Five Tips for Processing Change

For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland. (Isaiah 43:19)

Some wag observed, “Nobody likes change except wet babies, and even they will usually cry about it.” It’s true. I don’t cry about change but much to the chagrin of change advocates around me I say, “Routine is our friend.”

God has wired us to find comfort, security, and identity in the familiar, the routine, our customs and traditions. Losing them or changing them can throw us off balance and that’s uncomfortable. Most of us don’t want to change because we believe it will be detrimental somehow—we’ll lose power, comfort, convenience, or position.

God Himself doesn’t change, but that is not an argument against change. He is not interested in maintaining the status quo at all costs but rather expects us to change. He tells us, “Be transformed” (Romans 12:2) and that may mean repentance—changing our mind and behaviour. Change is necessary for salvation and life to occur.

Dealing with change in life can be hard but Scripture does provide us with some direction. One of the best examples of change was the Israelites leaving Egypt after 430 years and heading ultimately to the Promised Land. One would think they would welcome the change from routine of slavery to freedom and independence, and at first, they did. But human nature being what it is they weren’t long in the desert before they wanted to go back to the familiar settings and food of Egypt—even if it meant bondage.

From Israel’s experience of change, five ways for dealing with change emerge.

1. Preparation. Change is constant; always be mentally prepared for it. Develop a mindset that welcomes the fact that change is inevitable. In one sense, the Passover was Israel’s act of mental and spiritual preparation. They were to partake of it dressed ready to leave (Exodus 12:11). It built anticipation for departure and eventual arrival in Canaan. In the case of the Israelites and Christians, God had made promises to Abraham. Change is necessary for the unfolding of God’s redemptive plan.

2. Priorities. Change means disruption and disorientation; prioritizing provides a stable focus. Obedience to the Lord was the overarching priority for Israel and for us. It was to be manifest in the Ten Commandments and the law, which gave structure and stability to a new nation. It prioritized relationships to God, family, work, and others—priorities for our times of change as well. 

3. Provision. Change can be sudden, which does not give us time to prepare; God, who allowed the change, will provide. When Israel was driven out the day after Passover, they did not have time for any further food preparations (Exodus 12:39). The Lord provided His presence, protection, guidance, and food. His constant reassurance to Moses and the people was, “I will be with you.” And that presence was manifest through the cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night (Exodus 13:21). When Pharaoh attacked, God protected them by taking them through the Red Sea. When food was needed, He provided manna and quail. God’s constant assurance for His children, no matter what change we go through is, “I will never leave you or forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5 ESV). Our comfort and security are not in the familiar, but in our unchanging God who provides what we need through the changes.

4. Process. Change is an event or series of events, but our response to it is a process. We experience a range of emotions like fear, anxiety, resentment, anger, denial, and eventually acceptance as we process the change. Israel expressed many of these emotions as they transitioned from Egypt, to the wilderness, and eventually to Canaan. Don’t deny that change is happening. Allow yourself to feel the loss, sadness, and even anger at the change. Living in denial and trying to continue as if nothing has changed can result in us not making the necessary adaptations to survive and thrive in the new situation.

Understanding and accepting that we may have these responses can help us embrace change more readily and move forward in our life.

5. Positivity. Change is often uncontrollable but our attitude isn’t. Choosing a positive attitude goes a long way to ensuring that the process and outcomes are positive as well. Israel did not do this. Despite the Lord’s presence, protection, and provision they grumbled at every turn. At the border of Canaan, 10 spies chose a negative, unbelieving perspective and the eventual outcome was 40 dismal years in the wilderness. Had they chosen a positive, faith-filled outlook, they would not have suffered as much. If only they had followed these five tips for processing change!