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Thursday, July 3, 2014

Change is Never Easy - What We Can Learn from Exodus

I'm going off on a bit of a tangent, so bear with me. This has been on my mind lately due to some of my own personal circumstances. It's about "change". Nobody likes it. I mean nobody. If you think you do, you don't. Sure, it may be nice to have a change of scenery, or a change in diet, or take on a new hobby, but really only when it's our idea. When change is enforced on us, it's not so great.

In fact, just the very discussion of "change" may lose the attention of a few readers. And I'm about to lose a few more... Why? Because I'm going to start talking about the Bible.

Still there? Good! Thanks for sticking with me. This is not an attempt to get all "religious", I'm not going to try to indoctrinate anyone, and I'm not going to become "preachy" (ok, well maybe just a little). I'm simply going to use the Exodus story of the Bible to illustrate my points about how we handle change.

I'll briefly summarize the relevant points of the Exodus story (of which I'm including the story beyond the book of Exodus, as the Hebrews spent a mighty long time hanging out in the desert). In a nutshell, the self-exiled Moses is called by God to lead his people (the Israelites) from the bondage of slavery in Egypt and into the promised land, a land flowing with milk and honey.

Wow, sounds awesome! Thanks, God!

Well, despite the rosy picture that's painted above, our protagonist Moses was initially reluctant to perform God's Will, and continued to complain about his own lack of competence for the task. Further, the Pharaoh continued to disallow the freeing of the Israelites, despite the pain being inflicted on his own people. Eventually though, through God's demonstrations of His divine competence, Moses was able to lead his people out of Egypt and beyond the Red Sea toward Milkville and Honeyland.

Hooray! Happy ending! All is well, right? Not quite. It turns out that between Egypt and the promised land exists a vast desert through which Moses and the Israelites would have to pass... well, more like aimlessly wander. Almost immediately, the people began complaining to Moses about their current living conditions, pining to return to the comfort of slavery in Egypt, and praising other gods as a means of trying to find a "quick fix" to their current problems. Consequently, God punished them for their lack of faith by forcing them to remain in the desert for 40 years before they could enter the promised land.

Eventually they made it to their destination and for a time became a powerful nation. However, it wasn't without a great deal of (mostly self inflicted) misery.

Regardless of what personal opinions each of us may have about whether these events actually occurred, the "story" itself brilliantly demonstrates interesting lessons into how we process change.

1. Regardless of how necessary and attractive the change may be, any departure from a required level of comfort will create resistance.

As you can see by this story, once the Israelites' comfort was compromised, even the prospect of going back into slavery seemed more attractive than the present situation. Even Moses, the "project manager" so to speak, had his doubts from time to time. When it comes to getting out of our comfort zone, if we hope to see improvements in our own lives at times we have to take a leap of faith and absorb a little discomfort for a while to reap the benefits of the end result.

2. The long term benefit of any change can be overshadowed by the short term pain.

When we are in any type of discomfort, it is hard to reconcile that with the idea that things will get better. On the contrary, we see short term pain as endless suffering. We will do anything to get out of it immediately. If we can keep the end goal in sight and continue work through the challenges toward a positive result, the pain will be short lived.

3. Lack of buy in and resistance to change can be detrimental to the expected positive result, and can serve to prolong the pain.

Due to their lack of faith and resistance to God's will, the process of getting the Israelites from Egypt to the promised land took much longer than expected. If the attitude on the part of the Israelites was one of cooperation and helpfulness, it likely would have taken much less time. Instead the Israelites had to spend 40 extra years in the desert. I think that one of the purposes of this story is to demonstrate how resistance to positive change only serves to delay any positive outcome, and will increase the amount of time spent in the desert.

4. We may not always receive praise for the success of the change, or even see the benefits of the outcome.

One last part of the story that is a little depressing, but illustrates an important lesson is that Moses died before the Israelites could even enter the promised land. He didn't even get to experience the reward of all of  patience and hard work. Sometimes we have to invoke change that we may not necessarily be rewarded for or even see the benefits of. This is not to say that we will die before they provide any benefit, but there are scenarios such as career or job changes which leave us removed from any benefit. Further, it is not always likely that we will receive praise from others when a change is successful. In this regard we are called to do good for the benefit of humanity without expecting anything in return. Not always easy, but the rewards are inherent if not explicit.

Now, we don't all have the hand of the Almighty God to force productive and positive change on people. We can't turn rods into serpents, or bring forth springs of water from dry land. We mortals require a more gentle approach. Worst of all, we have to deal with the "will of other people" which doesn't always align with ours. But faith, commitment, persistence, and keeping your eye on the end goal while overcoming present obstacles make achieving the goal more manageable.

For any type of change, between "A" (the starting point) and "B" (the point when the change is completed), there will have to be some time spent in the desert. Here is a diagram to help demonstrate:

How long you spend in the desert is largely up to you. When you think about your role in any kind of change, consider this story. When change takes place in your life, are you Moses? Are you the Israelites? Are you Pharaoh? Or are you trying to play God?

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