Change: Where Am I?


As I’m organizing my thoughts in preparation for next Tuesday evening’s lecture for The Meadows in Dallas, I’m drawn to the importance of the stages of change. The lecture is entitled “Letting Go and Movin’ On” and focuses on the dynamics of personal growth. Growth, of course, implies change in a positive direction. Why do some people grow more rapidly than others? Why do some people stay stuck? I think a lot of it has to do with the individual’s readiness to change. The model set forth by Prochaska, DiClemente and Norcross in 1992 continues to orient us to a structured way of thinking. It is referenced in many different fields of research and treatment where change is critical. For example, UCLA’s Center for Human Nutrition refers to it when guiding people into more nutritious eating habits.  The American Academy of Family Physicians refers to it in helping their patients change many kinds of behavior.

A simplified version is pictured above but the complete list of all 6 stages is as follows:
1. Pre-contemplative – Clueless about the need for change; in denial.
2. Contemplative – Sitting on the fence; thinking about the possibilities; ambivalent.
3. Preparation – Experimental; toe dipping; small trials.
4. Action – Letting go and trying new regimens; dealing with obstacles.
5. Maintenance – Long haul; new attitudes; reinforcing internal rewards.
6. Relapse – Evaluate relapse triggers and reassess motives and rededicate convictions.

I want to lose weight and eat healthier this year. Okay, I’m in Stage Three when I eat oatmeal for breakfast but grab a Tootsie Roll from the bowl on the way past the secretary’s desk. I want run my first marathon in December and therefore need to be running regularly two miles three times a week now. That one’s in Stage Two. Great idea as soon as I find my ‘round tuit. Let’s include my reading habits and all the books I want to read in this stage. My wife tells me I need to get my hearing checked. Stage One definitely. Surely there must be something in Stages 4 or 5. Perhaps in a later blog post.

Spiritually, I want to get going on Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth and put those spiritual disciplines into practice. Intellectually, I know that those kinds of disciplines lead to greater freedom to live life more fully. I particularly want to concentrate on his “inward” and his “outward” disciplines.
Somehow, comfort in “what is” seems to keep winning over motivation for “what ought to be.”


2 Responses to Change: Where Am I?

  1. Jeremiah says:

    I have found that the longer I study the scriptures, the greater my confusion over this issue of “growth” grows (ironically I suppose) with exponential magnification. And although your blog makes several accurate observations, I wonder if it really cuts at the heart of what it is to deal with the concept of change–especially as a person of faith.

    Your thoughts on change start with the reasonable observation that “growth implies a change in a positive direction.” And I guess my questions start there. Not with the observation–that much certainly is accurate. But I wonder if it helps. At least for me, not only do I wonder what EXACTLY growth does in fact look like, but I wonder if real growth is actually possible.

    Consider that no matter what stage of development or “change” we find ourselves at, we are all dying (one of the reasons that Augustine thought that salvation doesn’t erase original sin). No matter what we believe about life and faith we are all undeniably still dying (more rapidly in fact as we get age) despite our best efforts to stave off the inevitable. I seem to remember reading somewhere that through one man sin entered the world, and death with sin, and so sin passed to all men. And when I read that I asked myself how I knew that that was in fact true? I guess because everyone dies. So if death is the most tangible evidence of everything that is wrong with the world, and the only cure for it is resurrection, is genuine growth actually possible in this life? Is growth authentic when we are trying with futility to stave off death at every juncture at best only delaying its full effects by a few years? Even if you didn’t have your post-breakfast Tootsie Roll ever again, wouldn’t it be tantamount to nothing more than a flu patient taking NyQuil to temporarily relieve nasal congestion and feel better for the moment all the while still retaining the influenza virus? Oh yes, and I seem to also remember reading somewhere that leopards don’t change their spots….

    I think however, your question, “Why do some people grow more rapidly than others?” Is really a spot-on reflection of the emotion experienced when dealing with personal issues of growth. The sentiment doesn’t seem to be original, I remember reading a couple stories addressing the question, “why do the wicked prosper? I suppose the question is there because that is exactly how we all feel. We ask that question in our more honest moments of life. And I suppose because sometimes, the wicked do in fact prosper.

    But it’s not just asked of the wicked, is it? Our culture tends toward the glamorization of certain religious figures, doesn’t it? I sense that as well in your reflection.” Something of an “American Idol” syndrome even amongst we pious evangelicals. Figures like James Dobson, Chuck Swindoll, Jerry Falwell, and Ted Haggard and the like have certainly experienced this phenomenon and have benefited from it. Figures that have this kind of status seem to have been given that “passing grade” on having figured out what this “growth” thing is really about. They seem to have overcome “staying stuck”, as you say, in the snares of life and sin. Lets forget for a second (like our culture does) that other beloved figures like Charles Ryre, Charles Stanley, and John Hagee have either been divorced or come pretty darn close. Let’s forget also to mention that a living, former, president of the highly esteemed Dallas Theological Seminary is hated by most of his children (a little nugget I picked up from a conversation I was fortunate to have with his grandson). Oh wait– did I say Ted Haggard? FORMER president of the National Association of Evangelicals? Yes, that’s right. I did.

    I guess my quandary lies in the fact that even if one is fortunate enough to scrub off one spot off the speckled coat, isn’t it still covered with countless others? Or to put it plainly, what genuine “growth” is there even if an heroin addict comes to turn with his heroin addiction and kicks does in fact kick the habit, only to be dependent then on methadone? What genuine growth is there if a pastor stops viewing pornography for a time, but still finds himself going back for seconds at the Golden Corral? Isn’t the plain and ugly truth that we WERE once all content to admit, when we were lost and dead in our sins, that we are all DYING? We are all totally saturated with sin. We exchange one vice for another, and heck, even our virtues swell up with pride and become vices to themselves.

    I remember one of my most beloved theology professors pointing out that in the same way that God grants salvation selectively to individuals, so too he grants sanctification selectively. Certainly, at least, that would be consistent with the idea that people of faith, having begun by the Spirit, continue the work of salvation also by the Spirit–oh yeah, I might have read that somewhere too.

    Jonathan Edwards in Religious Affections expressed it (and I am paraphrasing summarily) by suggesting that what it means to be a person of faith is just to love God. And if one loves God one must then love his attributes or the things of God (i.e., love, patience, forgiveness… ect.). The more one loves the things of God the more one would desire to emulate those things. But the more we desire to emulate those attributes the more we realize we fall way short of actually emulating those attributes. The more we realize we are woefully short of those attributes the more we realize that we are dependent on the grace of God to give us the righteousness of Christ to make up for our shortcomings. The more we realize the grace of God the more we love God for being gracious. The more we love God for being gracious the more we want to emulate the things of God…. and on the cycle of life goes…

    At least to me, a reflection on the nature of life as a person of faith, like the one that Edwards offers is of a completely different tenor than one which is offered by say–Richard Foster who talks a lot about good life “practices” like prayer and scripture study, but does so in formulaic terms. Like as if a concept like “spiritual growth” can be reduced to A + B = C. As if if you just did X, Y, or Z, action you would in fact be more “spiritual” or more “mature” or more “fully grown.”

    And there in lies my confusion in understanding concepts like “growth” or “change”. I want to say with exasperation in my voice, “WHAT ON EARTH DOES IT MEAN?” Because the truth is, you can practice all the disciplines in the world, you will still be just as dying, you will still be a sinner, you will still have plenty of vices, and plenty of other spots on the coat.

    But people do, don’t they? They speak of their lives using terms like “victory” and “maturity”. People do and our “spiritually elite”, our pastors and “leaders” extend the command to us to also follow in step. To grow in spirituality and maturity. And maybe they have figured out something that I have not. Maybe they have or maybe in their efforts to remove their spots they have grown nearsighted in looking at their one unblemished patch of fur and speak of their “growth” myopically. But for those who can’t help but see themselves for who they really are, is it any wonder that so many people feel that there is a disconnect between their faith and their life? Is it any wonder that so many Christians abandon their faith thinking that his yoke is too strong and his burden too heavy?

    And you might say to me that if what I say is true, that is a pitiful existence. An existence without hope and without promise for change, for “new life”. And I would suggest that maybe the exact opposite is true. I would suggest that because I learned somewhere that his yoke is easy and his burden is light. I learned that God is a compassionate God who abounds with love and faithful mercy. He forgives wickedness, rebellion, and sin. I learned that the gift is not like the trespass and that his grace is greater than all our sin. I learned that not having any righteousness of your own is ok because the righteousness which is given freely by faith is more than all we will ever need. I learned that despite our best efforts at thwarting the Spirit’s work in our lives, we will all be proven wrong, and in that day where we are raised from the dead in glorious resurrection we will then be conformed truly to the image of the Messiah. We will in fact be then what we have been declared to be today by faith–totally and completely righteous.

    Which is why I don’t know what it means to “grow” or to “mature” or to “change”. It’s why that even if those terms have legitimate meaning, I don’t know that it would even be reasonably attainable. And I’m even further perplexed by why it is we keep force-feeding these ideas to each other as well.

  2. Adam says:

    Look Mr. Jeremiah-

    Kind sir, I appreciate your response. But in NO WAY did you deal with the subject matter. At times you changed topics from change physically, to change spiritually, to wondering if change occurs at all.

    Then you talked about glamorizing spiritual leaders, which has NOTHING to do with change. IF anything, their stories of how change has positively affected their lives should motivate you toward that same direction. The article Dr. Jagers is presenting here is observations that CHANGE does occur. For good or bad.

    I would not dare presume kind sir, that questioning whether change really occurs is the direction to ask. You are asking the wrong question. But rather, where can change occur for me? Your response is neither enlightening or as deep as you might have led on, and I urge you to take a second look at your own questioning. I always try to embrace mystery where it is deserved instead of distancing myself from it through lifeless questioning.

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