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. (www.loopchange.com) 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?