It’s a new year, a perfect time to make some changes in my life. But change requires courage, effort, humility, and willingness, things that aren’t always easy to come by. Maybe that’s why change is hard for me and most other people.
I like my daily patterns, those little habits that are a cinch for me to do and remember, like taking a shower or brushing my teeth. They don’t require much thought or imagination, and they don’t present a challenge. They are mostly good things, but I’ve got some bad habits mixed in there too—mostly omissions.
When someone asks me to change my daily patterns, I sometimes balk. I’m not always big on change because change requires energy, something I’m a little short on these days. Am I “set in my ways”? Maybe. Probably.
From the beginning, angels and prophets have been asking the human family to shape up. It’s not a fun job and prophets are often hated for it. Why are they hated? It’s evident we don’t like to be found out or to have our faults pointed out. We don’t like to be “told.” Changes don’t come easy, especially for proud people who think they’ve already got everything figured out.
This is a rebellious people, lying children, children that will not hear the law of the Lord: which say to the seers, See not; and to the prophets, Prophesy not unto us right things, speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits. (Isaiah 30:9–10.)
Remember Saul, who later became Paul the apostle, “breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord,” who on the road to Damascus saw a light and heard a voice saying, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?”
“Who art thou, Lord?” he asked.
“I am Jesus whom thou persecutest . . . .”
Then Saul wisely replied, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” (See Acts 9:1–19.)
That’s a tougher thing to say than to do, but the apostle Paul spent the rest of his life doing his best to follow what the Lord would have him do. It took sacrifice and energy and deep humility, but he did it, and in doing so, he changed not only himself, but also the world.
I like the way Jesus explained the problem of repentance to Nicodemus one night:
Every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. (John 3:20.)
If you ever feel like hiding or fleeing from change, well, it’s a pretty good indicator that you ought consider making that change, to turn around and face the light.
If you point out my “darkness” to me, I have several options: defend myself, hide, or change.
If I defend myself, my little dark deeds stay in the dark, or so I imagine. This kind of self-defense keeps me comfortably stagnant. No growth there.
If I hide, I’m just hiding from the truth, which is just putting off the inevitable.
If I change, I take a risk. I might embarrass myself by admitting I need to change. I might fail in my efforts. But what are the possibilities, the joys, the rewards of repentance?
He who doeth the works of righteousness shall receive his reward, even peace in this world, and eternal life in the world to come. (D&C 59:23.)
The word repent comes from a Latin root that means “to feel regret.” The word regret, perhaps of Germanic origin, means “to weep.” Repentance is not only a path to change but also a motivation as well.
If I could say one thing about repentance, it would be this: it heals. It heals hearts, it heals minds, it heals relationships, it closes wounds, it opens possibilities. After faith in Christ, it’s the best possible thing you can do.
When the light came to Saul, he didn’t mess around. He decided to change, to repent, on the spot. His spirit was contrite, his heart, broken. He was willing to change without argument. Life was tough for him after that, but as he shaped his will to the Lord’s will, he changed not only himself but also thousands of lives. He is still, through his letters in the New Testament, changing lives by the thousands.
We have an adversary. He is real. He and his mob of minions don’t want you to repent, because if you change, you’ll change others. He doesn’t want that. It ruins his plan. There’s a better plan than his. It’s simple, and though difficult, nothing could be more rewarding.
Verily I say unto you, all among them who know their hearts are honest, and are broken, and their spirits contrite, and are willing to observe their covenants by sacrifice—yea, every sacrifice which I, the Lord, shall command—they are accepted of me. For I, the Lord, will cause them to bring forth as a very fruitful tree which is planted in a goodly land, by a pure stream, that yieldeth much precious fruit. (D&C 97:8–9.)
When your heart is honest and broken, when your spirit is contrite and willing, the door of heaven is flung open. God cares about us more than He cares about our sins. He will suffer long with us as we try and try again. It will be worth it, more worthwhile than we can imagine.
We know why change is important, but what about the how? What can we do differently to create a different outcome? Many books have been written on the subject, and gurus have dedicated their lives to proffering numberless tricks and gimmicks on how to change (just think “weight loss”), but I have found three principles that don’t ever fail: (1) accountability, (2) retrospection, and (3) grace.
First, including others in my goal making and keeping keeps me on my toes. It helps a lot to give account to another human being of what you are doing or not doing. Second, reminding, remembering, and reflecting on what went well, what didn’t, and what’s next—that’s retrospection to me. A daily dose is best. Finally, and most importantly, the grace of a loving Father is what makes great things happen.
Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up. (James 4:10.)
Start your list today—I will too—of things you’d like to change in 2015. Then ask for God’s help. As you do, you’ll not only change your life, you’ll also change the lives of others. Who knows. You might even change the world.
With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible. (Mark 10:27.)
Happy New Year! (P.S. This post is a bit of a milestone. It’s my 500th post on this blog.)