Change – unsettling, disquieting, and ominous. It’s a small, six-letter word that can knock the wind right out of you. As a missionary in Haiti, my home is in a place where the sands of time and shadows of change shift slowly. But there are people I love in the States where time is a raging river that carries change at immeasurable speed. Change is impossible to escape.
Being a missionary in a country that is forever fixed in the sweltering sway of summer has its advantages. Vitamin D deficiency is virtually non-existent. This fair-skinned bookworm has started to take on a skin tone that no longer matches the color of the pages she reads. Precious storage space isn’t necessary for bulky sweaters, coats, and scarves. Your wardrobe is virtually the same for the whole year. The palm trees are always green, the ocean is always blue, and one never has to worry about the treacherous nature of snow, ice, and slush.
Being a missionary in a culture where the pace of life equals the slow, steady rhythm of a gentle stream eroding a rock bed also has its advantages. The flower of change is slow to take root and even slower to bloom here. You learn to take life day-by-day, moment-by-moment. You learn flexibility and to make the best of the situations you are in. You learn to value quality over quantity, depth of relationship over surface acquaintanceship, and intentionality over casualness.
Perhaps it is these virtues that weave together to create a web of false stasis around my life, an imagined sense of constancy and permanence. But it doesn’t take long before that facade of predictability is shattered.
Sometimes it is simple changes that make me smile at the blanket of constancy I cling to. For example, I fly to Haiti in January, leaving the bitterly cold, snow-blanketed plains of Iowa behind. When I return to Iowa in May, my eyes still expect to be blinded by the glare of sun on ice, my skin expects to recoil at sub-zero temperatures, and my ears expect to ring with the silence of gentle snowfall. Instead, the shroud of white has been replaced with a patchwork of recently plowed farms and green sprays of spring, the cold replaced with hints of warmth, and the stillness replaced with the chirps of crickets and hum of cicadas. The Christmas trees have all been tucked away and the rich colors of the season have been replaced with the bright palette of new life.
Other times it is weightier changes that make my heart ache with their heaviness and import – The church I called home for fifteen years of my life is no longer being pastored by my father. My sister’s family grows by nine pounds, one ounce and 19 ¾ inches. The soul of a bright, joyful young man in my home church is no longer for this world but is finding rest and repose in the arms of his Savior. He is shortly joined in Glory by a fellow missionary from my home church who labored hard for the Kingdom and made lasting impact. My kindred spirit, my partner in interpreting and all things adventuring meets a man, dates, gets engaged, and is married. My little brother – my greatest childhood antagonizer, partner in crime, confidant, and friend – meets a woman, dates, proposes, and is married.
In the midst of change my heart is unsettled, trying to grasp at straws, clinging to what I think I know, and trying to find purchase in a world that is always shifting. And my heart is so quick to jump to the realm of “what-if’s.”
Fear. What if the changes in the lives of those I love causes them to love me less?
Worry. What if my relationships with the people I love are never the same?
Regret. What if I had been able to be present for the entirety of all those changes?
But it is in the middle of these thoughts, this churning of emotions and agitation of spirit, that my heart in all of its flailing finally finds purchase. The Spirit whispers and imprints the words of the Father on my heart –
I am the Lord, I change not… Malachi 3:6
I am the same yesterday, today, and forever… Hebrews 13:8
In Me there is no variation or shadow due to change… James 1:17
How do I combat the dark hands of change clawing at my throat, threatening to steal peace and stillness of heart? I turn my heart to the One who never changes. Just as David remonstrates his heart to hope in God in the midst of his depression and turmoil in Psalm 42, I must preach to my heart the truth of who God is and what His promises are. God is constant. In a world where the best laid plans often go awry, I can rest in my Heavenly Father who is immutable and unaffected by change. I don’t have to fear the loss of love because I have a profound love that is richer, deeper, wider, and stronger than anything in this present earth (Ephesians 3:18-19). The Redeemer will never love me more or less than He does in this moment. I don’t have to worry about losing relationship because I have identity and purpose in my relationship with a Father who adores His children. The Restorer who pursued me in the wreck of my life will never leave or abandon me (Deuteronomy 31:6). I don’t have to regret not being present. The Creator who sees, knows, and hears is present for me (Psalm 139).
In the wise and discerning words of A.W. Tozer, “All that God is He has always been, and all that He has been and is He will ever be.” His promises will never be rescinded or overturned. His unchanging nature shines brilliantly against the backdrop of change that is inherent in the world of mankind. And it is in this nature that my heart must rest.
Just as change is an arrow that points to the immutability of God, it is also an indicator of hope. As hard as it is to swallow, the reality is that fundamentally, change is a good and gracious gift from God. Redemption’s ongoing story is one of change, transforming from one degree of glory to the next (2 Corinthians 3:18). And without God’s sanctifying hand of change in my life, where would I be? The changes God has wrought in my heart and life all happen for the greater purpose of conforming me more into the image of His Son. The changes that God gently, or perhaps not so gently, introduces into your life all fall under His sovereign, omniscient hand that works for your ultimate good and sanctification. It is because He loves us that He changes us, our loved ones, and our circumstances. What hope is found in this truth!
That small, six-letter word has taken on new connotation in recent days; the disquiet is replaced with rest, the unsettledness with peace, the ominous fear with hope. Let change point your heart to the one who is changeless. And be thankful with me that He continues to change us in order to bring to completion His good work in our hearts.
Courtney Johnson lives and ministers to the people of Haiti.