and minds change too, sometimes dramatically.

At my last job, I worked with adults with developmental disabilities. Some of those folks were born with their disabilities, but others received their mental and/or physical disabilities through trauma. One guy fell off a roof. Another was abused terribly as a child.

Even those born with disabilities can learn to overcome them, to a degree. Those folks can accomplish a lot more than we often give them credit for. Even if they can’t communicate well, they often see and understand quite a lot. And they can communicate – with sign language, facial expressions, nodding yes or no, and in other ways.

I left there because not all change is good. And some changes I felt were necessary weren’t happening.

Choices.

Some people quit smoking. Some people conquer a drug or alcohol addiction. These things aren’t easy, but they can be done.

It’s easier if we make the choice to avoid those substances before we even start. But we need strong grown-ups to lead their children away from those temptations, don’t we, since most addictions start when we are young.

Addictions are not inevitable. Broken families are not inevitable. Some of us are exposed to these things earlier than others of us are, but each of us is responsible for our own choices.

Fighting change, or embracing it

If life doesn’t go the way we’d like it to – and it won’t, sooner or later – we have choices to make. Dozens of my former co-workers got downsized at the same time I did. A few got jobs in other career fields right away, or a short time later. A couple of them retired. Some stayed with the company, with new responsibilities – and in some cases, a new location. I took the buyout and sat on my hands and knees for awhile until the buyout ended, then took a $9 an hour job while I figured out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.

Same scenario, different choices.

Different results.

Many of my former co-workers are still in the same city. Some of us aren’t.

Here in northeast Ohio, Republic Steel and U.S. Steel factories are idle, the result of layoffs. One of those plants may resume production soon on a limited basis. General Motors Corp. just closed a factory in Lordstown, a little more than an hour’s drive from here, putting 1,435 workers in the unemployment line.

The cycle continues.

Change is inevitable. Sometimes we choose it, sometimes we don’t.

How we respond to change determines the course our lives will take.

We can fight change.

Or we can embrace it.

Even that is a choice.

The one constant

Are there any constants in life, besides change? Any at all?

Only one.

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.

Hebrews 13:8

 

That’s it.

Whoever hears these sayings of mine and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock.

Jesus speaking, in Matthew 7:24-25

 

No foundation on Earth lasts like that. All of them will eventually crumble, whether a physical building or a moral or spiritual truth that we base our lives upon.

Even as the winds of life  blow – and they certainly will – we have a foundation to fall back on.

That’s why I’m a Christian. When the storms of life threaten to carry me away (you know what I mean), I have a home base that will protect me.

I change, certainly. I learn and grow, hopefully. I am not the person I was 10 years ago, when I was downsized. Or even last year.

But even as my job situation fluctuated and my location changed, the God I worship did not change. He supports me when all else fails me.

Sometimes, we don’t discover how much we need a rock until change threatens to destroy us.

Climb on the rock. You’re never far from it, no matter who or where you are.

That’s your sanctuary in the storms of life.

For our own survival, we must re-learn history

“Go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.” The people of Nineveh believed God. When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. Then he had a proclamation made in Nineveh: “Human beings and animals shall be covered with sackcloth, and they shall cry mightily to God. All shall turn from their evil ways and from the violence that is in their hands.”

When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them.

Jonah 3:2, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10

 

The people of Nineveh knew they were doing bad things. Their lives were evil and violent, in the words of their own king.

When a prophet of God called them out on it, they – including the king – repented immediately.

I wish such a scenario could be repeated today in the United States.

It won’t.

For starters, if a prophet of God were to proclaim such a message today, he (or she) would be either ridiculed or ignored. We’d find ways to dilute such a prophet’s message, or refute it, or pretend we didn’t hear it.

Flaunting our evil

The lines between good and evil are often blurred today.

Even when the lines are straight and we know right from wrong, we often flaunt our sins.

  • Just yesterday I saw the driver of a pickup truck on the highway weaving in and out of traffic, going 10 to 15 mph faster than everyone else was driving. He cared nothing for traffic laws on the books or the welfare of anyone around him, including me. This is nearly an everyday occurrence in my world.
  • When was the last time a popular movie or TV show celebrated marriage and the marriage bed?
  • Violence makes the news every day in this country. In Chicago, for example, 409 people have been killed so far this year. That is 126 fewer than 2017, according to the Chicago Tribune. I saw a blurb the other day that said Chicago went 22 hours without a single shooting being reported. That’s what we’ve become: almost a whole day with no shootings is a moral victory.
  • Police officers, teachers and parents do not have the respect that they should. Some of that is their own fault. Some of it is not.
  • Politicians can’t decide right from wrong in any situation these days. No matter how they rule in the Judge Brett Kavanaugh case regarding his U.S. Supreme Court nomination, many of us will get angry. People on both sides are convinced they have the moral high ground. Politicians can’t get it right because we the people won’t let them. Because we the people no longer know what the moral high ground is.
  • Addictions have become an epidemic: opioids, illegal drugs, alcohol, pornography, social media, our jobs … many things. Choice or disease? We’d rather debate that than actually solve any addiction problems.

Experience vs. reason

Was life simpler back in Old Testament times?

The people of Nineveh dealt with the same temptations and evil things that we do. We have far more technology, of course, so we can disseminate evil much faster and more efficiently.

The people of Nineveh didn’t always follow the king’s lead; they responded to Jonah’s message first, then reported it to the king. To the king’s credit, he was paying attention to the pulse of his city.

I wish we had the listening skills that the Ninevites – the people and the king – did, and even more, the discernment to determine good and evil, as they did.

Instead, we justify ourselves.

Experience comes before reason.

In a previous chapter of my life, I was deeply involved in the United Methodist Church. A basic tenet of that denomination is the Wesley Quadrilateral, named for the founder of Methodism, John Wesley. The quadrilateral is: Scripture, tradition, reason and experience.

In that order.

Except that some United Methodists prefer to flip the order, starting with experience, and using reason, tradition and Scripture to justify their experiences.

That debate now permeates our common culture.

If we can’t agree on the basic tenets of what our society should be, how can we possibly solve our moral dilemmas?

That’s what Nineveh had that we do not.

I did it my way

Unfortunately, there’s just enough truth in every modern viewpoint to muddy the waters. Women and immigrants are real people. Abortion is the death of a human being.

Laws should align with those tenets.

They frequently don’t.

Or if they do, we have to fight for them.

And because of our propensity to flaunt laws we don’t agree with, we are becoming an anarchy – refusing to accept authority. Rule by the individual. I have my rights and I’ll do what I want.

If it hurts you, I don’t care.

If I kill you on the road or abort my son or daughter, it doesn’t matter to me. If you don’t satisfy me as a lover, I’ll find one who does.

Never mind the collateral damage.

I did it my way, in the words popularized in 1969 – almost a half-century ago – by Frank Sinatra.

Many of us today have taken those lyrics to heart. We try to justify our actions. And we frequently get away with them.

Let there be peace on Earth, and let it begin with me

Sackcloth and ashes. How archaic.

That attitude is too, isn’t it?

The people of Nineveh asked God to forgive them for their evil and violent ways. God listened, and forgave them.

As a secular – very secular – city.

Then, for a time at least, the people of Nineveh actually changed their ways. Until temptations lured them into evil and violence again.

Is this even possible in 2018 in our country?

It is possible, yes, but I don’t see it happening any time soon. That would require a willingness to admit that we are on the wrong track as a nation, as Nineveh did. We can’t point fingers at others and say, “You need to repent.”

No. The people of Nineveh got down on their own knees.

Learning to love ourselves

… love your neighbor as yourself.

Matthew 22:39

 

When Jesus said this to the Pharisees as part of his response to their question about the greatest commandment, Jesus assumed that the Pharisees, and us as readers of Matthew’s gospel, love ourselves.

The focus of Jesus’ command is to love our neighbor. This takes many forms. It’s not an option. It’s the second-most important command Jesus gave us, behind loving God with all our heart, soul, strength and mind.

Loving myself

But how can we love our neighbor if we don’t love ourselves?

Am I the only person who asks this question?

I know my sins and shortcomings far better than anyone else does. And I’m sure God knows about sins I commit that I’m not even aware of.

I know God forgives me. I really do.

But can I forgive myself?

That’s hard.

As a result, over time, I’ve learned to bury my feelings deep in my heart. I can’t remember the last time I cried.

A friend asks me frequently who the Detroit Lions’ next opponent is, since he knows I lived most of my adult life in Michigan (I’m in Ohio now). I’m in a family-based NFL pool so I pick the winners and point spread of each game. Still, I often don’t remember who the Lions are playing.

Very little in life registers with me. Nothing penetrates my deep inner being. I feel like I’m just going through the motions.

How can I love my neighbor when I have no feelings for myself?

Several good friends recently attended a weekend men’s retreat based on a book by John Eldredge, “Wild at Heart.” I didn’t attend the retreat, but I’ve read the book.

When they told our Wednesday men’s group at church how the retreat went down, they emphasized two themes that I relate to very well, themes that Eldredge knows affect men deeply.

The father wound

All men have a wound in our hearts. For most of us, that wound comes from our father.

Mine did.

I never doubted my dad’s love for my sister and me. He was (and still is – he’s 84) the strong, silent type. He’s opening up more now, but as a child I didn’t receive hugs, praise, verbal encouragement or emotional support. There are reasons for this; his own childhood was not that way either.

I didn’t realize all this until I became an adult. Indeed, I’m still figuring this out.

I decided I wanted to break the cycle, to give our sons what I didn’t have.

All three of our sons are adults now, living on their own and doing well.

However, none of them are married. More than that, none of them have ever had a significant girlfriend, to my knowledge.

And that’s OK. There’s benefits to being single.

But I passed the father wound to my sons. I know I did.

Will the cycle ever end?

It can.

By the grace of God, and only by the grace of God, it can.

The poser

The second Eldredge theme proves why I bury my feelings. Like many men, I put my best face forward in public. If you ask me how I’m doing, I’ll say, “Fine” or “doing well” or something like that – even if I’m not.

I’m posing. I’m not being real with you.

Do you want a “real” answer when you ask me that question? I could give you an earful if I really wanted to.

I can talk superficially just fine. I’ll tell you about my job, a volunteer role or two I have, how our new house is coming along or the yardwork I’m doing – stuff like that.

Ask me how my soul is, and I most likely won’t give you a “real” answer. I have wounds in there, things I don’t like about myself. Things I’d rather hide.

Our Wednesday men’s group this fall is going through a video series on overcoming addictions, especially sexual addictions – because those in particular are so prevalent.

I’m not surprised that sexual harassment and worse is the issue of the day in the news. Pornography is huge. So are other sexual sins. The male species is exposed to it at a very early age – preteens for most boys. Did you know that?

It’s all over the internet, and boys have access to it (unless the parents have blocked it).

We men are posers, remember. We hide things. We’re very good at it.

But these sins have a way of showing up at very inopportune times.

I’m not saying every man is a sex addict. The temptation is there for every man (and boy), but we don’t have to give in to that temptation.

In fact, by the grace of God, and only by the grace of God, we can turn down that temptation – or overcome it if we’ve entered in to it.

We hide other things, too. Things we think. Money we spend. Things we do in private, when we’re sure no one is watching. (Do we ever want to get caught?)

The solution

I’d like to say I’ve figured out how to overcome the father wound and the poser mindset. I haven’t.

The speakers in the video series say there’s no quick fixes for this kind of stuff. It takes time, perhaps years. It takes accountability with other men who are willing to listen as we break down those poser walls and get real.

We know what we’re doing is wrong. We can’t stop by willpower. It just doesn’t work that way.

This is why it’s so hard to like ourselves. We hurt inside when we fail.

Sharing my feelings with someone else when I’ve literally never done that before doesn’t happen by chance. That too will take time.

In the meantime, don’t be so quick to judge me. Not all of us men are evil. Many of us want to get it right. We really do. Perhaps we just don’t know how.

Is that a sin?

Be patient with us, please. Encourage. Ask questions. Listen.

We probably won’t respond right away. Trust doesn’t come naturally.

Be patient.

We just might get there someday.

This is one way to love our neighbor. We listen to his story. We share ours.

Our real stories.

We become brothers.