“Who Moved My Cheese?” written by Spencer Johnson, is a parable about two mice and two little people living in a maze. The mice are Sniff and Scurry. The little people are Hem and Haw. All of them share the common goal of finding cheese.
The Bible book of Job introduces us to a man named Job who lived in the land of Uz. Job lived near a desert, and was blessed with a lot of “cheese.” He had a family of seven sons and three daughters and assets totaling 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, 500 donkeys, and a large number of servants. In fact, “this man was the greatest of all people of the East” (Job 1:2-3).
In the book “Who Moved My Cheese?” Sniff and Scurry go about searching for cheese by following their instinct (a.k.a. their noses). Hem and Haw search for cheese using an intellectual approach. To make a long story short, the cheese eventually runs out for Sniff, Scurry, Hem, and Haw. The same happens to Job. In a few short days, he loses everything: his loved ones, assets, and even his health.
How did the five characters respond to their shift in circumstances?
Sniff and Scurry were aware of the diminishing cheese stockpile, so they scampered about looking for new cheese. Hem and Haw were more like Job. They went through all kinds of emotions, including dismay, shock, apathy, and anger.
Like Hem and Haw, Job overanalyzed his losses. His wife lost faith in the drudgery of what remained of Job’s life and suggested to him that he “curse God and die” (2:9).
Job’s three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite, came alongside Job to mourn with him. They lifted their voices and wept when they looked upon his sorry state. They tore their robes, sprinkled dust on their heads, and sat with him speechless for seven days and nights.
Spencer Johnson urges us in ‘Who Moved My Cheese?’ to embrace the fact that change happens. It is important that we anticipate it; monitor it; adapt to it; enjoy it, and be prepared for it. In the parable, there is a scribbled list written on the maze walls. It reads:
The More Important Your Cheese Is To You, The More You Want To Hold On To It.
If You Do Not Change, You Can Become Extinct.
Smell The Cheese Often So You Know When It Is Getting Old.
The Quicker You Let Go Of Old Cheese, The Sooner You Find New Cheese.
When You See That You Can Find And Enjoy New Cheese, You Change Course.
Move With The Cheese And Enjoy It!
Had Spencer Johnson been the fourth friend to have visited Job, Job would have been all the better for it. Job would have benefited from Spencer’s seven simple observations about change:
Change Happens: They Keep Moving the Cheese
Job struggled with the sudden change in his life. He cursed not only the day of his birth, but also the night of his conception. Due to the sorrow that had come his way, he wished he had never been born. Moving with the cheese was definitely not on Job’s mind at the onset of his suffering.
Like Job, we often we want to stay where we are, even when the cheese has moved. We experience emotions that threaten to overwhelm and render us even more incapable of moving to find the cheese.
Anticipate Change: Get Ready for the Cheese to Move
Instead of readying himself for when the cheese might move, Job did not anticipate the change in his life. When the catastrophes hit, all he could do was sit and reflect on why his suffering was allowed to linger. Why was life given to a man whose way was hidden, and whom God has hedged in? Even to those who longed for death, why did it not come? Job’s worst fear has come to pass, which was suffering through loss (3:20-26).
Job could not reconcile the fact that the cheese has moved in his life. He stayed with his suffering because he ‘stayed’ Would his suffering have decreased, had he recognized earlier that the cheese could/must move, and that he could move too when that happened? Much of Job’s suffering came from an erroneous belief that the cheese must not/could not move.
Monitor Change: Smell the Cheese Often So You Know When It Is Getting Old
Job’s friends could not understand that it did not matter whether you were innocent or wicked; it was in the nature of the cheese to grow old. In the story, we find Eliphaz the Temanite telling Job to “consider now: Who, being innocent, has ever perished? Where were the upright ever destroyed?” (4:7). His view was simple. The innocent do not suffer, the wicked do. Eliphaz urged Job to seek God’s forgiveness, reminding him of the blessings that would surely come if Job repented (4:1-5:22).
The truth is, it is not always something within you that makes the cheese move. We see in the story that Job did not do something wicked or evil. He was an upright man, and yet the cheese got old. It changed. It changed because change is an inherent property of the cheese; it ages and moves.
Adapt to Change Quickly: The Quicker You Let Go of Old Cheese, The Sooner You Can Enjoy New Cheese
Bildad the Shuhite did not help Job let go of the old cheese. Bildad sharply rebuked him instead; maintaining that God was just and exacted suffering only where it was due. In Bildad’s mind, Job’s sons died because of their own transgressions (8:1-22).
Job was left wondering if anyone could be righteous in God’s sight. Feeling hopeless, he revisited his grief by questioning God’s justice (9:1-10:22). Job could not let go of the old cheese, let alone begin looking for new cheese. Sometimes the new cheese is a matter of changing your perspective about yourself, your circumstances, and the world around you.
Change: Move with the Cheese
Zophar the Naamathite questioned Job’s attempt to search out the deep things of God. He proposed instead the idea that Job was receiving less suffering than he deserved (11:1-20). Zophar directed Job’s thoughts the past, encouraging him to analyze all that had happened to date. This backwards style of thinking prevented Job from looking to the future where the new cheese could be found.
Some past reflection is necessary, but only if it also propels us forward. Reflection should be like the cord that, when pulled, moves us forward with greater momentum.
Enjoy Change: Savor the Adventure of the Search and the Taste of New Cheese!
As if the first round of questions and debate were not enough, Job and his friends revisited the nature of his sufferings a second time. Eliphaz attacked Job and ridiculed his wisdom (15:1-35). Job promptly replied, “I have heard many things like these, miserable comforters are you all! Will your long-winded speeches never end? What ails you that you keep on arguing?” (16:2-3).
With no wisdom worth heeding, Job began losing all hope, desiring death all the more (16:1-17:16).
“How long” would Job continue speaking so fatalistically, Bildad wondered. Why wouldn’t he heed the advice of his friends? Job rebutted, “How long will you torment me and crush me with your words? Ten times now you have reproached me; shamelessly you attack me” (19:2-3).
Zophar too offered little new to this already long discussion (20:1-29). The conversation had lasted days and still, no one gave any thought to pursuing and appreciating the new cheese.
Be Ready to Quickly Change Again and Again: They Keep Moving the Cheese
Elihu, the fourth voice in the book of Job, at last entered the discussion. As he felt compelled to speak, he offered an admonition for Job to stand still and consider the beautiful works of God (32:1-33:7).
Job’s story reached its pinnacle when Job received some face time with God. God had Job consider the many words that he and his friends had spoken without knowledge (chapter 38-41). Speaking at length with the Creator of all things, Job’s eyes were opened for the first time to a world of new possibilities. To God, he acknowledged:
“I know that you can do all things;
no plan of yours can be thwarted.
You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?’
Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
Things too wonderful for me to know” (42:2,3).
Job settled on an appropriate response to the change in his life by humbly acknowledging God’s ability to do and command all things. He realized the flaws in his former beliefs about God, himself, and his circumstances. He was now ready to move with the cheese.
The cheese moves. Sniff, Scurry, Hem, Haw, and Job had to move too so that they could find and enjoy new cheese. The story of Job has a happy ending – remarkable even. Not only did he move with and find new cheese, he found a double stockpile of cheese! His flocks and herds were restored to him, twice as much as before.
As we reflect on the changes that we all face, it is my hope that in the midst of the uncertainty and fears of our time, that we will be able to recast a new vision for our lives and accept change as it comes. The best thing we can do for ourselves and our families is to make God the center pillar of our hope, while longing to move forward and anticipate what may lie ahead.
Bruce Barton was an American author, advertising executive, and politician who served in the U.S. Congress from 1937 to 1940. He is also credited with naming General Motors and General Electric. He put it well:
“Action and reaction, ebb and flow, trial and error, change – this is the rhythm of living. Out of our over-confidence, fear; out of our fear, clearer vision, fresh hope. And out of hope, progress.”