Let Him Change You
By: Mary Rabe
I think one of the hardest and scariest things to do is also one that can reap the greatest rewards in our lives: to let God change us. I’ve had firsthand experience with this throughout my life, but probably never more than in the last 6 months.
In January I was struggling with depression and felt totally defeated by life. 2017 had been a really hard year, filled with losses, sickness, and intense loneliness, and I was reeling from all of that pain. We were also facing some tough behavior challenges from one of our kids, something that I felt reflected on me and my parenting and made me feel like I was failing in one of the roles I cared most deeply about in my life. I was scrambling to control anything I could, to protect my image and to fulfill the deeply-felt need I had to have at least something “go right” in my life. Now it is June, 6 months later, and a few weeks ago I was blessed with a beautiful picture of just how much God has changed me.
We were invited to join some friends in a fun summer tradition they have of painting canvas shoes to be “summer shoes”, the shoes the kiddos wear all summer and just totally trash in all of their outdoor play. I was so excited to spend time with friends and to let my kiddos enjoy a creative outlet, and I thought for certain that my toddler would be the one most eager to have free reign and paint all over his shoes (I mean, what toddler doesn’t want to try to paint their clothes?)
We all went outside, and 6 mommies set up 18 (yes, 18) kids 9 and under with their shoes and three colors of paint, and invited them to go nuts. Two of my kids gladly dove in and began their artistic venture. The third? He got some paint on his leg, stared at the mess on his skin, and promptly began screaming.
I sat down by him and tried to explain that it was all ok and would wash off, but he wouldn’t have it. He started an all-out, epic tantrum, flailing around, shrieking, and getting even more paint all over himself, me, and our surroundings. Now, 5 other moms and 17 kids is quite an “audience” for this kind of situation, and 6 months ago I would have been absolutely mortified. I likely would have gone off with my toddler in a huff, cleaned him up, and left the premises as quickly as I could so I could go throw my own little fit and feel embarrassed over my “failure” as a mom because my kid was the only one who “failed” at the shoe painting.
But God. God has done such an amazing work in my life. Instead of getting even remotely upset, I laughed. I looked at my friends, shrugged, and said, “Well that’s unfortunate”. The other moms joined me in my laughter, one of them snapped a picture (a photo that I now treasure as the literal image of how much God has changed me), and we moved on. I did most of the shoe painting for my little fit-thrower and tried to talk him through it. He never did calm down until one of my friends had the brilliant idea to give him some juice and a snack (because Hell hath no fury like a hungry toddler, am I right?), but you know what? It was ok. We still had a wonderful time. I let go of needing to control the situation or my son’s behavior, and now that moment stands out to me as a beautiful example of how God has worked in my life and shaped me into the woman He intended me to be, and the mommy my sweet kids need me to be.
So, how did I get from “January Me” to this joyful, patient, calm mom I hardly even recognize? Well, it isn’t really what I did but what GOD did. God is in the business of changing people, and He did that for me. It wasn’t always easy, and there were moments that genuinely hurt—in ways deeper than I’ve ever felt pain before.
See, I thought I was doing things “right” before; I mean, my heart was to serve God and raise up fantastic kids and to bring glory to my Heavenly Father in all that I did! What could be wrong with that? When I found out that the way I was doing things was actually doing a lot of harm to me and (worst of all) to my precious kids and family, it devastated me. When God opened my eyes to the truth—that my good intentions had turned into something that was destroying my family—I couldn’t wrap my mind around how He could fix things. I’d been this way for as long as I could remember, and it was overwhelming to know how to get to where I needed to be.
I’ve heard from several precious people that are in that same place: knowing they need to change, but they have no idea how. When they ask me how I got to the “other side”, I’m not sure how to answer! After thinking and praying about it, I keep coming back to the ultimate truth that it is God who changes people, and I just had to reach a point where I knew I wasn’t who He made me to be, decide that “enough was enough” and take steps of obedience and faith that I felt would be used by Him to shape me into a more “whole” woman. I don’t think any person who has spent an entire lifetime trying to control things and “choose the best” and be as close to perfect as possible could ever truly change themselves without God’s divine intervention and help. So before I share anything else, I hope it’s clear that ultimately this was God’s doing, not mine. With that said, there are some “practical” things I’ve done that I believe God used to do His work in me, and I’m happy to share them in the hopes that it encourages those that are “stuck” to start the journey of change with their Heavenly Father.
- I am seeing a counselor. My depression and anxiety had gotten so out-of-control at the end of last year that I knew I needed more than the typical solutions to get out of it. It took me a long time not only to “bite the bullet” and admit I needed help, but to even find the right person to go see! I’m so thankful that I stuck with it and that God brought me to the precious woman I now get to share my heart with and get wonderful advice from. She has helped me to see where my long-held beliefs and thinking were wrong, and what I could do to change to a healthier outlook. There was no way I would have been able to see the things she’s brought my attention to unless I had that outside perspective, so counseling has been a huge piece of my turn-around. It took a lot of work and time to find the right person, and it is a big financial commitment, but God has been so faithful in His provision and has shown me that even when things don’t “add up” in my economy, He always takes care of us when we step out in faith.
- I confessed that what I was doing at the time wasn’t working. We can’t change if we don’t see that we even need to. I think this step probably took the longest for me, and it was definitely the hardest. When my counselor told me that I was the one causing a lot of the problems in my life, it didn’t exactly go over well. Nobody likes to be told they are wrong, especially people with a type-A, perfectionistic personality! It took several days for me to accept that my “methods” hadn’t worked, grieve that truth and all of the consequences it had brought up, and then decide that I wasn’t going to stay stuck. Even though my intentions were good, I had gone about things in a way that did more harm than good. I could choose to stubbornly stay where I was, claiming that I couldn’t be wrong because my heart in it all was pure…or I could confess that I got this part wrong, humble myself, and ask God what He intended instead.
- I spent more time with people I wanted to be like. I have a few friends that are gifted with the ability to be very laid-back and easy-going, and that focus more on grace than performance—the things I am trying to learn—and my counselor “prescribed” extra time with people like them. So, I took a leap of faith, openly told those friends I needed to learn how to be more like them, and have been purposeful in trying to spend more time with them. Seeing examples of calmer, more grace-filled parenting and having these dear women offer advice and just spend time with me has given me a “real-life” picture of the kind of person I’m trying to learn how to be. Now, I’m not saying we should find some friends we like and then try to change to be just like them. I am still absolutely in favor of “being yourself”, owning your “flavor” and staying true to the person God made you to be, 100%. The person I was, though, was not who He made me to be. I had let my natural inclinations for order and plans and being purposeful become too extreme, turning them into a terrible slave-driver, and I needed people who were experiencing freedom to help me see how to get out of my self-imposed cell. I believe that God can and does use other people to help us see where we’ve gotten off-track and how we can find our way back; He has definitely done that for me.
It is very humbling and painful to come to the realization that we need to change, especially if we’ve gone our entire life thinking we were doing the right thing! I think something that helps in this process is to keep in mind that God is never truly done working on us. We will not become the people He intended us to be until we reach Heaven, so we have a long time to stay open to the changes He wants to make; to learn and grow in Him; and to trust Him to complete His good work in us. So even though it really is very scary and even painful, let’s trust our Heavenly Father enough to let Him change us. I can tell you with full confidence that it is so, so worth it.
“And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” Phillipians 1:6