Giving Grace To Yourself When Change Is Slow


Have you ever struggled to change a habit, attitude, or thought process and wondered, “Why can’t I just change this in my life?” Maybe you wish to think different thoughts or feel differently about a person. Maybe you want some cravings to go away. But it just seems you aren’t improving as you hoped.

Without excusing your flaws or ignoring bad patterns that need change, you may find that giving grace to the challenge of change actually helps you make the change more quickly.

Consider this silly example of change. The seminary where I work poured a new walkway between my small building and our main classroom building. Now, instead of a step up to get in the building, it is all level ground. I have used this walkway for fifteen years as I walk from my car into the building and for the past two as I have walked between the two buildings.

Here’s the problem. I am almost falling down every time because my brain wants to step down when leaving the building and to raise my leg up higher as I enter the building. Either I am tripping as I leave, stepping down only to find that there is no step or I am entering gingerly trying not to look foolish. My body and brain have one expectation and unless I concentrate, I keep doing what I have always been doing, which no longer works.

If this is true about a walkway change, it stands to reason that other more emotional and relational changes would be even harder to manage. Consider some of these

  • the loss of a loved one: coming to terms with someone who is no longer there
  • trusting someone who has shown themself in the past to be trustworthy
  • trigger fears in public spaces after a trauma
  • eating habits after years of over or under control of food
  • having a positive thought after years of negative rumination upon waking
  • avoiding porn when bored
  • choosing a soft response when angry instead of yelling

So, change is hard. How does giving grace to myself help me? 

Imagine for a minute that you make a mistake. Now, consider both of these self responses and how it would impact your capacity to keep working at change:

  1. Stupid, stupid, stupid! Why are you such a failure. You are a waste of space and energy in this world. Lots of people change, why can’t you? You say you are a Christian but I fail to see any maturity. 
  2. [sigh]. Change is so hard. You’ve been thinking and responding to this situation like this for decades. So, it’s not surprising change comes slowly. Good thing God is gracious. Lord, I may not be able to stop the first thought but thank you for helping me catch myself just a bit sooner. Now, deep breath, try again, here is what I want to think/do/say…”

Which of the above two examples of self-talk will help you move forward and which one leaves you stuck in a perception of failure?

Notice the problem that keeps us stuck longer is shame (and our responses to it) more so than our particular changes that may be coming slower than we want. Sometimes pride is the barrier more than the behavior we want to change.

Today, watch your self-talk and instead of beating yourself up with shame talk, just acknowledge the flaw/failure/sin and remind yourself that right now, you can choose a different response. See how that influences your attitude and your energy for change.

2 Comments

Filed under addiction, christian counseling, christian psychology, Uncategorized

2 responses to “Giving Grace To Yourself When Change Is Slow

  1. Brenda Reibson

    Phil, this is so true. Thank you for the reminder. Hope you don’t hurt yourself on that sidewalk!

  2. Andrew

    Wow, thanks so much for this reminder and wisdom, Phil. I’m in a very challenging situation right now, and your reminder to apply grace–that grace works IN TIME–was so needed. I’m finding that in the midst of the pain is ironic opportunity to recalibrate key patterns in my life. For example, this summer I took a hard fast from news watching. Not only has a calm washed over my psyche, but it’s been replaced with “habits of beauty,” whether in music, poetry, hobbies, and reading or more tender relationships. So this has also helped me apply that Grace + Time orientation you speak of. Not sure I’ll ever go back to News right now. Ahh…thanks for the reminder!!

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