“Living with unexpected change” describes the life of just about everybody I know. A marriage hits hard times thanks to extended illness or unemployment. A son or daughter defies hopes and expectations by choosing his or her own route forward. The workplace environment shifts drastically with new management. A pandemic slips in, and suddenly a nation—in fact, much of the world—is shut down, functioning at minimal levels.
Even the change we expect brings unexpected consequences, for good or ill. Whether we greet a new baby or a new home, we soon find that days take a course we cannot control and one we sometimes cannot navigate well.
St. Ignatius and the Jesuits were so accustomed to unexpected changes that one of their trademarks became adaptability. They chose to follow Christ; beyond that, who knew what would come? What trials and opportunities would they face? Ignatius famously remarked (and I paraphrase) that, given 15 minutes to pray and gather himself, he could deal with a major reversal. Perhaps this is one reason that another trademark of the Jesuits is discernment.
Still another crucial trait we are encouraged to pursue is spiritual freedom. I will paraphrase again and say that spiritual freedom is a way of holding life lightly. I do not attach myself to an outcome or a situation so strongly that I would be distressed and thrown out of whack if that outcome did not happen or that situation changed.
Of course change presents hardship sometimes, and unexpected (and unwanted) change can truly test and stress us. I don’t believe God is displeased when we struggle for equilibrium; this ongoing struggle is the path to spiritual maturity. But I do believe God would like to see us freer to adjust our footing when the path changes and to apply hope rather than dread to an evolving situation.
A first step toward dealing with unexpected change is to expect that it will happen. Why are we surprised at these shifts in life? What else can we expect when we live in a world with so many other human beings, all making their own decisions, which affect everyone else sooner or later? And—think about this—would we really want a life that stays the same for years on end? Would we want the ability to predict the future and presumably prepare for it?
May we thank God that life is not static. May we see the next year or day or hour as its own adventure to which God invites us. May we look forward to all we will learn about God and ourselves as we do the dance of discernment, twirling always back to the One who loves us.
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay.
Thanks Vinita for this nice piece. Indeed the world is changing and challenging everyone all the time. Ignatius has several suggestions for the retreatant to crave for challenges and than to embrace them wholeheartedly.
As they say, the only thing that’s constant is change. So our ability to adapt to these changes and morph the way we think and perceive things allow us to adjust better.
Hello, Vinita – I was one of your DDF readers. I’m so pleased you are still providing spiritual bread through IgnatianSpirituality.com because your writing “goes down easy” for me. The part of the above post that I appreciate most is “… spiritual freedom is a way of holding life lightly. I do not attach myself to an outcome or a situation so strongly that I would be distressed and thrown out of whack if that outcome did not happen or that situation changed.” How many times have I heard the expression to “hold life lightly” but I never really understood what it meant. I thought it meant, “Don’t take life or yourself too seriously. Lighten up.” Your explanation helps me manage some of the Unexpected Changes in my Health. I feel anxious almost all the time, fearing what will happen next with uncontrolled BP and kidney damage, for example. It’s a work in progress, but I’m learning to invite Christ into the moment with me as my Beloved Companion. Thank you for reminding me of the impermanence of each minute of life and the misery that commons from grasping too tightly the inevitable aging process which I cannot control. Blessings and Good Health to you, Vinita.
Carol, aren’t you glad that we deal with aging only after we’ve been around for awhile? Life itself has prepared us to be a bit wiser and to trust God a bit more. But the reality of how my muscles and bones feel and what I see in the mirror tempts me every day to be fearful of what’s to come. Health issues compound matters, especially these days when everything seems more dangerous because of the virus.
May we lean on all our elder saints, both living and dead, especially the many wise women who have walked ahead of us and who are also walking alongside us. We are stronger than we realize, and the Holy Spirit has been living in us and building us up from the inside out. We need to cheer each other on!
How wonderful Is his love and councel through his servant vinita . Glory to him in the highest. Anita freelyig souls through your messages is a special gift
I will pray for you and your husband. Is there a Retrouvaille program near you? It truly saved my marriage.
Vinnita, I am really thankful for this article right now as I am trying to get used to a totally good change that was expected – my oldest son recently moved across the country for a new job and the approaching high school graduation for my youngest son which will leave me an empty nester. What do these positive changes for my boys mean for me? I am holding on to hope for me and the new adventures God has in store for me in the coming months and years.
Good change is still change, isn’t it? So happy that you’re looking at your life as a continuing adventure with God!
Peace to you.
I don’t know you but Iwill pray for you and your family
Vinita has a book called Days of Deepening Friendship
If you can then get it
I think it be a help to you because it’s been a lifeline for me
Vinita thanks for this and for being the vehicle we need to see God in all things
Thank you for a beautiful note Vinita; so true, particularly helpful during these uncertain times. Best,
So many great insights in your words to ponder. Thanks Vinita. 15 minutes, huh?
Yeah–15 minutes is probably not my time frame! But it’s something to aim for, isn’t it? Thanks for posting.
So very timely! I especially find that these words resonate in my present situation: “spiritual freedom is a way of holding life lightly.” Thank you Vinita!
How appropriate that you should write this. Right now, I feel my marriage of 42 years has run its course.
I feel angry that my husband clams up instead of discussing the unpalatable.
Given last week my son told us that he and his wife and 2 children are planning on returning to Australia in 12 months’ time, ( I knew this was always their dream to return) I just didn’t think it would be quite so soon, I just feel I want to lash out. I’m going through the motion of praying, right now. Yet I know, only God,will sustain me.
Holy Spirit, please encircle Katy and her whole family. Remind Katy of all the wisdom she has stored up already, and help her trust that God’s merciful grace will accompany her, no matter what. Prepare the way for Katy, her husband, and the rest of their family.
Katy, please remember that God sees you with mercy and great love. You are responsible only for your own heart.
Peace to you.