Even Wikipedia has a page dedicated to defining the cultural phenomenon known as the light bulb joke:
A light bulb joke is a joke that asks how many people of a certain group are needed to change, replace, or screw in a light bulb. Generally, the punch line answer highlights a stereotype of the target group. There are numerous versions of the light bulb joke satirizing a wide range of cultures, beliefs and occupations.
Many versions of the joke are puns on the word “change”.
Change is equivalent to a four-letter word for many of us (just ask the woman approaching her 50’s what she thinks about the change). In the spirit of Dire Straits’ lyric for The Bug (“sometimes you’re the windshield, sometimes you’re the bug”), sometimes I feel like the light bulb in all of these silly change jokes. Growing dim. Fading out. Flickering. Failing. No longer functioning the way I used to (the way I ought to). Powerless to bring about the change that’s needed most – because what really needs changing is me.
There are also times when I feel like the proverbial butt of all of those light bulb jokes. Instead of taking the most direct route to meet the needed change head-on, I drag my feet. I complain. I call for back-up. I make excuses. Instead of simply making the change – replacing the broken with the functional – I try desperately to do it my way instead. Anything to delay the change.
The writer of Proverbs knew this about us:
“Sometimes it takes a painful experience to make us change our ways.” Proverbs 20:30 (Good News Translation)
Like it or not, our unwillingness to see change as a good thing is actually a root cause of many of the tears we shed. Paul knew this. He had written words to the church at Corinth which resulted in some tears on their end. Instead of apologizing, though, Paul said this:
“But now I am happy – not because I made you sad, but because your sadness made you change your ways. That sadness was used by God, and so we caused you no harm. For the sadness that is used by God brings a change of heart that leads to salvation – and there is no regret in that! But sadness that is merely human causes death.” 2 Corinthians 7:9-10 (GNT)
Sometimes God uses the tough stuff (when we’re feeling like the bug) in order to bring about the change that we are content to forever tap dance around, if left to our own devices.
There has got to be a better way! John the Baptist must have had these inklings, too, when:
“In many different ways, John preached the Good News to the people and urged them to change their ways.” Luke 3:18 (GNT)
Wouldn’t it be better all around if we would heed the wisdom of the Baptist and take the initiative to change the light bulb (or the relationship – or the situation – or the priority – or the behavior) ourselves? Difficult as this may seem, it’s exactly what Paul was talking about in Romans chapter 12 when he warned his readers not to become “so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out.” (v. 2, The Message)
To follow Paul’s line of thinking requires us to look at change as an opportunity rather than an obstacle. Facing change squarely and not backing down makes us think outside the lazy box-life that many of us lead – as Paul said – without even thinking. Change engages our minds and invites us to participate in our own lives rather than spectate, watching life unfold from as great a distance as we can muster.
Shifting focus from the ways of the world to the Way of the Word ushers in the new! New feelings. New choices. New ways of being in the world.
As uncomfortable and disconcerting as change can often be, it always does one thing very well…
Living in the eye of the hurricane of change confirms that, YES! You are alive! You don’t have to numb out to the predictability and monotony of the same old routine. You may be bruised and you may be bleeding, but you have the choice today to become the embodiment of Jimmy Buffett’s lyric: “I’d rather die while I’m living than live while I’m dead.” (Growing Older But Not Up)
To live a life that defies every light bulb joke in the book will require that you stop dwelling on the light bulb that needs to be changed. Of course the bulbs are going to burn out – they aren’t made to last forever. Of course the things that are working in your life today will one day begin to flicker and fade – this life wasn’t made to last forever, either.
Resolve this day to make the change you need to make, but don’t let that change capture your attention. Instead, fix your eyes on the One whose light will never grow dim! With Him, change won’t get the better of you.
You’ll be changed! From the inside out.