A dozen years before I retired, the company I worked for entered into a merger of what was, for us, of unprecedented size and complexity. We brought four organizations together — organizations with identical charters and strongly similar, if not identical, missions and purposes; organizations with enormously different corporate cultures. As the pieces of this big merger puzzle began coming together, we recognized that a great deal of change was about to happen. At first we thought it was going to be pretty easy — after all, we weren’t going to change how people did their jobs from day to day. And we started down the road to completing the merger thinking that the biggest thing we needed to manage was keeping the change as transparent as possible to our customers.
It was the consultant we hired to help us manage the change with our customer base who clued us in to how much change our staff, all the way through the ranks to the top executives, would be experiencing as we brought these four very different cultures together. Once we realized the magnitude of the impact it would have, we expanded the consultant’s role to help us manage change with our employees.
Those plans were sidelined when, at the time of my retirement, my husband’s terminal illness required and merited my full attention. Over a period of weeks in early 2012, I transitioned from full-time middle management to full-time caregiver. I devoted myself wholeheartedly to my new role and even applied some of my own newly-developed principles of change management to the transition: owning the changes and focusing my energy on those areas where I had control, I felt that I was doing a pretty good job.
Even more important, during this time I also began to pray for God’s guidance and inspiration and leading. I came to understand the importance of being “in the moment,” in the very special construct of faith and complete trust in God. I began to see how quickly peace and comfort and joy — those wonderful consolations of the spirit — come into my life when I allow myself to be where God wants me to be, doing what He wants me to do. With that kind of peace and comfort and joy, pouring one’s whole self into that calling becomes much easier.
And just when I thought I had nailed it, everything changed.
Tom died on July 1, and it did not take me very long to realize that his death changed everything. Nothing in my life, in my world, was ever going to be the way it had been on June 30, or back on February 1 when I retired, or back in September when Tom and I together made the decision about my retirement. Nothing was ever going to be the same, and I thought, “That’s what I’ve got to live with.”
I thought if I could just adjust to that change — own it, focus my energy on things I could do something about — I’d have it made.
I was wrong.
I guess God is really the ultimate change-management expert, because He has really showed me some interesting paths over the past few years.
As my writing over the past several months has carried me into memories and reflections about how I got to this point in my life — nearly six dozen years, now — I kept returning to one significant moment, turning it over and over in my mind and trying to see what it was that kept bringing it back.
That moment was the moment when, as a young first-year novice, I heard my directress tell me that I needed to seriously question whether I belonged in the convent. In that moment, I made my decision to leave the convent because, as I put it that day, it seemed like staying there would require me to change everything about myself. I saw it as “thwarting” what God had made me, and as long as I saw it that way, there was no hope of my ever succeeding in the religious life.
It has taken all these years, and all this reflection, to see that indeed God was offering me the opportunity to change everything about myself. If I had been able, in that moment, to see it as an opportunity, I might have decided very differently. In fact, as I look back now, I probably did have a vocation, and I rejected it that day. I see two important facts as a result: First, that I might have avoided much of the sin and struggle that marked my early-to-mid-adulthood; second, that God has, as is His way, brought ever so much good out of the (probably) bad decision I made.
I think God calls us always to transformative change (and that isn’t a redundancy, by the way; “change” is just something being different, whereas “transformation” involves the very depths of being). I think God asks us every day to be open to change — the kind of change that He leads by filling us with His grace.
More, tomorrow, on what that kind of transformative change looks like. Meanwhile:
Father God, create a new heart in me — for a new heart is a changed heart. Let me be like those jugs of water at the wedding feast at Cana: changed in nature by the hand of Jesus, then poured out in the service of others, in whom I find You every day. Amen.
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