I was at the airport to catch an early morning flight when I stopped for coffee. Near the cash register was a tip jar with a small, handwritten sign: “If you fear change, leave it here.” It brought a smile to my face, and I left the coins behind. I walked away reflecting on how I feel about change.
My response to change is ambivalent. The part of me that likes routine and predictability resists change. It prefers to cling to what is known and comfortable. Yet, there is another, more adventurous part of me. It seeks out new experiences, loves to learn, and thrives on discovery.
In the face of my all-too-human ambivalence, I recognize that the Gospel is a call to conversion. Conversion – which is the Christian name for change – urges us to turn our lives around, to move beyond the comfort and complacency of life as we know it, and to discover and embrace the transforming presence of God.
Mark’s Gospel is “the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ.” (Mark 1:1) It opens with a call to conversion. Isaiah is “the voice crying out in the wilderness,” and John proclaims a baptism of repentance. (Mark 1:2-6) After John’s arrest, Jesus emerges from his desert prayer with these words:
The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news. (Mk 1:15)
The good news that Jesus proclaims is a call to change – to conversion. He announces a vision of life that’s transformational. Jesus urges us to recognize that God is with us and to live our lives steeped in that awareness. If we trust the good news, it will change us. If we live that vision, it will change us. If we are intentional about adopting the identity of being a Christian, conversion becomes a way of life.
So there it is: the part of me – the part of all of us – that resists change comes face-to-face with the Gospel call to conversion. For me – and perhaps for all of us – ambivalence is a call to prayer.
Prayer is an act of surrender in which we give up control and open ourselves to God’s presence. It is a process of letting go, emptying ourselves, and surrendering to the divine will. Since childhood, many of us have prayed “your kingdom come, your will be done.” With those few words in the Lord’s Prayer, we move away from resisting change, staying in control, and calling our own shots. With those few words – which I’ve often prayed without grasping their significance – we open ourselves to conversion.
In prayer, we encounter three dynamics at the heart of conversion: opening our minds, changing our hearts, and reshaping our lives.
Prayer opens our minds. It deepens our awareness and understanding of the Gospel’s vision and values. As it does so, we confront ways in which the Gospel challenges us. “Blessed are the poor in spirit” is hardly conventional wisdom. (Matt. 5:3) “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” is not the way we usually think. (Matt. 5:44) “Just as you did for the least of these” is not a path to fortune or fame. (Matt. 25:40) Even Mary’s Song of Praise is a transformational message that provides a glimpse of the woman who raised Jesus: “God has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; God has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” (Luke 1:51-53) Prayer opens our minds – sometimes slowly and subtly, other times dramatically and painfully.
Prayer changes our hearts. It awakens us to the needs of others, particularly those poor and most vulnerable. Prayer stretches us – pulling us out of our comfort zones and revealing the ways we are blind to the suffering of others. As prayer reaches into the places where our hearts tend to be hard, it softens us. It deepens our capacity for empathy and compassion. Prayer gives us the heart we need to celebrate with the joyful and suffer with those who are wounded and broken. Ultimately, our change of heart draws us ever more deeply into community – uniting us with the entire human family. Prayer helps us realize that our hearts are the connective tissue that unites us all.
Prayer reshapes our lives. As our consciousness of the Gospel’s vision and values deepens, our habits and patterns of behavior begin to change. As we grow in taking on the mind of Christ, we more fully embody self-emptying service. We begin to live less for ourselves and more for others. As we adopt the Gospel as our lens for discernment and decision making, we become more forceful in working to change the systems and structures that are a part of our lives. Over time, our prayer becomes more than an invitation to personal conversion; it becomes a call to action – urging us to expand our circle of concern, devote ourselves to serving others, and engage in the painstaking work of doing justice.
It’s easy to leave a few coins in a tip jar. Responding to the Gospel call to conversion is far more difficult. Day after day and season after season, prayer reduces our fear of change and our resistance to it. Over time, it draws us deeper and deeper into the divine presence. As that occurs, we learn to embrace God’s presence as an empowering force – a force that gives us the courage to claim our true identity as Christians and to embrace conversion as our way of life.
Invitation to Prayer
Wonderful Creator, open me to your will and your way.
Open my mind ever more fully to the Gospel,
Letting its vision and values light my way.
I turn to you – open to change and longing for guidance.
Merciful Redeemer, open me to your will and your way.
Soften my heart so that I may grow in compassion;
Unite me with those most vulnerable and the entire human family.
I turn to you – open to conversion and longing to serve.
Spirit of Love and Power, open me to your will and your way.
Teach me to live with the mind of Christ in all that I do.
Give me wisdom in discernment and decision making;
I turn to you – needing your courage to reshape my life.
Day after day and season after season, open me to your will and your way!