“My church has changed. I barely recognize it anymore.”
This was a somber statement. Not one of critique or anger, just a fact. One that brought a certain measure of sadness with it.
I had been visiting with an older member of the church, sharing a cup of coffee and talking about a myriad of different subjects. Naturally, the conversation had shifted to reflecting on the past. When I had asked what had first drawn them to our church, they excitedly launched into a story about the welcoming community and incredible programs and preaching that they had experienced.
It was beautiful to hear about all the memories they had built and life change they had witnessed. Then they paused for a moment, and a wave of sadness passed over their face.
“My church has changed.”
I reflect on that moment a lot, and I wonder how much I share the sentiment. They had been members of the congregation for longer than my parents had been alive, so their experience was of course much different from my own. However, I can easily fall into the habit of pining for the past while looking upon the present with discontent and sadness.
Change is hard, and I don’t like it much. Some change can be tackled, especially if it is change that I have chosen for myself, or if it means getting something better than what I currently have. I like that change.
Even though it still requires some work that can be hard, I like it when I can change my wardrobe to include some new items. I like to change up the activities my family does together to keep it engaging and fun.
“I can easily fall into the habit of pining for the past while looking upon the present with discontent and sadness.”
But other change? Change that affects the things I’m comfortable with? Not a fan.
The main problem with that, of course, is that everything changes. Change is a part of life.
Healthy things change
Healthy things change. Living things change. Sometimes, the change even happens quite quickly. My daughter’s quick growth spurts cause her to change so quickly that she can trip over her own feet. The tree that we trimmed all the way back just a few months ago now has green leaves and purple flowers blooming.
Healthy things change, but dead things don’t.
Rocks don’t change, at least not quickly. Rocks slowly corrode. Crack. The sandstorms of life slowly eat away at the rock face until it’s a sliver of what it once was.
But living plants change all the time. Vines and flowers grow towards the light. And after a bloom, the root system will actually adjust the next shoot to point in a different direction based on where the light is.
“Healthy things change, but dead things don’t.”
We like rocks. Rocks don’t change when we aren’t looking. Rocks don’t move on us. Instead, we can move them. We can stack them. We can build what we want.
But plants? We can only tend plants. We can only react to the ever-changing nature of a living thing. God is the true gardener who brings life and growth and sunshine and rain. And tending a garden reminds us of how little control we actually have.
And yet, God has chosen in his grace to partner with us in the tending of creation. He has chosen to partner with us in the cultivating of our families and neighborhoods. He has chosen to partner with us in the stewarding of our church communities, even as they change.
Responses to Change
What has changed recently in your life? What has felt like it is slipping out of your control?
The natural response is to grip tighter, to reign it in, to limit the change in whatever way we can. But that will probably be about as effective as trying to dye my gray hairs black again. It might look like it’s all uniform and vibrant, but under the surface, it’s becoming more and more salt than pepper.
What if instead we chose to receive each day as a gift? To begin each day asking our gardener what exciting new shoot of life he has grown for us to discover?
“What if we chose to receive each day as a gift?”
A rock garden can be beautiful, but it is predictable. It is consistent. Without the change brought from living things, there is no new adventure to discover, no new bloom or vine to engage our curiosity, spark our imaginations.
Maybe it’s okay that our church has changed. Maybe there is an invitation to ask the gardener what new shoot of life he is bringing up, inviting us to tend. Maybe the partnership with God is still just beginning.