Parents usually get excited when they see their children begin saying things like, “I’ll do it,” or “No, let me do it myself.” This means their kids are becoming more independent. Sometimes parents hold on too long and fail to empower their kids. Other times they loosen their grip and watch their children struggle. But sometimes they see their children flourish.
Independence and taking responsibility for our lives can be a positive thing, but sometimes being overly independent can be a bad thing. I cannot tell you how many times I have been invited to speak at a church that is struggling and looking for help, only to find that they are resistant and unwilling to do what is necessary to turn things around. Oftentimes these congregations are looking for a quick fix or a silver bullet—a simple, quick, and painless solution to the struggles and downward trajectory they are facing.
The reality is that change, both for an individual and for an organization, is often more complex and challenging than we want to believe. Because of this, it is easy to give lip service to the desire for change yet be resistant to doing what is necessary to bring change about.
In John 5 we read a story where Jesus came to Jerusalem and approached an area where handicapped and disabled people gathered. One man had been paralyzed for 38 years and was sitting near a pool of water that people believed could heal when the angels touched it. In other words, this man was in a position and a place looking to be healed. Yet when Jesus saw the man, He asked him a very simple question—“Do you want to get well?”
This may sound like a rhetorical question, but it was not. The paralyzed man’s entire adult life had revolved around his disability. He had never had a job and had been dependent upon other people to survive. As frustrated as he was with his ailment, he had found a way to make it work. To be healed meant he would have expectations placed on him that he never had previously. No doubt this triggered questions in his mind about what he would do for a living, whether or not he could support himself at his age, or even if he could take care of himself at all after being so reliant upon others for so many years. Ultimately, Jesus saw this man’s heart, and He knew that, while there was a part of the man that wanted to be healed, there was another part of him that was scared and possibly resistant.
Sometime back, I led a retreat for a nonprofit organization that is experiencing some problems yet has a world of potential. From the outside, some of their problems were evident and predictable. Unless they were willing to make a few changes in how they functioned as an organization, the problems were going to persist and could end up being terminal. They knew this and acknowledged their dilemma. Yet I knew the changes that were needed were going to be more difficult than they realized. More importantly, a few strong, independent personalities would have to swallow their pride and shed their Messiah complex. So, I shared the story of John 5 and asked them if they really wanted to be well. Everyone nodded their heads, affirmed to me how meaningful the gathering was, and insisted they wanted to take the next steps.
Eventually, their enthusiasm wavered. At first, I got questions asking for clarification. Then a noticeable sense of hesitation and delay followed. Next, they asked my opinion on trying to approach the problem in a completely different manner. Finally, they backed away and decided they would try to fix it themselves.
This group is a living example of John 5 in action. They said they wanted to be well and healthy, yet they were resistant to objective input and the commitment it would take to make true change happen. I recently talked to someone from the organization, and he shared with me that nothing has changed and the spiral is continuing.
Sometimes we realize we need help, but our pride and fear make us resistant to take the steps that are actually necessary to make change occur. We say things like, “We don’t need anyone else’s help.” “We can save money by doing it ourselves.” “Most of this is unnecessary.” But in many cases, those are lies we tell ourselves to deflect and protect.
I once had someone tell me, “You know the first thing you should do when you find yourself in a deep hole? Stop digging!” Sounds simple enough, but for some reason, it is often hard to do. So, if you think you might need some help to change, don’t grab the shovel tighter and work harder. Stop digging. Ask for help. And accept that help, even if it means you have to face a fear or swallow your pride. Because if you do these things, you may find that change finally becomes possible.