Thursday, January 14, 2010

Interpersonal Boundaries: How do People Change?


"Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (that is, the Son of Timaeus), was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!"

Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, "Son of David, have mercy on me!"

Jesus stopped and said, "Call him." So they called to the blind man, "Cheer up! On your feet! He's calling you." Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.

"What do you want me to do for you?" Jesus asked him.

The blind man said, "Rabbi, I want to see."

"Go," said Jesus, "your faith has healed you." Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road."

Mark 10:46-52

How do people change? This is the billion dollar question. Imagine the money to be made if this mystery was solved. Advertisements would always work. Psychological techniques and suggestions would be foolproof. Psychology and business research have spent a considerable amount of money trying to solve this problem.

It may be a blessing in disguise that we only know the sketchy outlines of the answer to this question since this power would negate free will. Think about it, if someone could change us at any time to fit their whims or needs, would our personal control continue to exist? No, it wouldn't.

This struggle is important to understand when we deal with interpersonal boundaries. We need to accept that no one has the ability or right to change another, no matter the circumstances. This is a very hard truth. Our power over others is very limited and for good reasons. Even God, the Master and Creator of the Universe, does not walk around commanding us to change.

We see this kind of respect in the type of questions Jesus asked those he helped. He would meet a blind or paralyzed man and asked what he could do for him. Wasn't it obvious? Heal him! But, Jesus never presumed to know the answer, despite knowing the man's heart. Instead, Jesus waited for the answer as an invitation to act.

What if we learned this same kind of respect? How would it alter our relationships if we grasped our real limitations to change others? We tend to take risks with others under the premise that we can change them later to suit our needs. Jesus never called Zacheaus a thief (Luke 19:1-9). He didn't insist that Matthew, the tax collector, stop cheating (Matthew 9:9-12). These men's lives were transformed by Jesus' acceptance and love, not because of any demands Jesus might have made.

That's how change really happens. It sometimes occurs. It occasionally happens under one of three conditions : 1. in the form of a miraculous answer to prayer (rare), 2. precipitated by an extreme crisis which results in a decision to live differently, or 3. a conscious choice one repeats over and over again (common). We cannot command someone to change his or her life. And not everyone who tries to alter habits and behaviors will be successful. It takes tremendous self-discipline, and frankly, most of us don't want change that badly. It’s a dismal picture, isn't it. It makes God's love and patience even more amazing.

Don't get discouraged, we haven't explored the role of the Holy Spirit in regards to change. I will pick up that topic next week.

1 comment:

  1. really, really, really good Kerry! Interestingly, this is exactly what I needed to hear today. I appreciate the obvious effort and care that went into this post.