Benedictine News and Stories
How to Accept - even Embrace - Change
Few people like change, especially when it’s foisted upon them. From losing a job to losing a loved one, change can be difficult at best and torturous at worst. No matter what the change, though, some people seem to cope with it better than others. Some seem even, eventually, to embrace it. These people have something to teach us.
Raised on a quiet farm in Eastern Europe, 14-year-old Jozefa Seskar had spent her entire childhood caring for gentle farm animals, playing with her sisters and being teased by her brothers. All that changed in the spring of 1941. Within a month of one another, her parents fell ill and died. Then, World War II reached Slovenian soil and foreign soldiers began tearing the country apart. Eventually – with one brother now a prisoner of war and the other in a German concentration camp – the family was herded into an Austrian refugee camp. There, Jozefa learned that one of her beloved brothers had also died.
Although Sister Jozefa remembers grieving deeply for her unimaginable loss, she also looked forward to better times.
“At the camp, I made friends and learned how to sew,” Sr. Jozefa says. “In 1949, the Sisters of St. Benedict sponsored me to come to Nauvoo (where the Sisters then lived). The Sisters seemed so happy, I decided to enter. After I made final profession, I never woke up crying for my brother again. I have pretty good health and I can still laugh. Life is good!”
Sr. Jozefa smiles and shrugs when asked why she was able to overcome her grief and move on with her life. She defers to Sister Sheila McGrath, a former hospital chaplain with experience running grief support groups. Sr. Sheila says for one thing, we must face the pain of our loss or of any change, wanted or unwanted.
A Field of Burrs
“Facing substantial change is like facing a field of burrs,” Sr. Sheila says. “You can refuse to cross it by staying so busy you don’t have time to think about it. That’s avoidance, and it will come out some way, often in anger.
“Next, you can begin crossing the field and stop, and remain stuck in the middle because the burrs hurt more when you move. This often results in depression.
“The only healthy choice is to keep moving,” Sr. Sheila says. “Yes, it hurts. The burrs stick and scratch. But when you get to the other side, you often discover you have grown and learned a lot. You feel renewed.”
Change and the Call to Co-Create
In fact, the act of growth and creation requires change throughout nature: A caterpillar becomes an exquisite butterfly; an acorn becomes a mighty oak tree; a helpless baby becomes a functioning adult. Every hour of every day we change, whether we are standing on the sidelines, stuck in burrs or moving forward through the field. But some changes are more difficult than others.
“Any time you have a major change it can be very traumatic,” Sister Marlene Miller says. “An example for this community was when we moved from Nauvoo to Rock Island. It had been home for 100-plus years. But it became clear that moving was necessary to our continued growth.”
In fact, the Benedictine Sisters’ vow of conversion (a willingness to accept and embrace God’s plan) helped them discern their path. Having closed their academy – falling enrollment had followed the downward trend of boarding schools nationwide and was clearly no longer sustainable – they recognized a pressing need for even more change. After much discussion, they chose to leave Nauvoo in pursuit of a larger population of Catholics to whom they might minister.
“Our elder Sisters had the best attitude,” Sr. Marlene says. “They said, Change is going to happen, so we might as well go with it graciously and with good humor. Part of our vow of conversion is to embrace change as it comes. This theme permeates The Rule. We can’t be in balance without accepting change. Think about it. People who are angry or bitter about change are out of balance. As our elders say, Change is going to happen anyway. Why make ourselves miserable about it?”
As to why change must happen, Sr. Marlene returns to the idea of creation. “We are in the act of co-creation with God,” she says. “Creation means change and growth. As a community and as individuals, we have changed and grown in this experience in Rock Island. We’ve had wonderful opportunities and made great new friends. Our move began as a traumatic experience, but became a great blessing.”
Handling Minor Changes
Of course, change is relative. Losing a loved one, facing a terminal disease or experiencing a life-changing accident all qualify as traumatic and horribly unjust. But smaller changes dog us daily, and may in fact undermine our good cheer in a subversive way.
How often, for example, do we look in the mirror and nod happily at our graying hair? How lightly do we let go of possessions? Of ideas? Of plans?
“Teachers all know what it’s like to have lesson plans turned upside down,” Sr. Marlene points out. “Some teachers are good at improvising and some get upset. Or a family has vacation plans that get put on hold by an illness. You have to accept it to gain peace of mind. Say, We’ll do it next week or next year. Embrace the now and move on.”
In the end, all change leads ultimately to the final change, death. That, too, must be accepted on the road to God. It is, as Sr. Marlene says, the point of our lives.
“Change leads us to participate with and go to God,” she says. “Whether it’s minor or major change, we must learn to accept and embrace it. Jesus’ whole life showed us how to do that. We are called to do it as well.”
Finally, we are called to transformation: to become the beautiful butterfly, the mighty oak, the functioning and wise adult. As Sr. Jozefa modeled from her temporary home in the refugee camp, we are called to help create who we are meant to be. And there’s no way to do so but by moving forward.
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