Can People Change?

If you read my blog regularly, you know that I’ve been in a kind of funk for a few months… angry, depressed, struggling on various levels. But this week something shifted inside. I think I was finally able to let go of some anger and turn back towards God and His Church with a bit more of a soft heart. Not sure why, but some of it, I think, had to do with the love and support of a dear friend who has been in a similar struggle for even longer. And some of it is also due to my opening the door of my heart—if only a small crack—to the spiritual world and what it has to offer.

Dr. Jamie Moran
, in his essay, “Orthodoxy and Modern Depth Psychology,” in the book, Living Orthodoxy in the Modern World, addresses this issue well:

“People only change if they are truly religious in the way that the child is originally religious: in love with the world, and full of the élan that can only come from reaching out of oneself, in interest and concern. Those people who retain a spark of this religiousness, and who therefore still serve something greater than themselves, will because of that ‘something’ open their selfishness to life and healing. Only such people will repent of selfishness, and let life show them that it is wrong as a basis for existence.”

Opening my selfishness to life and healing
… I’m trying.

Today I heard a friend share something I didn’t know about him before. He said that his step-mother had abused him and that he hated her most of his life. And then one day he got tired of hating her and went to confession and let go of it. He said he “just couldn’t do it [hate her] any more,” it was just too exhausting.

That’s how I feel about the anger I nurse towards people so often. It wears me out. And whether or not they choose to change, I can make that choice for myself. How?

Dr. Moran continues:

“People who leave a space for God—even for the ‘hidden’ God, which is what the Holy Spirit is: God’s humility—can be helped, and can change. They can learn to live with the most extreme damage and suffering and yet still find joy in life…. People who leave a space for God are able to make that change of heart, not for any sentimental reason or out of any moral superiority, and certainly not because of what is conventionally called piety, but because and only because, despite their selfishness, they truly acknowledge and have faith in a force that is greater than themselves. They are willing to open their selfishness up to that greater force, and in opening its closed system, to begin to let life teach it its mistakes and heal its wound, and comfort its genuine suffering.”

But what would this change look like on me? I think sometimes I’m happy here in my comfort zone, and am a bit afraid of what a “new me” might look like. I want to be “real,” to be authentic and genuine in my relationships with others and with God. I don’t want to pretend to be someone I’m not… to play a role that’s expected of me. But I do want to change and to be healed.

These words, in my friend, Neil White’s wonderful book, In The Sanctuary of Outcasts, are helpful. Neil was incarcerated in a federal prison that “doubled” as the last leprosarium in America, for kiting checks, and the experience changed him in ways he never imagined:

“For five months, I had agonized over how I should change. I examined the details of my past, the character flaws that contributed to my personal failure, the allure that applause held for me, my discovery that a pristine image could cover dark secrets, my attempts to balance bad deeds with good, and my optimism unchecked by good financial sense.

“But I knew my essence had not really changed. I would always be the same person. Same skills, same personality, same character traits.

“I didn’t need to be a new person. I needed a new purpose…. Live simply, hide nothing, help others….”

I’ve heard Neil tell his story at numerous bookstore signings, and the thread that always runs through his talks is humility. Not that he ever claims to be humble. He just is. He has changed. In some ways, he has grown up into the man he was meant to be. I didn’t know the “old Neil,” but the one I’ve known for the past three years is all about living simply, hiding nothing, and helping others. He’s generous with his time and embarrassed by his fame.

Yesterday I went to Confession for the first time in about three months. I had to be willing to let go of some anger first. I had to have at least a little bit of desire to change, to be changed, by God. I’m hoping to partake of the Holy Eucharist at the Feast of the Transfiguration at St. John Orthodox Church tomorrow morning. It’s all about change—about being transformed—from darkness to light. It’s about restoring the image that fell. That was broken. I’ll be there, because of friends who have paved the way and shared their stories with me. Because of other very real human beings who have been willing to change.

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