Saturday, April 23, 2011

How Do You Change? Part 2

Before we can move on with our discussion of change we need to address the goal of change. Why do we want to change? Why do we want to fix our problems? I think, if I read our culture right, most people would say, "to be happy." That seems reasonable at a first glance. Who doesn't want to be happy? Everyone does. But there are a couple of problems with having happiness as our goal for change.

First, there's a confusion of meaning. There's two common uses for the word happiness in the English language, one is an emotion, i.e. a positive feeling, and the other is an attitude, which is best described as contentedness. I think we often confuse these two senses of the word. Advertisers frequently and intentionally confuse the two. And the result is that people who desire happiness in the attitudinal sense end up pursuing happiness in the emotional sense. Such pursuits will always end in frustration because it's simply not possible to feel happy all of the time. Sure it happens sometimes, but it's usually short lived. All it takes is the roof springing a leak or somebody running over Mr. Fluffy and those happy emotions go right out the window.  Happy emotions are just brain chemistry, they're the drug addict's goal - constant euphoria. But of course, constant euphoria isn't possible for anyone. A bowl of Chocolate Chunk ice cream can make you feel good for five minutes, but it won't bring you genuine happiness.

The desire for happiness in the sense of contentedness makes much more sense. But it still is not a suitable goal for change for the simple fact that you can't find happiness by pursuing happiness. Happiness is not some substance that exists somewhere out on the horizon that you can go in search for. It doesn't work that way. In fact, the pursuit of happiness is probably one of the greatest causes of unhappiness in our modern consumer culture. Happiness is not a goal, but a result that occurs from pursuing a worthy goal. I've already covered this in my blog post Discontent, so if you haven't read that you can click on the title and it will take you to the post.

To learn the true goal of change I think we have to look to Christ. Jesus is, after all, the wisdom of God in human form. If we can't learn from him, we can't learn from anyone. In terms of the question of change, I think we can zone in on two points of Jesus' teachings that can give us a clear goal for change. First, Jesus said that all of the "rules" of scripture could be boiled down to two things: love God and love people. So the actions that God wants to see coming from us are acts of love. Second, Jesus said that you can identify a tree by the type of fruit it bears. In other words, our actions flow out of who we are. Thorn trees don't produce figs. So putting those two things together, we can see that Jesus' goal for his disciples is for them to have a transformed character that results in an overflow of love towards others. That's the goal of change. That's why I want my problems fixed - so that I can bless others.

Character matters. It matters in this life and the next. There is nothing more important in this life than seeking to be transformed into the image of Christ. Nothing. Our success in all other efforts will be determined by our success in this effort. Do you want to be a better spouse or parent? Seek to be like Jesus. Do you want to do more to combat social injustice? Seek to be like Jesus. Do you want to be a better leader in your business or community? Seek to be like Jesus. That's how you change. All these things flow out of who you are – your character. If your character is not transformed, your efforts in all other areas will always fall short of your goals.


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