Making the most of the 4 stages of change

“Change is inevitable, except from a vending machine.”  Robert c. Gallagher

There are two aspects of change that remain unchangeable.  Change happens, it is part of life.  And all growth requires change, there can be no growth without it.   But how we respond is a choice.

With the transition in my life and ministry, and its ripple effect on the people around me, I’ve been thinking a lot about how we cope with change.

Most of us have a love hate relationship with change.  Change, whether by choice or by chance, engenders from all of us the full range of emotions.  Change is wonderful and change is catastrophic.  Change is a challenge and change is a cinch.  Change is exciting and change is terrifying.

We want things to get better but we don’t want things to change.  We can be like the guy screaming “Things are going to have to change around here, but don’t ask me to change.” 

Jesus hit the nail on the head when He said, “No one after drinking old wine wants the new, for he says, ‘The old is better.’”(Luke 5:39)  Why do we so often resist change?  We think “the old is better.”  We don’t want to give up the familiar, the preferred.  Our innate resistance to change is the perception, real or imagined, that change is loss.

If we are to face change positively, we must therefore change our perception.  It is imperative that we see the changes in our lives from God’s perspective.  If we understand God’s love for us and believe His hand is working things out for our good we can endure the darkness before the dawn. God has placed in every change, a seed of blessing – the promise of growth and well-being.  Our faith in Christ waters and nourishes that seed until it comes to full fruition.

It helps to understand that the change process in our lives takes us through the gamut of emotions in what might be termed the four stages of change.   These stages of change are Anticipation, Aggravation, Adaptation, and Appreciation. 

1. ANTICIPATION – The initial stage of change is the anticipation.  Anticipation is the attitude we have about approaching change. In the changes we choose, such as a new purchase or a relationships or possibly a new  job, we may be excited.  In changes we have no choice about, such as health issues,  there may be apprehension and fear. 

Anticipation of change is normal, but how we handle it makes all the difference.  Jesus demonstrated the night before His crucifixion, the attitude of dependence that each of us should have when facing change. ‘“Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”’ (Mark 14:36)

2. AGGRAVATION – The next stage of change I’ve termed aggravation.  This is also part of our normal reaction to change.  We dig our heels in, we get angry, we grieve, we agonize. We face the fight or flight syndrome.  Choosing to fight the change can bring on frustration.  Choosing to withdraw brings on self-pity or even depression.

In this stage our dependence upon God has an opportunity to grow.  God who is a God of mercy and comfort has promised to comfort us in all our afflictions.  We need only cry out to Him.  At such times, David’s prayer in Psalm 130:1-2 can be our prayer.  “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord; O Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy.”

3.  ADAPTATION – The third step in the change process is the adaptation stage.  This is the point where we begin to acclimatize ourselves to the change.  The change in our lives gains a measure of acceptance and our endurance of an unwanted change begins to be less burdensome. The human spirit as God created us is amazingly resilient and indomitable.  The adaptation demonstrated by those in the most inhumane of circumstances, such as the Nazi concentration camps, underscores this point.

In the Bible the Apostle Paul talks about the necessity of learning to be content in any and every circumstance. Contentment in the adaptation stage opens the door to the final phase of change – appreciation.

4.  APPRECIATION – The change process comes full circle when we come to the place of appreciation.  At this stage we begin to experience the blessings of change that once were only hidden seeds.  We begin to realize that God really did have good in mind for us through this change. We finally come around to seeing things from God’s perspective and are thankful to Him for His love and faithfulness.

Although change is inevitable, a negative or defeatist attitude toward it doesn’t have to be a part of it.  On the contrary, understanding the process and how God purposes to grow us through it enables us to choose a hopeful, faith-filled attitude.  Gaining God’s perspective makes all the difference.  Then we’ll capitalize on the fact that there is a seed of blessing in every change.  And God can – and will – work all things together for good. (Romans 8:28)

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