Dealing with the pace of change

Change is a fact of life. Everything changes, from the moment it comes into existence it is in a state of flux, growing, transforming, decaying. Sometimes we view this process as beneficial and healthy, while at others we deny, restrain and even fight change. Fighting change is like trying to restrain the wind or water of a storm – ultimately, nature wins.

We have the opportunity to choose our attitude toward change – fear or hope, resistance or embrace, conflict or adaption. Some people seem to have a greater capacity for peace in the midst of change, and for adaptability as the situation dictates.

Family systems theory gives us considerable insight into how we experience anxiety in ourselves and the system in the midst of change. Often one person will take on the anxiety for the system, particularly if others are remarkably, and seemingly irrationally, calm. The anxious person (identified patient) will think, if not outright say, “What is wrong with you people? Don’t you see what’s going on? Don’t you recognize the grave dangers?!” This individual may absorb and express enough anxiety for everyone.

Each individual’s capacity remaining non-anxious through change is a result of their personality disposition, family of origin influences, and experience and training. Some people have a natural head start when it comes to dealing with change and anxiety. Others develop this capacity over time, perhaps through hard fought personal battles and hard won emotional maturity.

When we interact in pastoral care settings, we frequently are working with people who are facing significant changes and experiencing the ramifications of that situation. We need to recognize that each of these persons is part of their own system (family, friends, community) as well as being part of a system with us (care-giver and care-receiver, organization, institution, etc). And finally, each of us is a system within ourselves – body, mind, soul and spirit, intellect and emotions, thoughts and feelings, memory and future anticipations. Our ability to reflect on the pace of change, and remain non-anxious in the face of other’s anxiety, will go a long way toward helping them find their way toward wholeness.

Think about a situation in your life where you have faced significant change. What anxiety did you feel? How did you handle it? What would you do differently now? What did you learn that you can share with others?

This article is a followup to George Bullard’s article: At what speed should congregations move?

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