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Ruined Rather Than Changed

The poet W.H. Auden once said, “We would rather be ruined than changed. We would rather die in our dread than climb the cross of the present and let our illusions die.”

Several years ago, our church was practicing the spiritual exercise of neighborhood prayer-walking. We would partner up, walk around our neighborhood, greet whomever we saw, and ask them if there was anything we could pray about for them. One evening, my partner rounded a corner in our neighborhood and came face to face with a lady who was dressed a little inappropriately. In one hand, she held some alcohol, and with the other, she smoked a cigarette. A guy was draped all over her. I was young and naïve. So, I walked right up to her and said, “My name is Steve Cloer and I am from the Southside Church of Christ. What can I pray about for you tonight?”

She stopped and looked at me for a second with a strange look. She said, “Southside Church of Christ… I have heard of your church.” I said, “Really?” She explained to me that she had spent time in the county jail, where she had attended some group Bible studies with some ladies from our church. Then she said something I will never forget: “I know what I need to do to change. But I am not ready to do that right now.” I appreciated her honesty. I told her that whenever she was ready to make that change, there was a community of people right down the street that would walk with her on that journey. She said, “Okay.” Then, my partner and I walked away. I have never seen that lady again, but I have wondered about her. Not only about her, but I have wondered about so many others who are trapped in brokenness, sin, and addiction. People who perhaps know what to do, but they have not found the courage to “climb the cross of the present,” as Auden put it.

Change is not easy. Transformation is not simple. Often, we live in the space between what we know we ought to do and what we are currently doing. And we feel guilt and shame. So, we continue the same pattern, the same habits, and the same sin. And yet, God calls us higher. He invites us to take hold of His Spirit. To be filled with the power that can help us do what we cannot do ourselves. He offers new hope for a new creation. He gives us a dream. And yet we all, like the woman, are faced with that same choice. Do I want to surrender? Do I want to submit to God’s will for my life? Do I want to seek spiritual transformation? Underneath these questions is a deeper one: would I rather be ruined than changed?

During this time of the pandemic, we have felt that question. We have been given the opportunity to reflect on who we are and our relationship with God. We have been challenged to see areas in our life where we need to let go, grow, and change. But the question is will we make that change? Would we rather be ruined than changed? My prayer is that this woman eventually decided to make that change somewhere down the road. And this is my prayer for you.

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