Spare some change

Photo courtesy of alexlc13 on flickr

I’m working on a new project that has me thinking a lot about change lately.  Can people really change over time?  I’ve seen marriages broken up because one person expected the other to change and it never happened. I’ve known people in the second half of life who look back with disappointment at their own habits, sins or character traits that have remained the same for decades even though they wish to be different.

True, lasting change is hard. Even when we hope to change, work at change, pray for change in ourselves, sometimes we end up resigned to the idea that we are meant to stay the same forever.

I’d like to look back in 5, 10, 20 years and say that I’ve changed for the better.  What should I be doing now to get there?  I decided to wait on addressing the major character flaws and tackle a simple habit first.

My entire life I’ve had trouble with sleep. Well, it’s not that I have trouble. It’s that the world has trouble with my natural sleep habits. If left to my own devices I’d stay up until 2 or 3 AM each morning and sleep until 10 or 11 the middle of the next day.  Sounds reasonable to me.  What? That’s not how the rest of the world’s schedule works? My job, my husband and my baby have expectations and needs that happen before 11 AM? Sounds like their problem, not mine!

Seriously, I’ve struggled for a couple of decades to adjust my sleep cycle.  I’ve tried to change because of early morning classes. I’ve tried to change because of jobs. Usually I’ve ended up keeping my same evening hours (sleep between 12-2:00 AM) and then force myself to get up for the rest of the world.  I’ve averaged between four and six hours of sleep a night for years. The results have been a lot of sleep deprivation, moodiness (no comments from the peanut gallery that knows me and lives with me, please), and a general hatred of the world in the morning and sleepiness in the afternoon. Not a lifestyle I want to continue.

One of my problems is that I’ve been trying to change for the wrong reasons.

The true thing that motivates us to change is not resolutions or responsibilities, but relationships.

Getting married (6 years ago) and becoming a mom (16 months ago) have motivated me to change in ways I’ve never experienced before.  I want to be able to be kind to my husband (not throw things at him when he attempts to wake me) before 10 AM.  I want to get up with my baby without resenting his cries bringing me out of a sleep I’ve only entered 2 hours before. I want to have energy and enthusiasm for those that I love the most, not come home exhausted at the end of the day.

The tipping point came for me a few weeks ago when Jim remarked that he had gotten up with Drew every morning that week, gotten him his milk and his breakfast, and started the day with him while I slept. My husband is a non-complainer, but having the sole responsibility of our toddler in the mornings had cramped his schedule and his desire to pray, read Scripture and work out.  It grieved me that my selfish patterns were affecting him.  I decided to change.

For the last week I’ve been using a website called LoopChange to commit to a 21 Day Mission to change.  ( I set a goal and have been posting each day to keep track of how I’m changing my sleep habits for the better. I haven’t succeeded every night, but I’ve bumped my average “lights out” time earlier and my “total sleep time” has increased.  I’m feeling better and getting up earlier and more enthusiastically.

You can follow my progress at loopchange here. The site is free and is based on the philosophy that it takes at least 21 days to change a habit.  Other members of the site are following my progress and commenting with encouragement and advice on my mission. I can’t tell you what a difference that has made.  I’m also following their missions (which include things like exercise habits, eating healthily, breaking an email addiction, fasting from TV as a family and giving up Dr. Pepper) and posting encouragement and advice on their page. And I’m praying for them.

The principle at work here is one that I believe in with my whole heart: we can only truly change within the context of community.  We need gentle accountability and encouragement from others.  I also believe that God can effect true change in us through prayer and His power in ways that we cannot even attempt on our own.

When I proofread items for worship at our church one of the most common misspellings is “alter” instead of “altar.”  As in “kneel at the Communion alter” or “come forward to the prayer alter.”  Besides stirring up my inner grammar/spelling Nazi, that mistake has always amused me.  When we truly place our lives on the altar before God, that’s where they are truly altered.  God is in the alteration business.

Change. It is possible. But it won’t happen on its own.

-We need a reason to kick us in the pants and push us forward. Relationships are the best and most lasting reason to want to change something about yourself.
-We need a community to encourage us and hold us accountable.
-We need a Savior. When we try to go it on our own we are doomed to fall back on our own loop of habits. When we ask for His help He lifts us out of the loop and places our feet on a new path.

I’ll be posting once a week here to keep you updated on my 21 day mission. Today is day 9. Wish me luck. Pray for me. Start your own mission. I’ll pray for you.

In the meantime, I have to turn off my computer now. It’s time to go to sleep.

What change do you long to see in yourself or what have you changed with success? Any tips on how you see real change  happening in people’s lives?


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Great post Jessica, thanks! Lots of really good insights.

This part was my favorite: “The true thing that motivates us to change is not resolutions or responsibilities, but relationships.”

I agree with that wholeheartedly.


Great post on a wonderful subject. I’ve always believed that you can’t change other people, but you can change yourself. Made me think of Benjamin Franklin. I remember that he made a list of 13 traits he wanted to improve. As I remember, he worked on them one at a time. If I made such a list, there’s no way I could stop at just 13…..


Made me laugh on several different levels! Two of them include: remembering when you and your Blue House roomies would walk into some of those early morning classes at different times and the fact that words I am working with on a theoretical level are “transformation” and “covenant discipleship” which have direct correlation to the ideas you are discussing in a very practical way! I will be giggling about your post till my dissertation is done, done, DONE!!!!
grace and peace to you sister!

Cheryl Smith

Jessica, your blog pushed me into reflection about my own sleep patterns. I used to be exactly like you describe. . . .staying up late, resenting the morning when it came around too soon etc. But, like you, becoming a mother required me to questions those things I had always blamed on, “just the way I’m put together.” What if the way I was put together required transformation for me to function as the best mother I could be? I won’t say I always greeted the morning with glee, but over time, the discipline of getting up, fixing breakfast and being the “stable one” so toddlers and teenagers could have their developmental fluctuations became my norm. Several years later. . . . Colly will be 33 this year. . . . .I find that my internal clock wakes me up with the dawn with an excitement for the day I could hardly have anticipated several years ago. That alertness in the early hours allowed me to wake up in the early light this morning and spy the twin fawns and their mother drinking at the water station I had set up at the back of the parsonage property. Wow! There is no amount of sleep that would have balanced on the scales for that experience of grace and beauty! So, that process of re-setting the default position has been accomplished in my life in THAT area. Now, others await me. The area God is most currently busy in transforming in me? Well, it’s my default of being the critic. . . the judge. . . .the analyzer. Suffice it to say that re-setting my sleep cycle looks like God’s warm-up act compared to the work being done in me now!

Melodie England

Jessica, I can so relate to this posting. As my age continues to creep up, I’m doing lots of looking back and not wanting to regret time wasted. I recently read Lysa TerKeusts’ book “Made to Crave” to assist in my ongoing weight loss attempt(s) and it has provided inspiration on many levels in my desire to make changes. Last Sunday I made a committment to change my exercise habit (or lack of). So each night since then my husband and I eat a light dinner and take off for a walk. It has been a different path each evening, and last evening we found ourselves on the Armand Bayou trail, in a meadow with big bunny rabbits all around us. As it was getting dark, and we were a long way from home, it was very hard to turn around and start back. I “craved” the peacefulness of that setting. The desire to find God in even the simplest of daily activities is my inspiration for change. Good luck on your journey, I will pray for you as I know you are praying for me.

Peggy Ridley

I’m right there with you on the sleep pattern thing. I’ve tried numerous times over the years to adjust my biorhythms, with limited success. I’ll do okay, not great, for awhile, but I can knock myself right off track with one later night. I applaud your motivations, but I definitely see (at least for me) a difference between a habit and a natural rhythm. The first is hard enough to change; the second may well be impossible. I’ve been a late-nighter since I was a tiny kid, so I don’t foresee actually changing that. Perhaps I can adapt, but it’ll never be “natural.” Best of luck to you – and if you find the secret, please share it with me!

Nelda Perry

Great post, Jessica. Keep up the good work. I do have one correction for you#I can’t imagine you with character flaws! Just habits to change!


I personally enjoyed your natural rhythm of life when we were roomies! Pizza & cinna-sticks aren’t any good before 10 pm… 🙂

I am also amused at mis-spellings at church. My favorite is seeing “conformation” from the pens of my 6th graders (and some of their parents!)


Change is hard. In a vacuum it would seldom be necessary. If left to my own devices…there would be no such thing as “5 minutes late” or sleeping in. But how isolating that would be. Perhaps we should realize that we each are hard wired w certain tendencies ….these traits affect those around us and thus change…even if just partial may be necessary to show our love to them. Keep up the wonderful work u do each day at work and home 🙂


Running is the new thing in my life. Like you I am a perpetual night owl. I’ve tried many many times to not be (as I type this at 11pm) – but that is my DNA. So I figured out that I needed to do something as a step towards healthiness. I decided to begin the Couch 2 5K program – so literal at the time it was scary. That was the first of May and after lots of struggles and a diagnosis of osteoarthritis in my knee, I’m happy to say that I’m running 40 min 3x a week on an elliptical. So yes, the 21 days is so true. I now look forward to my run and miss it if I have to reschedule. Good luck to you in your change. I’ve found sleep comes easier having this regimen of exercise.