Mary and Joseph—who look so peaceful and serene in Christmas nativity sets—were living quietly in a rural community, planning an ordinary married life together, when an angelic messenger showed up with a life-changing message. It was shocking, disruptive, and scary.
The changes that happen to us today seldom have such a supernatural element attached to them, but they, too, often occur without warning. One day it’s business as usual; the next day, we’re handed a promotion, our child is given a diagnosis, a trusted neighbor announces he’s moving, our company is sold, we receive an inheritance, or our spouse files for divorce. Or the biggie of all COVID hits our globe. As John Lennon sang, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”
Only a few of us are naturally wired for change. The rest of us have to work at it. And often we resist change even when it good for us—as Malcolm Gladwell describes the legendary Wilt Chamberlain shooting free throws.
But change is unavoidable.
I said in my last blog post that people have a “change bent.” Change reveals our true colors, as we see in the three main characters in the Christmas story:
- Mary—the early adapter who displays the admirable quality of submissiveness to God.
- Joseph—the hard sell who wants to do the right thing but is cautious about making any sudden moves.
- Herod—the subtle resister who cares a lot about appearance and is inherently self-protective, overly suspicious, and willing to do whatever it takes to keep his power.
Today, we are going to look at the Christmas story again. But this time let’s identify four tips to help anyone honestly wrestling with growing their change mindset and behavior.
- Life is full of the unexplainable and unexpected.
In one of his final books, management guru Peter Drucker said, “Everybody has accepted that ‘change is unavoidable.’ ” But this implies that change is like “death and taxes”—as if it should be postponed as long as possible and no change would be vastly preferable.
But change is the norm. It keeps on coming in both our business and personal lives whether we want it or not. We should always expect change. We just don’t know exactly when it’s going to come or what it’s going to look like. To live is to experience change.
As I was once told on a trail ride, we must learn to sit a little looser in the saddle. Lean in to surprise and change. Relax a little. Sharpen your skill set of anticipation.
- Sometimes change drives us and sometimes we drive change.
Two young friends of ours just got engaged. We watched them meet each other, date, and get engaged. When he asked and she said yes, they set off a chain reaction of change. Their world is now handcuffed to a series of surprises and adjustments that are all tied to their decision to get married. Sometimes we drive change.
Another young couple we know just had their first child. I met the husband for breakfast recently. He looked exhausted, excited, and overwhelmed. I didn’t even get a chance to ask how it was going. He simply said, “Man, we never sleep anymore.” We both laughed and I gave him my “You’re in the tunnel right now” talk. Sometimes change drives us.
- People need information and inspiration during the change process.
Unlike Mary, who received advance notice of what was about to happen, Joseph didn’t get any official information until after he found out his fiancée was pregnant.
Fortunately, he didn’t have to wait long for more data. The angel of the Lord soon appeared to him in a dream with a fact-filled message: “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:20-21). In one dream, the angel told Joseph exactly what he needed to know.
When facing a big change at work, we often need to know why it’s happening and how it’s going to affect us. That is the core question and resistance of change for most of us. What does all this mean to me? Will I have a new boss? What does this mean for my retirement package? Will I have to share my cubicle with four other people? Will I lose my company credit card?
Like Joseph, the more information we get, the easier it is to process the change. That’s why it’s so important for change leaders to keep their employees informed. As a general rule, the more we know, the more willingly we embrace change.
Unfortunately, managers who initiate change often assume that the people who will be affected by the change have the same facts. But that’s often not true, according to John Kotter and Leonard Schlesinger. In a classic 1979 Harvard Business Review article on change strategies, they note: “The difference in information that groups work with often leads to differences in analyses, which in turn can lead to resistance.”
We need both information and inspiration during times of change. We need someone to pour courage into our soul. And this can’t be conveyed in a quick email or text.
- It is normal to experience emotional turmoil during periods of change.
Are you worried about the change you face? That’s normal.
“A change can make sense logically but can still lead to anxiety in the psychological dimension,” writes Bobb Biehl. Even the strongest followers of Christ experience emotional upheaval during periods of transition. That’s because change is often accompanied by pain, and we hate to hurt. These feelings are legitimate, and they don’t signify a lack of faith. In fact, feeling troubled about something actually can be good if it prompts us to pray.
As for Mary, the Gospels reveal that she was “greatly troubled” (Luke 1:29) when she found out about the coming birth of Christ. Joseph, likewise, was “afraid” (Matthew 1:20), and Herod was “disturbed” (Matthew 2:3). Who wouldn’t be? Troubled, afraid, and disturbed—those three words aptly describe what change often feels like.
Of course, the event that was about to take place in Israel two thousand years ago was a wonderful thing. At the point of application, however, the change looked less than preferable.
As John Kotter, the preeminent change management expert, has written: “People don’t change a minute before they’re ready.” But you can learn to become more ready for change and learn how to navigate it.
Accept that change is part of living. It happens often. And it happens to all of us.
And always remember that the never-changing God is at work ahead of you, behind you, and around you to orchestrate the changes in your life for your best and your benefit, and for His glory.