Change in our lives is rarely simple, neat and clean. How does one adjust to change and find a renewed sense of happiness?
A grandparent dies. A job is lost. A hurricane interferes with travel plans. A beloved teacher gets replaced by someone new. No matter what age or stage of life we are in, there is one constant: change. Whether changes are happy or sorrowful, expected or surprising, they can cause commotion and turmoil in our well-being. How does one adjust to change and find a renewed sense of happiness?
Change in our lives most often causes turmoil, and even suffering, and we can never completely escape the inevitability of change.
We can be in control of our thoughts and actions
One way to do this is through the following process:
- Name the feeling associated with the change (sad, mad, shameful, afraid, etc.)
- Notice the thoughts you have that support and justify the feeling (“Everyone close to me always ends up leaving.”)
- Take action to help others.
Biblical stories of hard times
In the Bible, there are many stories about the trials and tribulations good people suffer when confronted with changes and challenges. In certain cases, using these techniques brings about positive change. Abraham, for instance, felt sad that he didn’t have children and afraid for his future. However, he was able to radically change his attitude by remembering the promise Jehovah had made that his offspring would be as numerous as the stars! That thought replaced the negative thoughts, and Abraham was able to remain steadfast in his course, staying open to the blessings of the present and the possibilities of the future.
It is always helpful to remember our childhood hopes and dreams, especially when we don’t feel hopeful in the present. Focusing on the thought of future happiness and fulfillment can drive away negative thoughts. Then we will be able to recognize the nature of our feelings, and choose thoughts to support good feelings or change negative feelings.
Another example from the Bible comes from the story of David, who suffered the devastating loss of his son. He was so sad he went to bed and did not intend to return to his royal duties. However, his best friend came to him and roused him up, reminding him of his duties and how the people depended on him. David then stirred himself and returned to his life, although still mourning his loss.
Activity can help
We can also be roused from mental lethargy by remembering how we can serve others (especially when reminded by a friend or loved one). In fact, being active in our life gives us the chance to see how the great change we have experienced has not destroyed our life. We may have lost an important relationship or a job, but we can still find opportunities to connect with other people and to feel useful and needed.
If we practice naming our feelings and acknowledging the thoughts that support those feelings, we will be able to face the difficult spiritual work of obeying the Lord while simultaneously giving Him control of the outcome.
If this technique is new to you, it may take some work to be able to identify your feelings and their associated thoughts. Many people discover that writing in a journal every day for some weeks is transforming. Writing about your feelings and thoughts may be a huge effort, forcing you to give up some other recreation, or stay up late or get up early, but being able to quickly name your feelings and notice the thoughts that support them can offer greater freedom and control over reactions to life’s circumstances.
Change continues to happen. Obviously, we can’t stop it. Occasionally we can slightly bend its course. But most of the time we feel helpless in the face of our circumstances. After identifying your feelings and thoughts, practice accepting what is happening, while thinking of one of the good aspects of your life. This will allow you to freely turn to the Lord and remember (or decide for the first time) that He is in charge. He will do all in His power to bring good out of your life situation.
Clark Echols is the pastor of the Glendale New Church (www.glendalenewchurch.org).