Gradually, Then Suddenly
It's been a long and brutal winter here in Wisconsin, and so the coming of spring is more welcome than usual! The temperatures have been warming gradually for a few weeks and then suddenly, just a few days ago, it became clear that winter had lost its grip, and spring was finally on its way.
Our Living Compass Wellness Initiative is hosting an online Facebook discussion group right now on Forgiveness (see the section below this column if you are interested in joining us) and this week I shared the image of winter gradually, then suddenly, losing its grip on those of us in the Midwest. I shared it as a metaphor for how the process of forgiveness often works. The process of forgiving, whether of our ourselves or others is similar in that at first it happens oh so gradually, even imperceptibly, that we don't even notice our change of heart. Then, just when it seems like there is not much progress being made, suddenly our inability to forgive loses its grip, and we find that we are suddenly feeling more loving toward ourselves or others.
All of this reminds me of a line from an Ernest Hemingway novel, one that also serves as the basis for a core principle found in the book, Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott. In Hemingway's, The Sun Also Rises, a character is asked how he happened to go bankrupt. He answers simply, "Gradually, and then suddenly." Susan Scott takes Hemingway's idea and expands it to matters other than one's financial stability, stating, "Our work, our relationships, and, in fact, our very lives succeed or fail, gradually then suddenly, one conversation at a time."
In our Facebook discussion group, I asked if people could think of other metaphors, in addition to the coming of spring, that capture this idea that change and growth happen gradually, then suddenly. The group shared several that warrant repeating: learning to play a musical instrument, learning to hold a yoga pose, learning to speak a new language, losing weight, a person recovering from grief, and a child first learning to walk. All of these are changes that often surprise us as they seem to have just crept up on us when in reality they have been building for some time.
These metaphors contain wisdom that I, for one, need to remember because I often want or expect change to happen quickly. I doubt I'm alone in the fact that when I am working on a making a change, I don't start out thinking, "I'm looking for a slow, gradual, almost imperceptible change here," and yet that is precisely how the change process works. Watching the snow slowly melt and the world gradually changing from white and grey to a fantastic variety of colors is a beautiful reminder of that.
Is there a change you are working on in your life? Is it perhaps related to forgiveness? Or some other focus of growth or letting go--be it spiritual, vocational, physical, relational, or emotional? As the season slowly, gradually changes around us, may we remember the wisdom that change always takes longer than we want or expect, and that change always happens gradually, long before it happens suddenly.
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