“It’s a new dawn/ It’s a new day/ It’s a new life/ For me, yeah/ And I’m feelin’ good.” –Nina Simone
When I was in college, I had a good friend who went through a really hard time. We used to talk every day, and after nearly a year of hearing about how she was tired of smoking what she didn’t want to smoke, drinking what she didn’t want to drink, in relationships that she didn’t want to be in, I started to get exhausted. I just didn’t know what to do for her–she seemed stuck. She didn’t like where she was, but she didn’t want to change.
Shortly after classes finished, I went to Egypt for three weeks. A few days after I got back, she came by to hang out and welcome me home. I readied myself for the conversation that we had repeated with one another for the last several months–“for I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do, this I keep doing.” And as she made herself comfortable and I braced myself for what I was about to hear, she very simply said to me, “I’m done with all of that.”
“All of what?” I asked.
“All of it,” she said. The partying, the painful choices, the addicting habits. “I’m finished.”
I didn’t know what to say. I knew I couldn’t tell her what I was thinking, mainly because I didn’t believe her. After nearly a year of listening to her cry and yell and laugh and sob about the life she was creating for herself; no way was that gone in a matter of days. I smiled politely and I told her how great that was, and then silently started the patient wait for the conversation that I knew was coming sometime in the near future–that same conversation that we had so many times before about failed resolutions, forgotten goals, neglected foresight.
But that future never came.
She wasn’t deluding herself…or me. She never went back. She changed her friends, her housing, her major. She created a new reality for herself in what seemed to be the very center of her being and put all of her energy into living it. And, to the best of my knowledge, she never went back. If she ever slipped, it never stopped her momentum. The old life had gone–the new had come.
Not so strangely, she changed me too. Forever. Permanently. I had never witnessed anything like it before or since–to see someone just decide who she wanted to be and then do it. Just change. It was like one of those miraculous stories that we read about in blogs and Chicken Soup for the Soul books (or, at least I think so…I don’t actually read those books), but it wasn’t a miraculous person who had done it. It was just my normal, messed up, broken friend. It was the most extraordinary thing I have ever seen an ordinary person do. And it changed my perception of this life forever.
At the center of the Christian message is the message of the necessity of change. “The Kingdom is near…,” “On earth as it is in heaven,” “Repent!” (which literally means “turn around!), “I have come so that you might have life to the full,” “the old has passed away; look! the new has come.” Throughout the centuries, this message of change has become cliche to many. “New life” has come to be understood by some as “restricted life.” “Life to the full” has been translated by others as Christian isolationism, filling our calendars and concerns with Christian labels to such an extent that we have not left room for life outside of those labels. But that doesn’t alter the truth of that original message of Good News: Jesus came to change us. And not just once, but continually. Permanently.
New life is ours to have, so long as we really want it.
I took my friends example to heart that summer and I haven’t set it down since, both in regard to myself and in regard for the church. As church after church asks me about how to change, how they need change to survive, how they must change to “reach the world,” I pose them the same question I pose to myself:
Do you want to change, or do you just want the world around you to change?
Because if it’s us we want to change, it’s as simple as a decision and a prayer. And if the results of our lives aren’t different once we’ve changed ourselves, chances are we haven’t changed ourselves much at all. Lamenting how the world has changed around us is more than just nostalgia…it’s and admission of our guilt in not living the Good News.
We have the opportunity to be the most inspiring, ordinary people–in fact, inspiration is in our calling as believers. So the question lays not with “how” in “how do we change?,” but instead in “when?”
“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. … We need not wait to see what others do.” –Mahatma Gandhi