How To Change
Marcia tells John she’s not happy in the marriage and they need to go to couples counseling.
Tina is a 40 year old mom of three who begins to wonder if maybe she should go back to school.
Jeff was just told during a family intervention he drinks too much and he needs to make a change.
Melissa has never gotten over the death of her father and wonders if she needs to go to therapy.
Steve struggles with money and wonders if he should get credit counseling.
All of the people above have either just found out they need to make a significant change in life, or are wondering if perhaps they need to.
Change is rarely easy. Most of us are at least somewhat resistant to change in at least a few areas of our lives because when we attempt change, we introduce the unknown into our life. Although people have different levels of tolerance for change, most people fear the unknown on some level.
In this post, I want to challenge you not to make a specific change, but to think more carefully about change itself. As I proceed through this post, I will use the examples above to illustrate my points, but I encourage you to consider some change you may be considering (or trying to avoid considering) in your own life.
It occurred to me many years ago that most significant changes in life–and many less important ones as well–can be broken down into three steps.
- Find truth.
- Face truth.
- Follow truth.
Tina is wondering about school. The first thing she’ll need to do is decide what is true. Does she or does she not need to do this? Is it a good idea or not? Does it make sense or not? Will she be better or worse off if she does it? What about if she doesn’t? You can apply this to all the examples above, and to whatever change you have been thinking about as well.
You must find the truth. Finding truth is largely an intellectual process. To try to find truth is to attempt to discover the reality of your situation.
Jeff is in an interesting position because he was just told the truth. He obviously has not been very open to it in the past, thus the need for an intervention. But what Jeff now has to decide is whether or not to accept the truth he has just been told.
You can be presented with the truth and still choose not to believe it, to not accept it, to not let it in.
When I pastored for 22 years, I recommended always trying to be open to truth, even–and perhaps especially–when it hurts. If you believe in God, you might think of God as truth itself or the ultimate source of all that is true, thus to not be open to the truth is to miss wherever God is. Now that I’m a counselor, that’s still what I strongly recommend!
If you’re not a spiritual person, it’s still the case that nothing is more important than being open to truth. Truth is reality. Truth is, as Dallas Willard put it, “what you have to deal with.” A pilot flying an airplane has a gauge on the plane’s dashboard called an altimeter. The altimeter tells the pilot the one thing the pilot most urgently needs to know, which is where the ground is and how far above it the plane is. The ground is the “truth.” It’s a reality that’s waiting there, unchanging, immutable, a truth which the pilot would be foolish to disregard.
So the truth needs to be known because if it is true, it is true whether you know it, whether you believe it, or not. Like our pilot ignoring the altimeter, it will not go well for you if you ignore or fail to determine the truth.
Sometimes you can’t know the truth absolutely. Maybe Tina needs to go back to school. Maybe not. What’s most important is not whether she does or doesn’t, it’s that she asks good questions and attempts to come to the best understanding possible of whether she needs to do it.
After you have found truth, determined truth, or the truth has been presented to you, and you have decided to accept it, you must face that truth.
Finding truth is largely intellectual work, but facing truth is heart work. If Jeff decides to accept the truth that he is an alcoholic, he will need to face that truth. This means he’ll have to come to terms with all the damage and pain he has caused himself and the people he cares about.
John has to decide whether to honor and respect Marcia’s wish to go to couples therapy in light of the fact that she is not happy. Her unhappiness is her truth for her, and there will be a price for him (and for her) if he refuses to accept it. Here it does not matter whether her truth is not his truth. It only takes one partner in a relationship to drop out, to quit, to give up, to seek divorce. That, too, is the truth! So if he (wisely) accepts her truth and agrees to seek therapy, both John and Marcia have found and acknowledged the truth, and now both will have to do their facing work. What is this distance between them? Why can they not discuss issues? How exactly is each hurting the other? Even deeper, what are their arguments really about? What deeper needs (truths) does each of them have that they are too afraid to admit to the other, and maybe even to themselves?
Facing work is hard.
But skipping the facing work and going right to the following work–simply hearing the truth and making a plan to follow the truth into a new way of living–will be short-lived and ineffective if the facing work is not done.
That is why no, John and Marcia cannot go away on vacation and come home and do a “reset” and expect everything to be different. The facing work is where you learn how urgent the following work is and come to understand how deeply you may need to change. Melissa and Steve have some heart work to do and it’s thorough doing of the heart work that helps strengthen your resolve and motivates you to do the following work.
Once you have attended properly to the facing work, dealt with your pain, your grief, your guilt, your denial, and those difficult emotions, you are ready to make a plan and make a change. That’s your “following” work, where you have found truth and faced it, and now can make a plan and can follow that truth into a new way of living and being. Finding truth is mostly intellectual work that happens in the head. Facing truth is mostly emotional work that happens in the heart. And following that truth into a new way of living and being in action work, that largely happens in the body. It’s where you change.
You start talking to your partner differently and listening better.
You enroll in school.
You attend meetings regularly and follow the steps and make amends with those you have hurt.
You get into therapy where you can gradually set down your burden, integrate your loss into your life, and live freely and lightly again.
You go to credit counseling or read a book about money management, and make a budget and pay your debts and change your life.
You make a plan to follow your truth that you have accepted and faced into a better and richer way of being.
You stop ignoring your altimeter. You find out where the ground is and start flying accordingly.
And there is peace above the ground, where you are living fully in the light of what is, of reality, of truth.
There is peace there.