Thursday, November 15, 2012

Reverting Back to the Familiar

I grew up on a farm. Recently, I was doing some work that reminded me of life on the farm. Even though I have not lived on the farm in over 20 years, the feelings of familiarity flooded over me. I realized that I know farming. It is part of who I am. I could walk on a farm and perform tasks like hauling hay, feeding cows, and driving a tractor. I would be a bit rusty, but I know how to do the work.

Today, my life is about as different from that of a farmer as you could imagine. Most people don't know that I can build a fence, plow a field or stack hay in a barn. To be quite honest, I'm glad because farming is very hard work.

My reflections on the familiarity of farming have caused me to think about how we change, both personally and in organizations. Let's take life in the church for example. If you have participated in church life for very long at all, then there are patterns or ways of doing church that have been woven into you, some good, some neutral, and some negative. When a new way of doing church is inserted into a group of people, the idea might be fully embraced from a logical point of view, but that does not mean that the new way of the idea has become part of the people. Nor does it mean that it has become part of the leadership, even if the key leaders introduced the new ideas.

The old approach, that which we leave behind for the sake of the new, remains a part of us. It is woven into us as something familiar. Neurology tells us that these ways actually shape how our brains work. When we introduce a change, we are actually fighting against the ways that we have trained our brains to think. Imagine a rubber band wrapped around your two forefingers. The new idea is represented by your right hand that is pulling away from the left, which represented the old familiar ways. The more the right hand pulls away, the more tension on the rubber band. But the old ways of the left hand are anchored. They are safe. And they worked for us in the past, at least that's how we remember them when the tension rises. It takes a lot of tension to move the rooted ways of our familiar past.

When this tension rises, there is a tendency to look back to the familiar. We see this very clearly in the stories of the Exodus. Even though the people of Israel had cried out for God's deliverance, they longing looked back on their life in Egypt after the deliverance came. When problems arise when we embrace new ways of living, both in our personal and our organizational lives, we tend to look back at the old ways for answers. It's natural. It's normal. It's because the old ways are woven into us.

To change this, we have to press through the tension. When we put our hope in reverting back it most often will feel like the right thing to do because pressing forward leads us into the darkness of unknown. There we are left without crutches. We are forced to depend upon God and allow the Spirit to train us in new ways of life.

I drafted this post weeks ago. Then I had my experience of praying through the labyrinth of which I wrote in five parts. When rereading this post, I realized how this idea is combated as we pray through the five parts of the labyrinth.

Part 1: We turn toward the cross. We revert back to the old because we try to figure out how to follow God on our own.
Part 2: We walk to the cross. As we walk, we realize that which stands in the way of the new ways that God wants to live in and through us.
Part 3: We pray at the cross. There we leave those things that hinder us from moving into the resurrection life.
Part 4: We pray in the tomb. This is the time of formation so that we can walk in the new ways that God is calling us to enter.
Part 5: We pray out of the tomb. We enter into a time of experimenting with the new things God has for us.

What do you think?

1 comment:

Jan Willem Hengeveld said...

What I think? well... it might be my old way of thinking, but i think you just hit the nail on the head!