Navigating change like a Moses
By Emily Leedom
When I decided to go to graduate school in 2017, I knew it would be a lot of work, but I was excited for the challenge. When my husband accepted a new job in 2021, he was admittedly nervous but really looking forward to the change. When my in-laws decided to sell their home of more than 30 years, there was some sadness, but more enthusiasm about the next chapter of what was to come.
Choosing to make a change in our personal lives, even when it includes some trepidation and uncertainty, tends to leave us feeling excited and invigorated. We’re willing to invest in education, or learn a new job or move to a new home because we believe it will bring value to our life.
Yet, when it comes to change in our organizations, such as our businesses, towns or churches, most of us are less enthusiastic.
When a business says they’re going to make some changes, we worry about job security. Or when our boss says they want to implement a new process, we cross our arms and say, “Let’s watch and see how this goes.” When our town builds a new road, we’re quick to say, “Why didn’t they do it this way or that way?” (In fact, it’s been three years since they built a roundabout on the way to my favorite store, and I’m still complaining about it!)
And then there’s our churches. A change to the choir’s typical repertoire has us all talking. No “God Bless America” on the Fourth of July weekend? Did we even attend Mass? Let’s face it, we really value our organizations, and making changes to them makes us uneasy.
The change choice
Change is an inevitable fact. But how we respond to that fact is a choice. We can choose to be a navigator, capitalizing on change; a survivor, disengaging from it; or a victim, blaming others for how it affects us.
The story of Exodus provides a beautiful narrative of people navigating change.
One day, God spoke to a man named Moses and told him to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, the place they knew and called home. The Lord tells him to take them across the Red Sea, and from there the instructions continue. Over and over again, the Lord speaks to Moses, and each time it results in a change for the Israelite people.
Yet, Moses says “yes” every time and navigates the changes because he knows it will bring about flourishing for the Israelites. Moses not only accepts the change but leverages it to draw more closely to the Promised Land. He was a navigator.
Then there was good ol’ Aaron, whom the Lord gave to Moses. While Moses is up on the mountain, Aaron and the people are waiting. Growing impatient, the people surround Aaron and ask him to build them a golden calf to worship. Overwhelmed by their demands and fatigued by the wait, Aaron speedily gives in to their request. He goes into “survival mode” and builds the golden calf, evidence of a lack of full commitment to the changes the Lord was prescribing for the people. He was a survivor.
Lastly, we have some very unhappy Israelites. The whole community grumbles against Moses and Aaron saying they would have rather died under oppression in Egypt, where at least they would have been fed (Ex 16:2). How could the Lord bring them from the comfort of oppression into the discomforting freedom of the Promised Land? The Israelites were the victims.
If we’re honest with ourselves, I think we’ve all had a few grumbling Israelite moments when pulled from our comfort zones amidst change. It’s that feeling of vulnerability when our chosen authority asks more of us—maybe more than we feel like giving.
So, how do we respond to change? Do we act just like the Israelites and grumble against everything that doesn’t suit our pleasure? Do we choose to be the survivor and cross our arms in a spirit of doubt and wait to see what happens? Or do we follow the steps of Moses and choose to be a navigator, capitalizing on the inevitable change?
I think most of us desire to be navigators. We want to be like Moses. We want to be the person who says, Yes, Lord. How can I help? What can I do? We got this! But how do I choose to be a navigator?
The Set Ablaze pastoral planning process has offered many of us the perfect playground to practice our navigator response. Amidst dreaming of a Church on fire, reviewing excruciating amounts of data, and then anchored by a reasoned proposal of how to turn burning embers into a roaring fire, people throughout the diocese have increasingly felt ready to say “How can I help?” Countless conversations with East River Catholics have revealed a common agreement that change is needed, and they could either dig in their heels by nitpicking the process, or roll up their sleeves and get to work.
So, if you, too, are feeling ready to get to work, here are a few tools to help you navigate the coming changes.
Join the battle to set the diocese ablaze
Don’t forget your why. In 2013, I stood in the Sistine Chapel, gazing at Michelangelo’s “Last Judgment.” I found myself drawn to the saints on the clouds, pulling people into the kingdom of heaven. I ached to be on their team, sneaking people in the back door. I was entranced by the scene, and now, 10 years later, I can still see them and feel their battle for souls won by Christ in my bones. I believe more souls in the Diocese of Sioux Falls are wanted in the kingdom of heaven, and Set Ablaze is going to help make it happen. That’s my why. What’s yours?
Celebrate progress. At the risk of sounding very uncool, my favorite part of a sports game is what happens in-between plays. Have you ever watched a volleyball team on the court? After every point, they meet in the middle. If they’re up, they cheer. If they’re down, they rally the team. Or imagine a football game. Every first down and every touchtown is met with roaring cheers from fans—not just the win at the end of the game. If we want to navigate change well, we need to get really good at celebrating progress. A great parish council meeting? Well done! New RCIA candidates? Let’s party! New baby being baptized? Hallelujah! New couple getting married in the Church? Cel-e-brate good times, come on!
Freedom to fail. Last summer, my husband and I took our three young girls to the California coast, and on the itinerary was a drive up the famously beautiful Highway 1. Yes, our children get very carsick on winding roads. But surely, we thought, it will be fine. It was not fine. In fact it was an absolute failure. But can I share a little secret with you? I can honestly say I have very fond memories of that failure and the view was spectacular. Fear of failure paralyzes us from taking the risk of adventure. As we journey more deeply into pastoral planning, it’s okay to try something different, fail and learn from it. For example, we now know the importance of Dramamine, trash bags and paper towels in a vehicle.
Yesterday, today and forever
At the end of the day, you and I are Catholic because we love Christ and his Church. And we have come to know and love his Church through her sacraments, liturgy, history, priests, teaching, saints, ministries, community, Scripture, intellectualism, tradition and worship. And while the Church has propelled or responded to change in every age, we must claim the truth that there are some things that have and always will remain the same:
• We are still one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.
• Across the Diocese of Sioux Falls, bread and wine will turn to Flesh and Blood each and every day.
• We will continue to serve the Church on the prairie.
• We will still evangelize and preach the Gospel.
• Jesus is still who he says he is—the Light of the World.
So if, in the coming months and years, you feel uneasy about what’s changing, come back to what’s constant. Our Lord is the same, yesterday, today and forever.