If you’re going to change your life, there’s a particular way of doing it. You need to be really sinful, but still of admirable character, and have a dramatic moment that causes you to change the dressing on who you always were, cloaking yourself now in virtue rather than in vice.
In this weekend’s readings Paul speaks of his “former way of life”, and his story is a perfect example of the preferred conversion narrative. Get knocked down, see God, and turn your vehemence and self-assurance toward Jesus instead of against him. It’s a great story, and boy did he know how to get results.
Similarly, the widow’s of Sidon and Nain, separated by centuries but reunited in the lectionary, get cinema-worthy proof of the abundance of God. Unlike Paul, they disappear from our story after that, and we don’t know much about how they change, or how their sons change, after the dramatic raisings that convince them of God’s power.
As I write, I listen to the band Dispatch, who I haven’t listened to in a long time. They were often in the CD player in college, and I heard their last concert on the Esplanade in 2004. I am a different person now than I was then, as I should be.
I still have virtues and vices, but I’ve spent nearly ten years trying to tame my vices and enhance my virtues. With no dramatic conversion I have had to do the hard, boring work of asking every night “God, make me better. God, make me good.”
The psalmist proclaims “I will praise you Lord for you have rescued me.” God has rescued me in tiny ways every day.
I have to accept that as God has slowly shaped me into a better version of who I was, so too others are being shaped. When I come across someone who expects me to be the same person I was a month ago, or a year ago, or on a sunny day at the Hatch Shell in 2004, it wounds me. Hard work and grace and prayer have allowed me to change, and it crushes me when others won’t allow me to change, assuming I can’t mature, that a shouting head can never learn when to be quiet.
We call it flip-flopping when people change their mind, but to me it’s rather beautiful. I may not always need to change my mind but to change my heart and soul, less by a flip-flop than by a slow refining. Perhaps someday there will be the dramatic moment, or perhaps that’s not for me. But I continue to ask for that slow change, and to pray that I can see it in others and allow their growth as well.
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