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Change: A Fact Of Life
By Pearl Homiak

"Every rational creature suffers changes without number, and every man is different from hour to hour."

-- St. Isaac the Syrian

Several years ago my husband, Father David Homiak, suddenly departed this life. In the same instant my life also changed. I no longer had a partner I could depend on, raise our kids with, or go to when faced with life's many challenges.

When Fr. David died, I had to make decisions that brought a lot of change, both short-term and long-term, into my life-where to bury him, where to move (we had lived in the parish house during his pastorate), and how to provide for myself and my children. Somehow, sometimes almost in spite of myself, I made the necessary changes, and everything worked out.

When I became a widow, I soon realized that every change I made affected my children. So I had to be careful that a change I might desire was also good for them. However, as they have grown and moved on into their own lives, the changes I make are focusing more on me alone. You'd think this would make things easier, but it really doesn't.

Before my husband's departure, I welcomed change. Maybe this was because we experienced the change together and worked mutually within it. However, since then I have developed a clearer understanding of the results and consequences of change and become more aware of its far-reaching effects. This is good, because it keeps me from making harmful changes. Yet, this may not be so good if I am afraid to make necessary changes.

During my last few years in North Dakota, I frequently contemplated moving, continually prayed about it, and thoroughly investigated it. Then, in 1998, I took a risk. I sold my house, had a huge moving sale in my garage, packed our pared-down belongings, and made the move to Chicagoland-all in three weeks.

My youngest son, Jason, and I left what was familiar and went among strangers (and a few old friends), to a new parish, schools, doctors, and different shopping areas. I expected to have to find these things anew, but I didn't expect the cost of living to be higher in Chicagoland than I had anticipated. Had I known this, would I have still moved? Yes! Why? Because I didn't want to deny my son or myself the pportunity to learn, grow, and be renewed.

As we made this change, I thought it would be harder for Jason than for me. But it was really the other way around. He jumped into high school and discovered the Chess Club, which gave him instant friends with good values. I floundered and searched for direction.

Real change is not easy. "The path through change is rarely smooth or predictable," states Rosabeth Moss Kanter in The Change Masters. Just recognizing the need for change "is often an emotional struggle," she adds. Once the need for change is recognized, however, she says we must turn from old ways of thinking and doing things and focus on new challenges and opportunities. This takes work, but it is rewarding work.

Change actually involves a four-step process: denial, resistance, exploration, and commitment. Denial, a state of self-preservation, happens first. When hange suddenly stands before us, "we may refuse to acknowledge, recognize, or accept the information," Kanter explains. I personally knew I had to move long before I actually did it because I had no future where I was. Yet, I didn't see it as a reality for some time.

Resistance is the stage at which the struggle to change takes place. This was the most uncertain and painful part of my move, even though I experienced most of the struggle after I got here. As Kanter points out, "During the resistance phase, things seem to get worse and levels of personal distress escalate." This first happened to me when I realized I had to move if I wanted to grow.

While still in North Dakota I complained and played the blame game that typically, according to Kanter, are parts of resistance: focus on outside reasons for or against the change, and blame other people for the necessity of it. However, one day a fellow teacher, who is also a coach, set me straight in words I still live by. "As I tell my football players," he asserted, "you have to get out of your comfort zone!"

While I was in the resistance stage, I had the physical, emotional, and mental reactions (illness, distress, fear, feeling overwhelmed, having self-doubt, stonewalling) that Kanter mentions in The Change Masters. I "mourned the past rather than preparing for the future." Moving back to North Dakota came to mind many times. (I still even have periodic night-time dreams that I actually did move back. It's a relief to wake up and find that I'm still here in Chicagoland).

After passing through the resistance stage, exploration begins. We know we will survive and now have enough energy to investigate new possibilities for the future. In other words, the adventure for which we are here can now really begin. Our vision becomes more defined. We focus more clearly on what we really need to do. We clarify our goals, plan, and make choices. "By crystallizing our vision, evaluating resources, weighing alternatives, and taking risks, we are motivated to swing into action. Creativity and energy will peak during this phase," affirms Kanter.

Exploration should not be rushed, but enjoyed. I'm in this stage now. Instead of scurrying to find another full-time job, I'm working as a temporary employee. It is fun, and I am meeting a lot of wonderful people. In addition, I am discovering what I like and dislike about various working situations.

"We may only enter the final phase-commitment-when we have accepted the change, overcome the challenges, and adapted to the new reality," Kanter confirms. We focus on our vision and grow as we move towards it. We begin to cooperate with other people, get involved in this movement, and take action. This proclaims our commitment to the new course and provides balance in our lives. This still lies ahead for me. I'm not ready for it yet, but I get closer to it every day.

While working through the stages of change, we must be careful not to become stuck in any one of them, for then we will not grow. However, as Kanter cautions, we must also "avoid skipping one phase altogether or moving through it so rapidly that no foundation exists for successfully coping with the rest." The world is "contradictory and puzzling," not "orderly and controlled" as much as we might like it to be. So our task is to equip ourselves with the knowledge and skills to fearlessly meet the challenges that lie ahead. That's just what I'm doing now.

As I write this, I see parallels of this process in our Orthodox churches. I believe we can all think of various congregations that are in one or another of these phases. I know of parishes that are so locked in denial ("We don't have to change!") that they can't see they are dying. Other parishes are so resistant to doing things differently ("We don't want to change!") that tension and bickering among members and with the priest prevail.

Happily, more and more parishes are well into the exploration stage ("We are experiencing change and spiritually growing with it.") and enjoying it. Furthermore, a few parishes have even reached the commitment stage ("We have changed and are managing it."). These are the parishes that are growing both spiritually and quantitatively. Their church buildings are no longer large enough for them, so larger buildings and "spin-off" congregations are actively being planned and implemented.

The question for us is: "Where is St. Luke parish in this scenario"? It is true that we have progressed greatly, but where do you think we really stand? Realistically, of course, we could say we are always in all of the stages of change, because change is continually happening. But then we are only looking at "individual trees in the woods."

We have to look at the bigger picture, "the woods" itself. So, in which stage of change are we? Should we be there? What else can we do? (Write to The Evangelist with your responses).

Change is demanding, whether it is thrust upon us or we choose it. However, knowing that change is really a four-step growth process assures us that we can successfully get through it. Change is also vital, especially for spiritual and emotional growth. And change can be refreshing, if we allow it to be.

Today, as I look back over the last four years, I have no regrets. The changes in my life brought about by Jason's and my move from North Dakota to Chicagoland have been worth the effort. God has been good to us and continues to take care of us.

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