Well, about a week has passed since Caitlyn Jenner appeared on the much ballyhooed cover of Vanity Fair. As a Christian minister I still don’t know exactly what to think and really have decided not to think too much about the specifics of Jenner's plight. She never asked me for advice and I doubt she reads my blog anyway!
Yet, the event has caused me to think about aspects of my own life that I'm not quite so happy about. And, as a preacher and spiritual adviser, it has caused me to think about how to counsel people who have lesser but similar issues that Jenner's plight has brought to the forefront. How do I, we, deal with those things in our life that we would like to change?
Let me explore this with three questions I need to ask myself when I feel uncomfortable or dissatisfied with who I am.
Do I really want to change in the first place?
I must be aware that I can be easily deceived into thinking that I need to be someone or something else when in actuality I don't. Often times I sense that if only I was, you fill in the blank, I would be much better off. I can often fall prey to the "grass is always greener on the other side of the fence" mentality when really the grass on the other side of the fence only looks greener or is just a different shade of green. There may be some things in my life that need to change, but there also some things that are quite fine and what I really want is to be different or like someone else. It doesn’t seem wise to me to make changes for the sole reason to be different or to be like someone else. Besides, some of the things I think I want to change may be the very things that make me unique and wonderful
Will change actually make things better?
A second question I need to ask is whether or not change is going to make things any better. Change can be somewhat like a drug that gives a temporary high but really doesn’t address the underlying issue that is causing the problem. Treating problems with change can sometimes bring temporary relief but unless we deal with the real issue, the problem will simply manifest itself again when the high from the change wears off. Change in job, address, and other circumstances may promise much more than they are able to deliver. Some people have made significant changes in their life thinking that change was the answer to their problems only to be sadly disappointed.
Do I pursue change or consider acceptance?
This question perhaps is most relevant in light of current events. It is a fact there are some things I simply cannot change about myself, and there are some things I can only change at great cost, personal and financial. Some of these costs may be prohibitive to most of us. Some of these changes can actually destroy who I am. I am wary that some people see change as the only alternative when acceptance is actually the real path they need to take.
When troubled by who I am or what my circumstances are, I need to seriously consider acceptance rather than pursue change. It very well may be that the thing I want to change about myself is providing me a unique way to serve the world and changing that may nullify that unique and wonderful trait about myself that equips me to serve as only I can.
I think about the apostle Paul who obviously had something about himself that he wanted to change. He refers to it as his thorn in the flesh and repeatedly asks God to remove it - to change him! No one knows for sure what Paul is wrestling with but it is clear that Paul thinks he would be better off if God would intervene. God doesn't. In essence, God doesn’t think that change is what Paul needs. Paul needs to accept whatever it is that he can’t change and what God won’t change. Paul comes to terms with this thorn, his weakness, and ceases to be obsessed with change and trusts that he is better off as he is rather than what he wants to be.
Could this be what I need to do this as well? To trust that I am better off as I am rather than what I want to be. Maybe the very thing I want to change about myself will make me less than myself and make me less effective and influential than I can be as I am. Maybe what I perceive as a weakness or flaw is in actuality a strength or an opportunity. Maybe I need to stop asking God to change me and come to accept myself and seek out the unique ways I can serve given who I am and what my circumstances are.
Paul is able to shake his obsession with change and, in accepting his weakness, he is able to do great things. Great people do that! Great people at some point stop obsessing with change and attack life head on as who they are.
Change may not be what is needed. Change may not even be realistic. Perhaps acceptance is the key that will unlock our ultimate potential.
The words of Reinhold Niebuhr which have come to be known as the Serenity Prayer are appropriate:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.