This title is a play on words, but appropriate here. Circumstantial change is a constant in our lives, but at least for me, growth in the Lord frequently seems hard, stuttered, and full of re-learning (sigh, another lap around the mountain, Lord). We encounter pain – emotional pain that produces behavior so ingrained, that like backyard blackberries, it’s so hard to eradicate - even over a lifetime. It’s past pain that affects our present.
Recently I came across a science special on PBS that dealt with memory. They said that brain scientists are expanding their traditional idea of our brains simply being a library full of memories. We go in, walk down an aisle, open up a book and remember.
Now they understand it’s not just our memories, but MEMORY in general. It’s EVERYTHING we have ever encountered through any of our senses, and the resulting feelings felt and thoughts thought. It’s the vast and complex sum total of it all – the behaviors learned that affect us today. Regardless if we can’t recall the origins (we know that trauma victims can absolutely block out memories).
Also beyond the library analogy, our brains are in a continual state of organic flux - constantly growing new cells, neurons and pathways today, as we access and merge both past memories and new information (age and non-use can also diminish the brain’s physiology, as us old guys can attest).
Yes, behavioral change can be so hard for us. It’s not like we’re erasing a memory from a hard drive and simply replacing it with something else. Old memories and behaviors die hard because they are learned, practiced, and ingrained with our present-day encounters. We literally have to relearn HOW to change. And we have to be truly convinced that our new way will be a less painful route to take.
I just LOVED the recent comments by Britni D’Eliso on shame (versus guilt). Shame is so much more dangerous because beyond behavior, it’s identity based – more intricately woven into the fabric of who we perceive we are (or who we are LIED to and led to believe we are). It’s “You Are” versus “You Did”.
We are all so much social creatures, and relationships are where we encounter most of our pain – with the resulting cues on how to act in self-defense. It seems to me that if we are to truly change our destructive behaviors and re-map our brains, it will only come as we participate, with kindness and compassion, in an emotional environment where we feel secure and safe.
And I am not just thinking about the church body here, but everyone else we touch “out there”. To me, compassion to everyone I don’t understand, like or agree with is an essential skill because it allows me to extend grace to first myself, then others when I encounter my pain.
2 Corinthians 5:17 (The Message)
“Now we look inside, and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone, a new life burgeons! Look at it!”
About the Author
Terry Sheldon is a man in constant motion to explore new horizons. He has a thirst for new places and faces, and a deep love for the natural world - with a weakness for waterfalls and sunsets. All of this venturing out helps to both ground and inspire him, because it opens him up to people, with their vast, collective array of experiences, outlooks and responses.
He finds all of this fascinating and sees that it has encouraged the growth of something crucial in his Christian development: empathy and compassion toward his brothers and sisters on this planet.