Change not required
By Susie Hii27 Jun 2018
I was a neurotic for years. I was anxious and depressed and selfish. Everyone kept telling me to change.
I resented them, and I agreed with them, and I wanted to change, but simply couldn’t, no matter how hard I tried.
What hurt the most was that, like the others, my best friend kept insisting that I change. So I felt powerless and trapped.
Then, one day, he said to me, “Don’t change. I love you just as you are.”
Those words were music to my ears: “Don’t change. Don’t change. Don’t change… I love you as you are.”
I relaxed. I came alive. And suddenly I changed!
Now I know that I couldn’t really change until I found someone who would love me whether I changed or not.
I once attended a workshop on ‘God is love’. What attracted me to it were the words on the flyer which said it would be on ‘healing of mind, body, spirit’, my favourite theme, and that ‘love is the greatest healer’. Most of the time during the workshop, I felt bombarded by words on love which did nothing for me. And then I heard the above story which is taken from Tony de Mello’s book, The Song of the Bird.
We may be lucky like the person in the story to have someone who loves us as we are, or we may wait forever in vain for that someone, and grow old and wrinkly and cynical and sceptical. Rather than wait for someone to love us as we are, perhaps a better way, one that we have some control over, is to start by loving ourselves as we are.
Jesus tells us to take up our cross, which means accepting the sufferings of our life. Rejecting the parts of ourselves that we do not like creates suffering. Taking up our cross includes acceptance of all the things about us that we do not like. Jesus tells us to love our neighbours as we love ourselves. Love starts with acceptance of others as they are and ourselves as we are.
I find these words of Ken Wilber, an American writer on transpersonal psychology and his own Integral Theory, helpful towards acceptance of self. He asks that we ‘accept and forgive ourselves for being the unique, sometimes awkward, sometimes graceful, cartoon character that we each seem to be… forgive our rough edges, past traumas and neurotic patterns… open your heart to the quirky, noble, tragic, comic human idiosyncrasies of the character that shows up as you. You can only play the cards you are dealt . . . forgive the cards in your hands . . . Be willing to live the life you were given.’
My sister, Gertrude, likes to quote these words of Cardinal Newman, ‘To live is to change and to be perfect is to have changed often.’ This brings us to the other side of the coin. While we accept the whole of ourselves, the positive and the negative, the strong and the weak, we know that there are aspects of ourselves that could do with change. We know we have to change but we do not like others telling us we have to change because that implies that they do not accept us as we are.
Again to quote Ken Wilber, ‘Everything is always absolutely OK just exactly as it is, and as we are. And we are nonetheless called always to more goodness, truth and beauty… we rest as who we really are, while also aspiring to be who we know we can become.’
How do we hold the tension between acceptance of ourselves as we are, and knowing and striving to change for the better, for growth?
The Serenity prayer helps in holding us in peace between these two stances, acceptance of ourselves while aspiring to be who we know we can become.
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.
We cannot change others, much as we sometimes like to. The only person we can change is ourselves. We find that changing ourselves is very hard, seemingly near impossible. As the saying goes, a leopard can’t change its spots. However, what is impossible to humans is possible to God. Change is by human endeavour, transformation is God’s work. Change may seem impossible but transformation is always possible.
We think we have to change so as to become acceptable and loveable to others and to God.
Even if we never meet or have someone who tells us, ‘I love you just as you are, you don’t have to change,’ even if we cannot love ourselves as we are, there is one person who loves us just as we are. God. All we have to do is to accept God’s love.
It is hard to accept that God loves us as we are because in our human relationships, we often experience rejection of who we are, and expectations and demands that we change. God says to each and every one of us, ‘I love you as you are.’
Acceptance of God’s unconditional love will be the change that changes everything, that brings about the change that we desire but cannot achieve on our own, that transforms us.Susie Hii is a writer and author of Happy, Healthy, Holy.