“The only thing constant in life is change.”
We all know the above phrase to be true. Yet we often rail against the changes that come in our lives. Not always, but often… at least for the uninvited, unplanned, unpleasant changes.
Transitions, change, and loss happen throughout life starting with the two major changes that bookend our lives: birth and death. In between there is growing, moving, job changes, relationship changes, empty nest, full nest, illness, aging, all of which keep us on our toes, reminding us that we never know the future and we are all always human… always changing.
King Solomon was, purportedly, the wisest man to ever live. He had some things (though not all things!) figured out. In Ecclesiastes 3 he says:
There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity
under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones
and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace
and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.
– Ecclesiastes 3:1-9
All we have to do is look around the world and we will see that change and loss is always wrapped up in this thing called living. Think of the changing of the seasons — the leaves and flowers budding, blooming, and dying, and in that death spreading seeds for new life to begin again.
In many ways we expect change in life. Yet, knowing it will happen does not mean that change is easy to handle.
What do you think makes change easy?
I would suggest that changes that are planned, desired, expected, positive, and which lead us somewhere better are generally easier to handle.
What makes change difficult?
Likely the flipside of what I mentioned above. Change is difficult when it is unplanned, unwanted, unexpected, negative, and leads us somewhere worse or harder. Death is often seen as a difficult change.
I attended a retreat a number of years ago where one of the “get to know you” activities was making a timeline of positive events in your life. Most of the people attending quickly came up with the five positive things. Not me. I could easily think of five things, but at least half of them were not “positive” in the way most people would describe positive.
You see, the actual events themselves were painful and difficult and, at the time, were in no way positive. Yet, the change they brought to my life was so astonishingly wonderful that I had to put them on my “positive event timeline”.
How could such painful moments end up being seen as positive? Time and perspective.
Those painful times were also growing times for me. I sought wise counsel and learned a great many things about patience, love, and grace. Lessons I would not have learned without the “opportunity” to need those things so much. And over time I saw a change in me — a positive change.
Did I always feel like it was positive? Heck no! There were days of pure darkness and despair. But as the days, weeks, and months passed, I could see what had been growing all along in the darkness. There were good things there even when I couldn’t see them.
I needed time for my journey to take me where it needed to. And I also needed to be willing to shift my perspective to see the goodness and the growth present in the midst of my pain.
You see, our perspectives matter. The way we view ourselves and the events in our life matters. The words that we use about ourselves and our life matter. Our willingness to see the big picture of our lives matters.
That is not to say that we will always be able to look at hard moments in a positive light.
But reminding ourselves that our perspective matters can be an invitation to posture ourselves differently as we think of our circumstances: past, present, and future.
To do this, you can make your own “Positive Event Timeline”. It will look something like this:
Start with the significant moments of change in your life. (Remember that significant moments may be small moments that have a big impact!) Place them above the timeline if you viewed them at the time they occurred as positive and below the line if you experienced them as negative when they occurred.
Now comes the fun part! Think about the impact that moment had on you (your physical body, your emotions, your relationships, your finances, your sense of self, your spirituality, etc.).
Can you find a positive in any of these areas for that moment? For example, perhaps you were in a car accident and the injury was horrible for your body, but you grew very close to a friend who cared for you as a result.
I hope that as you stop and examine some life moments that you will find positive threads woven throughout, even if right now they appear tiny. And I hope that time and perspective will allow for more positives to unfold as you continue to grow and change in this life.
This post is the first in a series based on the Storybrook Therapy seminar “Transitions: Positively Adapting to Loss and Change Through the Seasons of Life.” In the days ahead we will be offering tools and analogies to help us all better manage what it means to be human and live lives of constant change.
Constant change. Oh the irony…