I definitely don’t believe I am the wisest counselor. I admit that sometimes when I am sitting in the counseling office listening to someone share their struggles, I am praying hard for God to give me something to say to them that is meaningful and helpful to their situation. However, every once in awhile, I actually say something profound! Like any profound morsel of truth, mine tend to get repeated in counseling sessions regularly. I always say that my most profound statement to people who are seeking counsel is this, “If nothing changes, nothing changes.”
You have surely heard it said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. It is amazing to me the number of people who will pay good money to talk to a counselor about their struggles and then go on living and behaving the same way they always have. In truth, talking about a struggle over and over again without effecting any change actually makes the situation worse, breeding feelings of failure and hopelessness.
Why is change so hard for people? I would like to suggest four possibilities. If you have a troubling behavior, relationship or attitude, think about whether one of these four things is keeping you from really changing.
1) Desire. In order for someone to make a lasting change in their life, the desire to change must be greater than the desire to stay in the status quo. When Jesus approached a man who had been paralyzed for 38 years, he asked what seems like a ridiculous question, “Do you want to be whole?” (John 5:6). Jesus was getting the man in touch with his desire before he asked him to do an impossible thing, “Get up and walk”. It might be good to ask yourself the same question, “Do I really want to change?” Sometimes we get so used to our dysfunction that we lack enough motivation to make the difficult changes.
2) Belief. Many times our lack of change can be tied to our belief system. At the root of our negative behavior might be a lie or misbelief. Thoughts like, “I don’t deserve to be happy”, “I’m never going to amount to anything” or even “God is probably so disgusted with me He won’t help me overcome” can be debilitating. I find when this is the case, the person will actually make an attempt to change but then sabotage the process. In these situations, effective change cannot happen until we renew our minds with truth. In Ephesians 4 when Paul was encouraging the Christians at Ephesus to put off their old behavior and put on the new behavior, he inserted this phrase between the two commands, “Be renewed in the spirit of your mind” (Ephesians 4:22-24). Replacing some of our negative self talk with positive truth from God can be powerful. Jesus said, “the truth will set you free.”
3) Unbelief. Many times the change we are longing for is not possible in our own strength. We truly need the power of God to do a transformational work in us but we don’t really believe He can or we don’t really believe He will. This unbelief is often masked with statements like, “Well that is just the way I am”. The truth is that the “way we are” is a reflection of our flesh patterns that have conformed to the world we grew up in. We have developed certain defense and coping mechanisms that have become embodied in us and feel like “who we are”. However, when we are regenerated by the power of God’s Holy Spirit, we are “new creations” and are given a whole new identity that is NOT tied to our flesh patterns. Believing that God has made us new AND that He not only desires for us to live out of that new identity but gives us His Spirit to empower those new choices is key to change. Our faith does not have to be perfect. We can be like the man who said humbly to Jesus, “Lord I believe, help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24).
4) Community. We were created out of community (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) and for community (it is not good for man to be alone). Sometimes the desired change requires that we have the accountability, encouragement and support of a group of people we trust. Unfortunately the church has not always fostered these kinds of relationships but instead become a place where everyone acts like they have it all together and does not admit their struggles. Solomon wrote that “two are better than one” and “pity to anyone who falls and has no one to help them up” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10). Part of the steps to change for you might be finding a supportive community.
So what is that struggle, behavior, relationship or attitude that you have been trying to change unsuccessfully? Evaluate the reason honestly considering these four possibilities and re-commit to change because “if nothing changes, nothing changes”.