Can people change?

I’ve been hearing it a lot lately, have you? The phrase, “People don’t change.” I walked past two men in a shop recently and one said to the other, “Well, you know, people don’t change.” The other replied, nodding, “I know, I know. People don’t change.” We can only guess the identity of the (probably difficult) person they were discussing. Sounded to me like they really wanted the person to change, but were resigning themselves to the fact that it just wasn’t going to happen.

There have been times that this idea has helped me, and all of those times have been when I have desperately wanted to change someone. And usually when I want to change someone, I want them to become more like me. (Because then the relationship would be easier, wouldn’t it?) Once I was in the middle of a difficult friendship and my husband, John, told me gently, “You know. She’s not going to change.” And that was good for me to hear. He encouraged me to put down my boxing gloves and try to accept her the way she was.

I’ve wondered where this idea has come from and why I’m hearing it so much lately. It may have several sources, but I discovered one while watching Frozen with my preschooler. There it was. Bulda, the troll mother who tries to “fix up” Kristoff with Anna, sings this to Anna:

250px-Bulda-the-trollBulda: We’re not sayin’ you can change him,
‘Cause people don’t really change.
We’re only saying that love’s a force
That’s powerful and strange.
People make bad choices if they’re mad,
Or scared, or stressed.
Throw a little love their way.

Female Trolls: Throw a little love their way.

Bulda and Female Trolls: And you’ll bring out their best.

All Trolls: True love brings out their best!
Everyone’s a bit of a fixer-upper,
That’s what it’s all about!

Not a bad message overall. (I’ll admit, I love the song.) We’re all “fixer uppers,” that’s the absolute truth. Bulda tells Anna that she can’t change Kristoff, but her love will bring out his best. I can agree with that. Love does bring out the best in people. And nine times out of ten, when we try to change someone else, it’s not going to work.

But what about the idea that people don’t really change? That I can’t agree with. Maybe it’s because I live with a 4-year-old who desperately needs healing and change in his life. And I could certainly add myself to that list and lots of other people I know. If I don’t believe we can change, I’m not sure I could get out of bed in the morning.

It comes down to this: Bulda is right. We can’t change people. But, we know someone who can.

The very heart of the gospel proclaims change. When God enters the heart of a human being, things change. People change. We change. God promises that he is all about conforming us, transforming us into the image of Jesus. (That’s going to require some change!) Our sanctification is all about change and growth. The person who walks with Jesus does not live a static life. She is constantly growing and shifting and changing.

One of my older kids was a tough little toddler. Stubborn as the day is long. I wasn’t sure how I was going to make it through her childhood. But I began to see her change at about 4 years old. Some might say it was due to her age, but I attribute it to something very different. Sitting at our kitchen table one afternoon, she asked God to save her. I believe from that moment on, the Holy Spirit has set about changing her.

I know it hasn’t been my work, because in my selfishness I would change her to become more like me. But that is not what has happened. God is changing her to become more like him. It’s his doing.

I have to believe that, through the power of the Holy Spirit, people can change. I can change. The people I love can change. Yes, we are definitely all fixer-uppers. But once we belong to him, God can and is changing us.

I think that’s what it’s all about.


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