What If I Never Change?

Sydney is currently seventeen hours ahead of my beloved EST, the time zone occupied by […]

Sydney is currently seventeen hours ahead of my beloved EST, the time zone occupied by my former homes of New York and Atlanta. Funny how waking up so many hours ahead can leave me feeling so far behind.

Most days our king-sized bed holds three to four people by the time of my sons’ circadian-induced awakening around 6 am. Our older son is burrowed underneath the covers between us, his feet unfailingly within inches of my face, and our younger boy is typically planted on the pillows between my husband and me, or upon my husband’s chest, telling the “lazy bum” to wake up (can’t imagine where he learned that turn of phrase). By 7 am, we have broken a half-dozen of the rules I set before having children, chief among them screen limitation and sharing our bed. Meanwhile, my anxiety over that thickens with the addition of overnight (for me) messages I’ve received and the urge to respond promptly (not because I’m such a good friend, but because I’m afraid my people back home will forget me).

What I’m saying is that what seems to be my biggest personality trait–anxiety–starts the day at a baseline level of “off the charts.” And this is with measures in place to combat it: medication, mindfulness techniques, cognitive behavioral strategies, morning liturgy. All of these, in fact, have had a hand in making me aware of how anxious I’ve been all my life–along with knowing people who don’t operate out of a constant impending sense of doom, ie my husband, primarily, whose laid-back, no-rush nature can both set me free and make me want to divorce him in the middle of the grocery store. In moments like that–grocery stores, or birthday parties with my sensory-overloaded older son that turn into existential crises, or, you know, the first hour of the day and all subsequent ones until wine o’clock–it’s easy to wonder if I will ever change. If these “quirks,” aka clinical predispositions to stress and depression, will ever abate or will mark me for life. If I’ll ever be the mom who talks gently, as a rule, to her children. If a social event will ever occur without my extensive worrying about it and locating of restrooms in advance.

It’s a heavy load, to wonder if I’ll always be…myself.

When I heard about a podcast called The Hilarious World of Depression, you bet your Auntie Anne’s ass that I hit subscribe. Since then I’ve listened to comedians and creatives recount their struggles with the dark behemoth, and I’ve felt less alone because of it. Gary Gulman, my favorite finalist from Last Comic Standing, cried on-air about his history with mental illness. Andy Richter made me laugh and tear up. Aimee Mann, who is so damn cool that I feel honored to do the same battles she does, talked matter-of-factly about her anxiety struggles and how “you almost feel crazier when you keep doing the same crazy stuff.” Holy resonance. Then there was Pete Holmes’s You Made It Weird, one of my mainstays already, and the episode where he interviewed Mark Duplass. Both men admitted that if given the option, they would keep their anxiety, warts and all, for what it had contributed to their life and creativity. Last but certainly not least, Russell Brand, in his book Recovery, admits that the pages came “not from the mountain but from the mud.” There is a tacit awareness among all of us that we are, to a degree, stuck with ourselves. That our deepest wounds are often also our greatest gifts. So…where does that leave us? Healed, or forever broken?

I had the thought the other day: what if I never change? I don’t remember what I was doing: making yet another dinner, folding some more laundry, mediating another child-fight, battling another impulse to emit a primal scream. I felt hopeless: after all, shouldn’t I, as a Christian, believe in change? Shouldn’t I hold the promise of it close like a small kitten, relying on its surety to keep me warm at night and positive during the day? “Personal transformation!” shout the majority of preachers. NO! The cynic in me counters. Consider this: what if you NEVER change?

And almost as quickly, from outside of myself, came an answer, which I believe may be the answer: you’ll still be loved. I considered it. Really? I thought. I know I’m a student of grace and all, but surely there are limits? I mean, you’ve got to show at least some effort in this game, some evidence of achievement?

Sanctification has, to be honest, always left me mystified. What does it mean? It’s just a fancy word for change, right? Of what happens after we believe? Which, of course, is spirit-directed, but let’s be honest again, is aided by my spiritual disciplines? By my own commitment? There’s certainly a multi-billion dollar industry out there that says so. 

But what if I never change?

You’ll still be loved.

Preposterous. Offensive. So not me-centric. The alliteratively-outlined sermons of my childhood would be horrified.

But you know what? Trying-to-prove-myself-me? “Hey-everyone-I’m-so-OK” me? Is the worst version of me.

Because I have two eyes and a heart, I watched season 2 of Stranger Things recently, and one image from the nine episodes remains embedded in my memory (spoiler alert, kinda): Eleven and Chief Hopper descending, in their cage, down to the Mindflayer’s lair. The father figure with his child as she faces her greatest fear, which happens to be what she’s meant for–the wound and gift that won’t go away despite the passage of time and a change of hairstyle. I think of the two of them, with each other, all the time: this relationship that as CJ wrote became the central one of the season, and I know this: that, as Russell Brand writes, “being human is a ‘me, too’ business. We are all in the mud together.” But even more importantly, being made holy is–just not the way it’s usually taught. Because it’s like this: he makes the change happen, and I am…there. That’s it.

I know this because I spent the first couple of decades of my life trying to enact that change myself: timed devotionals, ardent Bible reading, perfect church attendance. And my heart? Cold as the halls of Congress. But now, since I’ve become aware of the love that goes down to various hells for me, instead of me, with me? My politics, parenting, priorities have changed (damn, those alliterative points really do stick). All that resolutions and vision boards and determination could never accomplish in the way of sanctification, in the way of change, grace did. Does. Is doing.

Julian of Norwich brings into focus those spiritual disciplines, the utility of which I’ve pondered:

And thus with prayers…and with other good works that are customarily taught by Holy Church, is the soul united to God. 

We are made aware of the union into which he invites us when we do these things. But we are changed by his spirit, not by our own activities.

The liturgy, prayer, worship, sanctification itself–these things I used to see as disciplines have now become mysteries. But not unapproachable ones; rather, invitations into a mystery whose greatest quality rather than offensiveness is that they are beyond me. Rather than simply being transformed, I’m being conformed: made more like something that is somehow outside of me yet within me, one of the greatest mysteries indeed.

The anxiety abides. The irritability abides. The mistakes abide. But he abides more. And over time, this looks less like “triumphant Christian living” than waking up in a bed for four, taking a deep breath, and just living.

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16 responses to “What If I Never Change?”

  1. Mike Ferraguti says:

    Thanks Stephanie. Your writing is always heartfelt, honest, vulnerable. I like what Steve Brown once said about sanctification: The beginning of sanctification is ‘be still.’

  2. K.C. says:


  3. Sean says:

    My inner presbyterian could twist your words into the whole personal transformation nonesense. But I think you are pointing to something better. Thx.

  4. Jason says:


  5. Oliver says:

    Have several million upvotes from me, Stephanie.

  6. Marjorie says:


  7. David Zahl says:

    Stephanie, this is just phenomenal. Food for the soul.

  8. Bill says:

    This helps. I am not likely to change. But will be changed.

  9. Michael Cooper says:

    Mbird seems to speak to those who are earnest believers who have tried and failed to “change”. It has little to say to those who are afraid that we don’t change because there is no God there to effect change, or even to love the unchanged.

  10. Cathrina says:

    Julian of Norwich is a woman.

  11. Merrill Hodges says:

    Cause it’s a bittersweet symphony this liiiiiife

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