Changing Before The Crisis – 3 Practices To Avoid Being “Most People”

You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. …This crisis provides the opportunity for us to do things that you could not before.
– Rahm Emanuel     11/19/2008.

Rahm’s statement, no matter how insensitive to the suffering coming from (and still being felt from) the financial crisis of 2008, contains an important truth. Most people and organizations don’t change in the absence of pain or “crisis.” In healthcare we see this every day. Physicians and other clinicians spend years trying to help people see their coming medical crisis and adopt healthy habits, typically to no avail. Smokers quit after they have lung disease. Heart attack victims improve their diets after they get out of the hospital. Some never change. It’s sad.

You have probably experienced this in yourself. I know I have. This “refusal to act on the obvious” is the ordinary course of human behavior across all aspects of our lives – not only our physical health but also our finances, relationships, job issues and more. We either don’t see or don’t address our developing problems early on, and eventually the crisis occurs. Then we react, adjust our behavior, and continue on until the next crisis.

Experiencing my greatest crisis caused me to reflect deeply on the issues involved. How did I get here? Praise God, I “woke up” to this pattern of human nature, and determined that I would be different. No more denial and no more crises for me! I’m going to see my problems, see the eventual crisis coming and take action in advance. And that’s what I’ve been attempting ever since. Am I perfect? Of course not, but my life is going a lot better than before. The crises that do arise are smaller, more manageable and less distressing.

Here’s what I’ve learned and what I do:

  1. I understand my weakness – In essence I am “most people.” I’m not specially able to see and avoid crises. My mental and emotional processes are part of my humanity. I accept that our human default position is to deny and/or avoid painful problems. I am not different in that regard, but I recognize it.
  2. I try to be teachable – Because of our inherent tendency to deny, minimize, rationalize or avoid our problems, we can benefit from someone else’s view. What does my doctor, my wife, or my pastor have to say about my way of living and what’s likely to be good or harmful for me?
  3. I accept the short-term pain of change – Change hurts. Watching what you eat and working out are hard, painful sometimes even. Yet the personal cost now is well worth the benefits of avoiding diabetes and heart disease down the line.

None of this is particularly easy, and like I’ve mentioned, I’m not a master of these three practices. Humility is required. It’s my pride that leads me to deny my weakness, to assert that I know what I’m doing, and to refuse instruction, correction or warning. It’s my desire to be my own master that justifies me in being lazy or making harmful choices.

Yet, I am not my own master. Jesus is. (Or, at least I want Jesus to be.) I am following Jesus, some days faster and some days slower. Following is a process, not a destination; Jesus is the destination.  I’m not going to catch him, but I’m going to keep walking. As I do the Holy Spirit is helping me. Year by year I am more able to understand my weakness, to listen to the opinions of others, and to act in ways contrary to my sinful nature.

It can work for you too.