what change may come
I don’t envy people my age who find themselves dating again…or still. Dating is hard enough at any age–like being on permanent audition–but the older we get, it seems our attitudes and eccentricities, like our skin, become increasingly non-elastic. Actually it’s probably an advantage to know that what you see in your date, for better or worse, is what you’re going to get; you can make your decision based on what really is rather than hope to be. Or not to be.
As a pastor if I didn’t believe people could change, I couldn’t do my job. But getting older, I’m realizing that I may be using the wrong word. Anyone who’s raised children knows that there are little personalities set early on in each little body that you as parent had absolutely nothing to do with implanting. It’s as if we’re hardwired by age six or seven with those personality pairs: introvert/extrovert, sensing/intuition, thinking/feeling, judging/perceiving and basic attitudes like optimism and pessimism, ambition, perseverance, passion…where does all that come from and once established, does it ever really change?
In the Gospels, Peter and Paul are practically psychological case studies. Their personalities were so strong that they are still vibrantly preserved after two thousand years of copying and translating ancient texts. Peter is impetuous and headstrong–always the first to speak and act: jumping out of his boat to walk on water and again to quickly reach Jesus cooking breakfast on the beach, blurting out answers to Jesus’ questions that as often earned rebuke as praise, refusing to have his feet washed, and cutting off the ear of the high priest’s servant. And that’s just the canonical gospels. In non-canonical literature like the Gospel of Mary, Peter picks a fight with Mary Magdelene earning a rebuke from Matthew, and as tradition tells it, insisted on being crucified upside down to avoid any perceived parity with Jesus. He was the same before and after Jesus called him; before and after finding his faith.
Paul is passionately loyal to the institution of his faith as a Jew, persecuting and killing the Jews he believes are heretically following Jesus. After his conversion he is passionately loyal to the institution of his faith as a Christian, planting churches, fearless speaking truth to power, and facing a never ending string of physical and emotional firestorms. He was the same before and after his Damascus visions; before and after finding his faith.
It seems who each man was at age seven was who he was as he took his last breath. Popeye would say, I yam what I yam, yet at the same time, each man would have been barely recognizable to the casual observer before and after something profound happened in their lives. Maybe people can change, maybe they can’t. But we all can be transformed. Peter’s impetuousness and Paul’s passion never changed, but those traits were absolutely transformed, channeled in completely different directions once they began to understand who they really were. Their brush with Jesus, with complete integrity and oneness of purpose created a spiritual heat that once embraced, began burning off layers of falseness and fears accrued over a lifetime–until only who they were born to be eventually remained. Free from fearful obsessions and compulsions, impetuousness was transformed from irresponsible to inspiring and passion from persecution to perseverance.
Do people really change? Your date may be wondering, watching you from across the dinner table. It’s the wrong question. Are you transformed? Are you someone who has faced the furnace? Has the heat and abrasion of your passage along the way removed enough of what is not really you to let the seven year old come out and play? At the moment of transformation, our greatest liabilities become our greatest strengths, and our greatest ability to hurt another becomes our greatest ability to bless.
At the moment of transformation, the question of change is moot.
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