The sort of change that arises from within might better be called transformation -- that is, a crossing (trans-) from one way of being to something new. It's a truism in the world of personal growth that whatever pain within us is not transformed, we are bound to transmit. We'll leave it behind in the world when we die, in our children or our other loved ones. In God-language, it is the wood and the straw that eventually will be burned away, rather than becoming the fine and refined precious metal God uses to build his kingdom (1 Corinthians 3:12-15).
It's one thing to say that I am willing to be transformed, but what do I do? Here's what I know from experience: I can't wish it so. I can do all the wanting and hoping -- and praying -- in the world, and I often keep on being the same old me, living in and transmitting the same old pain. I might wish away the judgments that rattle on in my head or the behaviors that keep me stuck, but I find myself still listening, still doing what I say I don't want to do (see Romans 7:15).
What's more, my first reaction, I just need to try harder, is another way of keeping me stuck. Here's how I think it works, by way of a metaphor: At our science museum, there is a spot where you can pretend to cross a raging river on a little bridge. The trick is in not looking down. My temptation is to look at the bridge and watch where my feet are treading, but then I see the water below -- and I fall.
You probably know another version of this story. It's about a Jewish fisherman on a wild sea at night, trying to follow his rabbi by walking on the water. You know when Peter falters? When he notices the wind (Matthew 14:28ff).
Here's what it means: My eyes lead my whole body. It's a scientific truth, like the experiment at the museum, and it's a spiritual truth too. Listen to what Jesus says in Matthew 6, vv 22-23:
The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!I've got to look to the light to be filled with the light.
When I'm trying harder, I'm looking at the darkness, so I can fix it. But I can't see. It's dark.
So the first thing is to let the light in, but how? A wise friend of mine recently reminded me of the three A's, which are, in my experience, the singular path to allowing my own transformation. They are:
- Awareness - Now that the light has come in, what do I see? I don't have to do anything about it, just see if for what it is -- see me, you, my situation, the world, as it is, not as I wish it were.
- Acceptance - I may not like what I see, but can I acknowledge that it is what it is? I can ask myself, what if this were as good as it's ever going to get? Then what?
- Action - Only now, that the light is shining and my eyes are seeing, am I equipped to do anything at all. And there's still a question: Not only, what action might I take, but should I take any action at all?
The rest is up to God.