It’s another season of change in the Craig household, as son number two graduates from high school and heads out into the adult world of work. We hosted a small gathering (socially distanced, of course) and celebrated with cake and cards and every graduate’s favorite, cash. We’ve rearranged rooms and moved furniture, and life as we’ve known it has now changed again.
We say it all the time and feel its effects in every way: the only thing that stays the same is how much everything always changes. Some of us like change, relishing the thrill of new and different. When the excitement of a city or a house or a job wears off, we start looking for the next adventure. Others of us hate change, clinging to old habits, old rules, even old socks because it’s easier than adjusting to something new. But when the old habits are no longer helpful, the old rules no longer meet the needs of today, and the old socks have so many holes our toes stick out, then a little change would probably do us good.
But so often when we think of change, we think of our circumstances, our surroundings, our seasons of life. When we’re bored, we look for a change of scenery. When we feel unhealthy or unattractive, we change our appearance with a diet or a new hairstyle. When we’re unhappy, we change jobs or cities or sometimes even marriages.
What we fail to realize is that often the change we need the most isn’t “out there,” it’s in here, inside of us. It’s a change of heart, a change of mind, or a change of spirit that will set us free from the pain that life brings us, not a change of surroundings. And it starts by seeing our own need for growth and transformation that starts on the inside.
For some of us, the change we needed is radical, a total reset of identity, values, and perspective. Jesus offers us this kind of full-life transformation when we follow him. In some Christian circles, we call this a “conversion,” because when a person believes in Jesus their whole life takes on a new form.
For a lot of us, though, the change needed is more like a course correction or a reset. We’ve gotten lazy in our thinking, or we haven’t taken the time to evaluate a bad attitude we’ve developed. Where we thought our circumstances were holding us back, really it’s our emotions or unresolved issues from our past. See, we were made for continual change, for growth and maturing. But when the path we’re on becomes muddy and rutted—when we get stuck—those hard circumstances or relationships we’re desperate to escape are actually just the nudge we need to get back onto the path of growth.
The last place many of us look for change is the kind that affects entire communities or cities or nations, large-scale change to correct societal or generational failures. It’s the kind of change that takes the most work because it doesn’t just change me on the inside or outside. It does both and for all of us.
I think of the systemic racism and oppression that are once again bubbling to the surface in our country as Americans cry out in protest against the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and others. The senseless deaths, the violent overreach by some police officers, the fervor of protestors, even the lawless rioting have inflamed passions among a wide swath of our country. It’s painful and uncomfortable to watch, to think about, to talk about. And for our black brothers and sisters, it’s painful and uncomfortable to live.
Yes, when confronted with these circumstances, many of us may need to look inside, change what we know, how we think, how we feel about what’s going on around us. As a white person, I’ve had to come to terms with my own privilege, with systems that benefit me at the expense of others. I’ve had to examine and fight hard against stereotypes and misguided fears that I’ve heard and seen in conversations, books, and movies my entire life. And I hope this change also leads to a change in my own circumstances, in the ways I spend my money and time, in the ways I love others and stand up with them.
But we have bigger, harder work to do, too, as we unite to change the racist institutions and policies that oppress black people. It’s not enough to look inward only. Not when lives are at stake. We have to also work toward better systems that not only don’t leave black and brown people out but also don’t harm them and kill them.
In a recent Evangelicals for Social Action webinar called “Breaking the Cycle of Racism,” Andre Henry, Program Manager of the Racial Justice Institute, talked with Micky ScottBey Jones, Director of Healing & Resilence Initiatives with the Faith Matters Network, about the necessity of addressing policy change in the fight against racism. They talked about using our collective power to disrupt systemic racism. Jones listed things like how we spend our money, how we interact with politicians, and how we help organizers on the ground in our own cities as important steps in effecting real change.
“Martin Luther King said, ‘the law can’t make a man love me but it can keep him from lynching me,’ and that’s pretty important,” Henry said.
Yes, change is afoot for our family, both in our home and in our hearts, because that’s always the best place to start. But also, hopefully, in our community and our country. Because some issues are so big that to not change inside and out is simply unacceptable.