Change — whether we see it as positive or negative — can be difficult. Any time we have to change our plans, we have to adjust and adapt, and that can throw us into turmoil. It’s natural for us to want to control our own lives, but, ultimately it isn’t up to us. It’s up to God.
The Blessed Virgin Mary knew the challenge of change because her life was filled with it. From the Annunciation to the Visitation, from the Nativity to the flight to Egypt, as well as the ministry, passion and crucifixion of Our Lord, Mary transitioned through one change after another. Her life was never her own; she totally and faithfully surrendered herself to God’s will at all times and in all circumstances of her life.
We would benefit greatly from meditating on the way Mary managed change in her own life as an example of how we should manage change in ours.
Advent — the Church’s prescribed time of preparation for the birth of the Savior — gives us ample opportunity to pause and reflect on how we might follow in Mary’s footsteps.
Surrender to God
When Angela Faddis was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer, every piece of the life she’d built together with her husband, Chris, crashed to the ground. All of their hopes and plans for the future were instantly changed. Angela died 17 months later, on Sept. 17, 2012. The Faddis’ two children were just 2 and 4 years old.
"We thought we would live a long, happy life together," Chris Faddis said. "Well, we did live a happy life — it just was six years instead of 60."
Faddis, a marketing consultant, wrote about the changes his family experienced with Angela’s diagnosis and death in his recently released book, It Is Well: Life in the Storm (Solace Books, 2013).
"We have this American ideal," Faddis said, "that we can do anything — and we pair it with the Christian ideal that we can do all things in Christ (Philippians 4:13). Then we take that as a self-fulfilling prophecy. It doesn’t work that way."
Change, according to Faddis, is not about our own expectations, but, instead, is about surrendering to God’s will with constant fidelity and trust, as Mary did. Rather than resenting or fearing the changes God effects in our lives, we need to embrace them. Once we do that, the graces begin to flow, and the resentment and fear turn to joy.
Faddis and his children know this from their own experience.
"Am I happy that Angela died?" Faddis asked. "Of course not. But my children and I are happier now because we surrendered to God’s will. The amount of joy that we have experienced in the past year is absolutely incredible."
Change means entering into the unknown, and most of us don’t do well with uncertainty, according to Chris Stravitsch, a licensed professional counselor. Stravitsch is executive director of Rejoice Family Apostolate (RejoiceApostolate.com).
"When we follow routines," Stravitsch said, "then we know what is expected of us on a daily basis, and we also know what to expect. Major life changes challenge all of this. It feels more like a storm is stirring on the horizon. Suddenly, we don’t know what to expect next. Life becomes a big question mark, and that can be stressful."
Eyes on Jesus
Some of the most stressful changes, Stravitsch said, are having a newborn, moving, a loss of a job or changing jobs, divorce, military deployment and the death of a loved one. All of them elicit mixed emotions.
For example, moving to a new city can be a bittersweet mix of grieving the loss of people and places left behind, while at the same time embracing the hope and anticipation of the new opportunities that await one ahead.
"We could say that it is like the mysteries we pray with during the holy Rosary," he said. "Life changes can be joyful, sorrowful, luminous and glorious. What’s important is that we keep our eyes on Jesus as we go through the mysteries of our own lives."
That’s what Mary did.
God Is in the Struggle
The breakthrough for Leticia Velasquez — author of A Special Mother Is Born: Parents Share How God Called Them to the Extraordinary Vocation of Parenting a Special-Needs Child (WestBow Press, 2011) — came when she allowed herself to ask for help.
Velasquez, a wife and mother from Canterbury, Conn., suffered a disabling and pain-causing back injury that has caused memory loss. She also had melanoma in her eye, requiring surgery and radiation therapy.
That — on top of having diabetes and an 11-year-old daughter with Down syndrome — took her to the end of her rope, even with the loving support of her husband, Francisco, and two other daughters.
Velasquez was forced to seek help from the state Department of Disabilities Services for in-home assistance. An initially strange-feeling arrangement became a blessing to Velasquez and taught her a valuable lesson about facing change.
"God does all things with our salvation in mind," she said. "He doesn’t forget us; he is allowing us to grow in new ways. If we allow God to work through it, he will use the change to mold us into just the persons he created us to be. Some of God’s greatest miracles are worked in the quiet obscurity of our private struggles."
Our Blessed Mother knew that.
In Luke 1:38, Mary said, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word."
And, then, in her Magnificat (Luke 1:49), she realizes that no matter how huge this change in her life is, "The Mighty One has done great things for me."
He does no less for us in the midst of change.
Marge Fenelon writes from Cudahy, Wisconsin.
Help for Change
Licensed professional counselor and executive director of Rejoice Apostolate, Chris Stravitsch offers these guidelines for moving through change:
— Prepare for the change. Acknowledge that change is coming, rather than ignore it.
— Get as much information as possible about what the change will entail.
— Find others you can talk to about your emotions, hopes and fears.
— Don’t try to face major changes alone; God made us relational beings, and we need the support of others.
— Explore who will be affected, how it will affect them and what can be done about it.
— Figure out what you can and cannot control.
— Faith and prayer are essential. Remember that God is with you always and that he desires the best for you.
— via RejoiceApostolate.com