The French author Colette wrote, “I was changing — slowly if you like, but what the matter? To change is the great thing.” Changing for the better involves the discomfort of loss and of not quite knowing what comes next! And change usually happens slowly — awareness of a better way to think and act comes to us over time and changing habits is the work of a lifetime. It takes patience and perseverance – and courage.
But, hey – it beats alternative! It’s great to know there is a way out of habits that are making us miserable. The way to step up to the next level – to realize the joy and freedom we were meant to live — is to grow in virtue. Out with the old habits, in with the new.
If change is uncomfortable, we need to be sure that our discomfort is leading somewhere good. St. Paul writes of constructive suffering and destructive suffering: “To suffer in God’s way means changing for the better and leaves no regrets, but to suffer as the world knows suffering brings death” (2 Cor 7:2).
My father’s mother, Helen, was a wonderful, hard-working woman. But she would occasionally succumb to a self-appointed victim role – an example of suffering that did not build her up, lead to greater freedom, or improve her relationships.
My other grandmother, Rose, would look up to heaven when a pan of cookies burned and have a joke with God, saying, “Aren’t I humble enough already?” She suffered acutely at the early loss of her husband, physical ailments, and financial hardship, yet treated our constant requests for help as joyful opportunities to show us her love – and always with a big smile. She had made a decision to allow her suffering to be of the constructive – the purifying – kind. That means that it brought her closer to God’s love instead of farther from it. It means that it brought her closer to other people rather than isolating her.
Constructive and destructive suffering is a huge subject. It’s on my mind because I just got back from a retreat at which I experienced the letting go of some habits of thought that, like Grandma Helen’s, weren’t doing me any good. This kind of “constructive loss” is well worth the temporary pain because it leads to lasting joy and freedom.