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Transformation in the Moment

By Tricia Andor, Licensed Professional Counselor

It’s a rare thing to find a good example of a moment of transformation. Easy to find stories that have inspiring, admirable, positive end results – the former alcoholic who now embraces recovery. The sixty-three year marriage that has grown in gentleness, kindness, and love over the years. The adult son who forgives his father for having favored his older brother.

But finding an example of personal, in-the-moment transformation? Not so easy. Yet these small shifts, these yieldings, these moment-by-moment choices are so very important. Indeed, it is a series of those small moments that make for a transformed life.

To be clear about the word transformation here – for those who walk in the Christian faith, transformation is noted as being different from merely changing (as everyone is changing in some way, shape, or form – saints and terrorists alike). Transformation is described as “the renovation of the human heart… the whole person into the goodness and power seen in Jesus and his “Abba” Father…” In short, it is a process of one’s appetites, thoughts, emotions, will, and behavior becoming more like that of Jesus Christ’s. (Note: The quote and concept in this paragraph come from Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart, pp.19-20. My emphasis added).

Well, I had the good fortune of finding an example of a moment of transformation this past week. Captured in only five paragraphs! The author is John Ortberg, and his background is both psychologist and pastor. I appreciate that he speaks in a way that is personal, honest, and relevant for the day in which we live.

The following window into Ortberg’s life illustrates first missing the moment of transformation, then later embracing it.

We are always either opening ourselves up – walking in the Spirit – or quenching the Spirit. I’ll give you an example. Over the holidays, Nancy and I had dinner with two other couples… some of our best friends. At one point, I was talking about me and Nancy gave my hand a little squeeze. Nobody else could see it. I was the only one that knew. It was a little signal meaning, “You’re talking too much. Give someone else a turn.”

It was a “squeeze play.” We had not worked out that signal before. It was just spontaneous. And I immediately thought, “I don’t like the squeeze play.” I think that what I was saying about me was really interesting. I think Nancy is being overly directive.

Now, here’s the biggest problem. After dinner was over, I didn’t say anything to her; I just said to myself, “Well, you know, it’s not a big deal. We don’t need to talk about it.” And I decided, without quite putting it into these words, “ I would rather avoid a potentially unpleasant conversation than honor my relationship with my wife, learn more about myself, and wrestle with being honest.” Just a little bit, I cut myself off from the flow of the Spirit. In just this one area, I quenched the [Holy] Spirit’s leading in my life.

The next day, I spent time with a real good friend and we talked about our families and our marriages and the incident from the previous night came up and immediately I knew, I’m going to have to talk with my wife about the squeeze thing. Hopefully before 2010.

No, I did it! And she was very gracious. We actually both learned from the conversation – it made me grateful for the squeeze! By having that conversation, I returned to the flow of the Spirit. The Jesus Way has become the way of the Spirit and where the Spirit of the Lord is, Paul says, there is freedom.*

I like this example because we get a picture of the ease with which we can make the small decision to avoid transformation. It’s the “I would rather avoid having this conversation” moment, which we may or may not even be aware of having decided. It also illustrates that transformation is a process, and we can go back and address the situation even days after the fact.

Life really is a series of these kinds of moments. And it’s the really little decisions that add up to the life we are living, and the person we are becoming. I like how writer Annie Dillard puts it, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing.”

Personal transformation strikes me similarly: what we yield to in this moment and that one is who we are becoming.

* I Corinthians 3:17 “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”

Ortberg story taken from Fall/Winter 2009 Conversations: A forum for authentic transformation, A river runs through it: Living life in the Spirit.