Faith Can Help You Manage Major Life Changes
You’re standing there watching the walls move toward you, knowing that soon you will no longer fit inside the room where you're standing. To keep from getting squeezed to death your only choice is to step into the next room. Problem is, all that lies ahead looks very, very dark, and there’s no way to know if the next room is even there.
The space around you is getting tighter. So much that soon the only space left will be in front of you. You know you must move forward or you'll be crushed. Still, the thought of leaving your comfort zone is morbidly frightening.
Your whole body begins to shake with fear, but somehow you manage to place one foot forward, inside the doorway you hope is in front of you. Your foot touched the floor, and suddenly, everything is eerily quiet all around you. You hesitate before taking another step. Pitch blackness and silence is all you can see. Does the floor even extend any further? Will it support you if you were to take another step? Or will you simply have to move forward on faith alone?
Walls are collapsing quickly, there’s no time to think and no turning back. There's only one choice. To survive, you must keep moving forward. You say a prayer, take a deep breath, and step—into the unknown.
Did you feel it? The tension? The tightening of the room all around you? Isn’t that exactly what a major change can feel like, whether it is a change occurring in your personal life, or in your career? Change can be scary. It can be, literally, like walking into a sea of blackness with no way to know what lies ahead.
Many times, when a major life change is on the horizon, it can seem like fear is your only constant companion. Why, even the idea of change, sometimes, is enough to scare you. And when the change you’re faced with is one that will affect your life in a major way, it can terrify you into a state of shock. And for those of us who are Christians, who follow the teachings of the Christian faith, it can seem wrong to feel so much fear, because we're taught that when we trust in God, we should not have fear in our hearts. Still, our human failings allow it to seep in, sometimes excessively. For me, it is times like these that I know I have to rely even more on my faith. I have to pray more, and ask God to help me find the strength I need, or to be the strength I need, to lay my burdens down at His feet.
The truth is, most of the things we fear never even happen. That means much of our fear is a waste of time and energy. Besides, being consumed and overwhelmed by fear can interfere with doing what you need to do to achieve a goal, or to get through whatever it is you need to get through in life. For this reason, Christians need to rely upon what the Bible teaches us so that we can overcome destructive fear, and so that we can embrace, instead, constructive fear. Facing your fears, in the final analysis, is what leads to triumph over them.
Destructive Fear vs. Constructive Fear
There is a negative type of fear and a positive type of fear. Negative fear is destructive, while positive fear is constructive. For example, it is wise, and therefore, constructive, to be afraid of some dogs and other wild animals, even if you know nothing about a particular animal’s temperament. What we know about the potential viciousness of such animals should be enough to give us cause for fear. Having this kind of fear can actually save your life. However, a stuffed animal of the same variety sitting on a store shelf presents no such danger; it should not cause any fear among rational-minded individuals. And, while it may not necessarily be destructive to fear a stuffed animal, but it can certainly be viewed as somewhat silly to fear such things.
God gives us an internal barometer that lets us know when we really need to be afraid. Having this barometer keeps our “flight or fight” mechanism working. If we use it properly, we get a good idea about situations and circumstances. Some situations call for a “fight” response, while others call for a “flight” response. In other words, we usually know when we need to stay and fight, or when we need to run away from a bad situation.
Fear Can Stop You in Your Tracks
Matthew 28:8-10 presents good examples of fear used constructively and fear used destructively. This Scripture speaks of the aftermath of the resurrection of Jesus, when Mary Magdalene and the other Mary first discovered that Jesus’ tomb was empty. It says:
“And for fear of him the keepers did shake, and became as dead men. And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified. He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly, and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead; and, behold, he goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see him: lo, I have told you. And they departed quickly from the sepulchre with fear and great joy; and did run to bring his disciples word. And as they went to tell his disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, All hail. And they came and held him by the feet, and worshipped him. Then said Jesus unto them, Be not afraid: go tell my brethren that they go into Galilee, and there shall they see me.”
Destructive fear had paralyzed the guards so much that they had become as dead men. And even though, after seeing the angel, at first Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were also paralyzed with fear, they were able to use their fear in a positive, constructive manner. After fear literally stopped them in their tracks—God used it to serve a higher purpose.
Most of us can identify with this part of this Scripture, because we have experienced times when we have felt so paralyzed by fear, that we have literally been unable to move forward, we’ve been stopped in our tracks.
Fear of Change Stopped Me in My Tracks
I became stopped in my tracks by fear in 1997 when I left full-time teaching at the University of Florida, to spend three years serving as Primary Caregiver for my mother. She was terminally ill, and it took getting stopped in my tracks, as a college professor, for me to be led back to where I started my professional career—as a writer. After "spinning my wheels" professionally for a few years, in 2002, I was honored to speak with Bishop T. D. Jakes. I conducted an interview with him while writing an article about him for a Christian magazine called Gospel Voice. Before I interviewed Bishop Jakes, I had clearly been spinning my wheels trying to figure out what I was going to do with my life, because while caring for mother, I decided I no longer wanted to work, full-time, as a college professor. After interviewing Bishop Jakes, and after my story became the publication's premiere-issue cover story, I was able to see more clearly the path God was lighting for me. Since that time, many other things have happened in my life leading me to writing novels, something I've dreamed of doing since I was a child.
Sometimes it is good to become stopped in your tracks, so that God can speak to you and get you headed down the right path. Sometimes, if allowed to keep making tracks on the wrong path before being stopped by fear, the path would only lead nowhere, or eventually to self-destruction.
It’s easy to see, then, that even though Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were momentarily paralyzed with fear, their fear was constructive in nature, because it stopped them in their tracks as a prelude to them witnessing something of vital importance to everyone on earth—then and now.
Had their fear been negative in nature, it might have caused them to flee, and they might not have been chosen to hear the important message the angel delivered to them. Being stopped in their tracks while they were seeking Jesus allowed the angel of the Lord to speak to them, to lead them to where he was waiting for them. This is not a subtle message. When you seek to honor, serve, and obey God by seeking Jesus Christ, God will often send either messages (through Holy Scripture) or messengers (other people) who will help you get your life on the right path.
How You Manage Change is Important
Wouldn't it be comforting if everything in life were predictable? We'd never have to worry about being whacked on the side of the head with surprising, scary changes, and we could sail through most of our days and nights oblivious to any such concept as "change management." We would know what to expect far in advance, so chances are we would have adequate time to learn how to manage most of the changes that we were going to have to go through. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), life is more unpredictable than predictable, and because it is, we have to do our best to expect the unexpected.
But what is the best way to do that? Is it just to accept the notion that we will never know, for sure, where every road in life will lead to? That we can never really know what tomorrow will bring? How could anyone expect to manage in such an uncertain environment? How can you develop a sense of contentment and peace knowing you could have to manage unforeseen events and circumstances that have not happened, and that you have no rational reason to expect to happen?
The Bible tells us in Philippians 4:8,
"Whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things."
When facing scary changes and challenges in life, perhaps the best thing we can do is to hold a magnifying glass to the circumstances surrounding a challenge in order to find those things that we need to "think on." The things we need to think on, I believe, represent the lessons we can learn as we prepare to go through the challenges of change.
Because we can go through life discovering and then capturing good and virtuous things to "think on," that tells me that it is possible to seek and to find the good that lies within just about any type of change. There is something you can learn, something that will help you to understand things better, and something that can help you become stronger, smarter, and wiser than you were before. Thinking on these things will equip you to manage, deal with, and survive the change--no matter what it is. Occupying your mind with positive thoughts can help you manage irrational fears and anxiety that often comes packaged inside the challenge of change.
Have you ever been stopped in your tracks by your fear of a big, important change in your life?
© 2012 Sallie B Middlebrook PhD