“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.