Having just moved to a new city, a new apartment, and started a new job, the subject of change has been on my mind lately. Change is hard: the times when I’ve transitioned to a new environment, be it moving across the country or going off to school, have been some of the most challenging periods of my life. Apart from practical and logistical concerns (Where IS the nearest grocery store? My, that is an impressive pothole!), when people move they often experience opportunities to let their faith change or, worse, slip away. The large portions of graduating high school seniors who walk away from their faith during their undergraduate years is well documented. So how do you remain faithful to your faith during times of change and challenge? Here are some suggestions.
First, find an environment where you are comfortable. I don’t mean comfortable as in “comfortable and lazy.” Rather, I mean an environment where you can be yourself and, in certain ways which allow you join a community, mirror your previous environment. Humans are social creatures and, while we shouldn’t seek approval for everything we do, it is important in the midst of change to maintain some form of stability. This means that if you’re used to a church that sings the most contemporary music and has a laid back ministry opportunities for college aged students, you should probably find a church like that to regularly attend, instead of a hymn filled liturgical service at which your closest peer is twice your age. If you are used to having a close-knit group of friends who you can share life with, try to find some people like that (realizing, of course, that good friends don’t often just appear out of nowhere and good relationships take work).
Second, find a way to hear and interact with truth on a regular basis. This is especially true for those of us in educational environments. Unfortunately, “education” in America often teeters between indoctrination and destruction: students are often placed in situations where they are required to adhere to a certain, rigidly defined position or they are put in a position where every claim to truth or reality is undermined and destroyed. Neither of these options is a healthy way to learn and grow. So be sure to counter either (or both) of these options by interacting with some things that you hold to be foundationally true on a regular basis. This interaction will of course vary depending on who you are and what you find to be foundational. For example, I regularly listen to the Summit Ministries lecture series on worldviews to remind me of concepts, questions, and perspectives that I may not be exposed to elsewhere. My suggestion is that you find something foundational and return to it regularly.
Third, establish good habits. Moments of change are the best opportunity to begin new things or return to habits that we’ve let behind. Often times habits started at the beginning of a new school year last much longer than New Year’s Resolutions. So start a new habit: reading everyday, going to walks, talking to someone on the street, helping out at a community shelter or nursing home, exercising more, or whatever it is that you want to do regularly. If you’re going to school, start studying hard right away. It may be hard, but as your semester progresses studying will be normalized for you, making it easier and enabling you to be more successful in your work. If you’re working, be sure to act during your first several weeks how you want to act the rest of your time at the job. It’s surprising how hard it is to change a routine once you’ve started it, so be sure to start things the right way.
Fourth, and similarly, start your daily routine right. Have plan, a schedule, of things that you need to do in the morning to start your day off right and maximize your efficiency. My wife is better at this than I am most of the time. For example, she gets up 45-60 minutes before she needs to leave, does her morning preparation (how women survive with long hair is beyond me), gets dressed, prepares her materials for the day, eats her breakfast, and then leaves a few minutes earlier for work than she needs to. Not only is her routine responsible (and punctual), but it helps her not forget important tasks and allows her some leeway if something goes wrong.
Fifth, keep lists. Don’t be afraid to write things down that you want to remember or do later. I have piles of lists (and even use OneNote as a “list of lists”), primarily involving things to read and topics to research. Even if you’re not a ‘bookish’ person or particularly interested in academics, this is an excellent habit to start. New environments provide new opportunities to learn and experience perspectives that you have never heard from before. I’ve got a list of books that I’ve read or need to read that’s almost thirty single-spaced pages long. As I look over the titles on that list, I can easily recognize topics and perspectives that I have been exposed to over the past several years, questions that I have had, and things to think about. A.G. Sertillanges wrote that “No teaching can succeed with a negligent mind.” Especially if you’re at college, be sure to use the time you have to thoughtfully engage with the perspectives on your campus and record what you learn (maybe even start a blog).
Sixth, use technology to your advantage. Don’t be afraid to stay in touch with friends from where you used to live. Just because you have new friends and experiences doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t stay in touch with the others that you know. While getting to know a lot of people and being able to move freely about the world are good advances that we may enjoy due to our socio-technological location, we should be careful to maintain deep, meaningful friendships wherever we might develop them. Cynic that I am, I see little point in investing in relationships if I’m going to move away in a few years and never communicate with that person ever again. I might as well be a monk. So use email, use Skype, text your friends back home, or write a letter (okay, that may be too antiqued for most of you, but still). Don’t do such things to excess– you need to take advantage of being wherever you’re at without always looking at the past– but don’t forget past friends in the process.
Seventh, don’t be afraid to ask questions, learn, and grow. Sometimes (okay, many times) I read articles or letters directed at people going through life changes or leaving for college that seem to advocate something along these lines: “Go wherever you’re going if you must. But DON’T CHANGE, because CHANGE IS BAD.” Now, I understand where many of these people are coming from, especially for college students — often times, we come from stable places, households that reflect a general Judeo-Christian moral ethic worth not throwing to the wind upon entering college or moving. And while my conservative sensibilities are quite wary of unnecessary change, the fact of the matter is that exposing yourself to new ideas and perspectives, and learning from those perspectives can be both virtuous and beneficial.
This doesn’t mean taking everything new that you hear and making it the new guidelines for your life–discernment is important. But it does mean taking the new ideas and experiences you are exposed to, integrating that information into your existing worldview where appropriate, and becoming a better person as a result of your experiences in your new environment. C. S. Lewis once wrote that, “A man who has been many places is not likely to be deceived by the local errors of his native village: The scholar has lived in many times and is therefore in some degree immune from the great cataract of nonsense that pours from the press and the microphone of his own age.” The same should become the case for you as a result of change in your life: coming from one context you’ve been exposed to essentially one way to view the world. And once you’ve experienced change you are able to understand the world you came from better, hopefully leading to appropriate corrections in your own life.
Amidst all the changes in your environment, I challenge you to stand firm. Change is not easy, but from change we can grow and become better persons. Change is hard work, but it can be worth it. In the words of Pope John Paul II, remain faithful to your faith in the midst of change and “Settle for nothing less than moral and spiritual grandeur.”