On the Cusp of Change
One of my favorite books in the Chronicles of Narnia is Voyage of the Dawn Treader, and the reason I love it is that it contains one of the best metaphors I've ever found for what it's like to go through significant change.
On the voyage, Lucy and Edmund's unpleasant cousin Eustace finds a dragon's lair, and lust for the treasure turns him into a dragon. Up to that point, he had been a miserable, sulking, complaining child, but in his unhappiness, he becomes more helpful. In spite of this change of heart, he still remains a dragon. Aslan comes to him and transforms him in the following scene:
Then the lion said . . . "You will have to let me undress you." I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it.
The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. . . .
Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off—just as I thought I'd done it myself the other three times, only they hadn't hurt—and there it was, lying on the grass: only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly-looking than the others had been. And there was I as smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been. Then he caught hold of me—I didn’t like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I'd no skin on—and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why. I'd turned into a boy again.
Every time I have gone through a major emotional change, as a result of counseling or the result of God's leading, I always reach a moment when I must choose to move forward or give up on the transformation. Like Eustace, I usually find that continuing with the change involves peeling away the thick, knobbly skin of whatever defense mechanism or bad habit that I had erroneously defined as an essential part of myself. Giving up those old false identities involves pain that must be accepted and worked through.
But that's not the end. I always find that once I really start to give up the old ways, there is an uncertain period of nakedness. I'm not the person I used to be (relying on the old habits or viewpoints), but I have no idea of who the new, developing person is going to be. I've never seen her before, and I don't know what she'll look like or how she'll act or even if she'll be an improvement on the persona I just shed. For me, that is the most critical stage because that is when it's most tempting to retreat to the way I used to be. I don't like walking around smarting and tender because I have no skin on. Yet that vulnerable stage is an essential one to any period of growth. We human beings take time to learn new habits, and so we must endure the stage of living with uncertainty, living with the sting of tender vulnerable parts being exposed.
Whenever I go through one of those uncomfortable times, I think of poor Eustace allowing Aslan to claw off his dragon skin. Sometimes I even take time to reread the book. It always reminds me that what I'm going through is normal and helps me believe that I can get through the discomfort. With God's help, I always have.
NOTE: I have two posts today because I received a blog award again, and I'm passing it on to others. So keep reading to see who's being honored.