How easy it is to get stuck! By that I mean that often we get so used to the familiar that we don’t progress in our divinely planned development. We get used to the things as they are. Like an old shoe, things fit nicely and we just want things to continue as they are or even as they were. For often this conserving trend lurches us backwards into the past, creating, through nostalgia, a past that never really was but has become a mirage created by our imagination.
As I grow older, I see this tendency to resist the new as a desire for the comfort of the familiar. We get used to things as we know them. And because of that we are happiest when we do the things that we always do. We identify with them. They become ‘us’ and as such we feel lightly or seriously threatened when life suggests us to go in a different direction. We sometimes greet these intimations of newness as if they were trying to violate our independence and we try to eliminate anything that makes us feel insecure.
This is a personal reality for most of us but it can also be an institutional reality. For instance, we as a Church, a parish, get used to doing things in certain way. We forget that everything that we consider familiar was at one time a new reality.
As I grow older, I notice I have set patterns of doing things that seem to work for me: where I put my toothpaste, where I put my brush, what kind of toothpaste I use, the floss that is in a certain place close at hand; even the mouthwash that has a place. I have a place for everything and I spend time every day returning the things to where they belong. OCD? Maybe. But I know what has worked best for me and I like to be able to find things where they belong. I called it order. Others might call it neurosis.
When someone gives me a new idea about toothpaste, continuing with my previous example, I can either dismiss it as unnecessary or I can try it out. When I do try it out (which is most of the time) I sometimes find it is an improvement. So, I change my habits and make room for this new addition which will be part of the order of my room.
Toothpaste is just a minor example. I do this as a matter of course for everything. This sense of order helps me feel secure enough that when someone suggests something new, I feel that it is ok to try it since it might actually improve my ‘system’.
I think what militates against this freedom with the new is our clinging to the familiar as a marker for security. “Because this is the way I do this, it is my way and therefore why should I even listen to what others suggest?” The fallacy of this way of thinking is that we identify with our habits and therefore, when someone suggests a new way of doing something, we unnecessarily feel threatened. Sometimes we discover, on the other hand, that our way is better than the new way. This, therefore, results in a new respect for our past choices and gives us the motivation to share our way with the person who meant to be helpful by suggesting their way so that they may try your way and profit by the improvements it provides.
When this way of proceeding is expanded into interpersonal and even spiritual matters, we can see what tremendous advantages it brings. Sometimes God initiates new things in our lives and in the salvation history of the world. The Incarnation is a chief example. While the Old Testament is replete with many instances of the mutual love between God and Human Beings (chiefly in the Covenantal love of God with the Chosen people), there is not even an intimation of God choosing to become one of us! Yet, that is exactly what God did in human history. Many people rejected Jesus because the Incarnation was unprecedented in the history of God’s Covenant with His People. But many were open to the surprising ways that God had already worked in picking that one obscure people to be His people.
While it is always good to test the new to see if it compatible with the rest of things, an open stance to the new ensures that we can and do benefit when God does the new in our lives and in the world at large.