Why Are People Afraid of Change?

Posted: March 17, 2015 in change, life

Why do people hate change? Because humans are scared, selfish creatures by nature, but the truth is we don’t really hate change. Yet something about change really bothers us. Okay, let me go back to the beginning to start over.

The Bible and creation tells us that God’s glory is the grand purpose of our existence. We exist to glorify Him, but something changed in the fall when sin entered the picture. A long time ago, Adam and Eve lived in harmony with God the Creator, but then the man and woman ate fruit that God had told them not to eat, and suddenly that harmony was broken. Humans became afraid and selfish. They played the Blame Game Family Edition (patent pending), then God kicked them out of paradise, but they and their offspring (that’s us) remained selfish. Change happened anyway.

Fast forward to what this has to do with anything.

The church I am a part of has been going through transition, as it is currently going through a somewhat major leadership change after having lost another crucial leader recently. Part of the change affects me directly. Part of me is happy; part of me is sad. Frankly, I’m not always fond of change, but change is nothing new to me. People come, people go. Leaders come, leaders go. That’s just life, and we can choose to accept and adapt or sit in a corner and pout about life not going the way we think it should. While nobody is exactly leaving for this next phase of transition, it’s still a major change, since our young adults pastor Jon is moving to a different role and Kevin our college director will be moving into Jon’s role. I’ve known these guys in their respective roles since I met them nearly two years ago. Because this is somewhat of a big deal, someone might ask the question “why are people so afraid of change?” A valid question perhaps, and one I’ve been kind of pondering since learning of news of this transition and hearing what Jon and Kevin each had to say in regards to this role change and even touching on this question. In fact, they each said something that strikes at the very heart of the question.

So what if I told you we as humans aren’t scared of change itself, but we’re actually scared of what it represents? Change happens every day, but nobody notices or cares. You change your clothes (I hope). You change lanes while driving. You change positions: sit down, lie down, and stand up (good boy). You change the channel because you get bored of or disagree with whatever is on Internet-o-vision. Without really thinking about it, we as humans make subtle changes, but changes nonetheless, on a regular basis. Yet when major change happens, it can rock our world. It can make us, break us, or just simply shake us. But why? What is so scary about major changes when minor changes don’t seem to phase us whatsoever?

When major changes happen, it reminds us of this one simple truth we often like to forget. We are not actually in control of what’s going on around us; we are not in control of this massive thing called the universe or even life itself. Little changes don’t scare us, because we have a sense of control, and we know how some of our mostly-innocuous decisions will or won’t affect us or maybe even people around us. Don’t eat, and you go hungry; decide to eat, and you won’t. Go to work, get paid. Simple, right? But when a huge, potentially life-altering decision comes up, we fear the unknown and suddenly catch a case of “what-if-itis.” What if this? What if that? “What if people don’t like me? What if they think I’m boring? What if she rejects me? Will anyone remember me when I’m gone? What if I lose my job and can’t provide for my family anymore? What if it’s terminal? What if the world inexplicably implodes because I move to Canada to run a bird sanctuary? What if my baby could’ve grown up to be a time-traveling rocket scientist but instead ends up in prison for embezzling money all because I didn’t take that lucrative job offer in order to pay top dollar for her primary education?” Maybe a bit extreme, but we can conjure up any sort of “what if?” when we’re afraid (or just imaginative) and realize that we in fact don’t control outcomes the way we may have convinced ourselves we do.

In addressing this issue of fear earlier this week, Jon reminded us that through this transition and any change really, God is in control, and everything is going to be okay regardless of the outcome. Yes, this is a major change, and as he pointed out, we don’t know how it will play out next year, the year after, or even ten years down the road, but we don’t have to. We and our finite understanding and frail humanity are not in control, but an omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent, loving God is in charge of this universe, and that’s a good thing. You know why? Because not only are we afraid of the unknown, but we the human race are inherently selfish. And that’s a bad thing.

Change makes us afraid because it reminds us we’re not in control, but it can also be a wake-up call to tell us something equally important. The universe we do not control does not revolve around us either, but we don’t like to be reminded that we’re not the center of reality. When something good happens, it’s easy to think how wonderful I must be to earn God’s favor, and when bad strikes, it’s just as easy to wonder what I did to deserve this. Why would anyone think like this? Because we’re selfish. I’m selfish. You’re selfish. We the offspring of Adam and Eve are selfish creatures.

Going back to the transition, this selfishness is something that Kevin touched on in talking about his role in ministry; he said that there are times he’s ready to go serve others, and other times he’s not. I’m sure it’s true for any one of us who is honest enough to admit it, even if we do like to help others. This selfishness is the part of me that says, “Jon has been my leader since I came to this church, so I don’t want him to go somewhere else, even if it just to a different role in a different room around the corner. I don’t care about your happiness or if this change could make things better; I’m comfortable, and that’s what matters most.” Don’t misunderstand what I’m saying. I have no doubt Kevin will do great in his new leadership role, and I’m happy he’s shouldering this responsibility, so my point is not that I wouldn’t want to follow him because he’s not Jon. In fact, I will stand by and support Kevin in his new role (except when I’m feeling selfish of course). At the same time, I have enjoyed people being where they are and would’ve kept it that way, but that’s because I’m selfish. When change doesn’t happen, it can be so easy to get comfortable or even complacent and forget that this life is not even about me. As change happens, my selfish desire to keep things as they have been is something I have to move past; besides, I’ve made changes in my own life because I didn’t like how things were.

So why do people hate change? They don’t, yet they do. The answer is a lot simpler than people are afraid of change. The reality is they just don’t like to be reminded that they’re not ultimately in control and that life doesn’t revolve around them. But if we aren’t willing to accept change, we will never grow.

Life is full of change. Change is inevitable. The only constant is change.

Growth is change. Stagnation is the anti-change, which leads to death. That too is a change.life diaper

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