Lenten Service – MAKING CHANGE
The topic for this year’s Lenten series is “Making Change.” Consider for a moment a bit of history. Our ancient ancestors often lived for many generations in the same place with the same set of customs, religious views, and tools. Only the most adventurous ever traveled afar or moved to a new environment. They were hunter-gatherers and probably followed the same basic life-style for 40,000 years.
Then, about 10,000 years ago some unnamed woman started raising grain instead of just gathering it, and so began the Neolithic revolution. Farming spread and the changes it brought about led to other changes. People began to live in communities, then cities; populations increased where there was a steady supply of food. The rate of change began to increase, very slowly.
Today we are faced with a technological world that is creating change faster than most of us can keep up. Such rapid change makes us yearn for the good old days. Some yearn so deeply that they become grumpy and disgruntled, hanging on to old ways so desperately that they impede any sort of change.
We must remember that to make significant change we have to start with where we are now. There’s no turning back the clock. We have to accept that change begins at home; it starts with us; what we do, what we eat, what we wear, how we spend our time, talent, and treasure.
This evening I’m tackling the subject of ‘changing habits.’ So let me begin with one of my frequent rants: why is it so much harder to start and sustain good habits than it is to start and maintain bad ones? I find this fact extremely annoying! The only approximation I’ve found to answer the why is this: “You get what you pay for.” Bad habits are easy because they are bad. You have to work harder, be more persistent, and be more mindful to build good ones, because slipping back into the old ones is sooooo easy.
The reading from Galatians tonight draws a very clear line between the fruits of the flesh and the fruits of the spirit, but I would prefer to set the context for our discussion with an old Native tale.
ONE EVENING, A CHEROKEE ELDER TOLD HIS GRANDSON ABOUT A BATTLE THAT GOES ON INSIDE PEOPLE.
HE SAID "MY SON, THE BATTLE IS BETWEEN TWO ‘WOLVES’ INSIDE EACH OF US. ONE WOLF IS EVIL. IT IS ANGER, ENVY, JEALOUSY, SORROW, REGRET, GREED, ARROGANCE, SELF-PITY, GUILT, RESENTMENT,
INFERIORITY, LIES, FALSE PRIDE, SUPERIORITY, AND EGO.
THE OTHER WOLF IS GOOD. IT IS JOY, PEACE LOVE, HOPE, SERENITY, HUMILITY, KINDNESS, BENEVOLENCE,
EMPATHY, GENEROSITY, TRUTH, COMPASSION, AND FAITH."
THE GRANDSON THOUGHT ABOUT IT FOR A MINUTE AND THEN ASKED: "WHICH WOLF WILL WIN?…"
HIS GRANDFATHER SIMPLY REPLIED, "THE ONE THAT YOU FEED."
One reason I prefer this story is that it avoids the Greek duality of spirit vs. flesh. It assumes that both are part of the business of being human. It tells us that to feed the good wolf, we must cultivate the habits that it represents.
So how do we do that? Begin with cultivating mindfulness. That means looking at your own life and your own behavior in a realistic way. What needs changing? Only then can you begin to change anything.
When I began writing this sermon I was going to encourage all of you to begin a practice of meditation – and that is certainly a helpful step in feeding the good wolf.
But then I saw something on Facebook that reminded me that there are lots of other ways, more active ways of creating change in ourselves (and let’s remember that changing ourselves is how we change others and ultimately change the world!)
I’m calling it: “Spiritual disciplines of action that feed the good wolf.”
- Live beneath your means.
- Stop blaming other people.
- Admit it when you make a mistake.
- Give clothes not worn to charity.
- Do something nice and try not to get caught.
- Listen more; talk less.
- Strive for excellence, not perfection.
- Take a 30 minute walk every day.
- Don’t make excuses. Don’t argue.
- Be kind to people, especially unkind people.
- Let someone cut in line ahead of you.
- Cultivate good manners
- Realize and accept that life isn’t fair.
- Go an entire day without criticizing anyone.
- Learn from the past; plan for the future; live in the present
- Don’t sweat the small stuff; it’s all small stuff.
This is merely a starting point. You can add and subtract from the list as necessary. Individualize it for yourself. Meditation is extremely helpful if it works for you.
If we are honest with ourselves, we know our own bad habits better than anyone else. Make a list and begin to tackle each one, one at a time. Don’t hold yourself to perfection, just look for improvement. Do as the 12 step participants do, take it one day at a time. Fake it until you make it – meaning that if you pretend to be kind for long enough you will become a kinder person. Being kind becomes a habit.
Someone who has been sober for almost 40 years told me that one of the things he was advised to do when he joined AA was to change everything. What? Change everything? He knew he’d have to change some of his friends, but did he need to change everything? Well, he was asked, did he drive home from work the same way every night?
The answer was yes. So he tried a new route, and that’s when it hit him that the old route just happened to go past his favorite pub. Taking the new route meant he didn’t have to struggle with the steering wheel to keep the car from turning in there.
We all know what it’s like to get into a rut. It’s often comfortable there and makes life easier because we don’t have to choose anything else or even think about it. But we also know that it usually gets boring and is usually somehow tied up with bad habits, like maybe sloth, or gluttony, or complaining, etc…..
Change is a challenge and it can feel difficult and uncomfortable, but once we recognize that change is inevitable in the world we inhabit, it makes it easier to see that the choice we have to make is not whether we want to change or not. The question is do we want to change for the better or for the worse? The same question applies whether we are talking about our physical well-being or our spiritual well-being – and really they often function together. When we don’t get enough exercise what happens? We can’t separate our bodies, minds, or spirits into boxes, so whatever we do for any one of them, whether for good or not, also impacts the others.
Think for a moment about habits of the mind. Have you ever been so focused on your plans for the day that you have passed up the opportunity to help someone? Have you ever had your expectations of some event so clearly in mind that disappointment was the inevitable outcome? As a friend pointed out the other day, the women going to the tomb to anoint Jesus’s body with spices were so set on their task that they missed the glory of the resurrection.
The ways we interpret events, the ways we respond to them, may be another form of bad habit. While we do not have the power to change other people by force of will, we do have the power to change ourselves. And changing ourselves to the good has tremendous potential for changing others merely by example.
If you only remember two things from this evening, remember these:
- Change is to the whole person what exercise is to the body. It keeps us flexible!
· The way to change yourself is the same as the way you get to Carnegie Hall: practice, practice, practice.
It’s practice that feeds the good wolf within. And changing ourselves is just the first step in changing the world. AMEN