By Vinita Hampton Wright
I always marvel at the person who says, “We’ve lived here twenty years.” I’ve never settled anywhere for long - it seems half my life has been spent in transition from one job or location to another.
I obtained a music education degree, taught in another country, then taught in public schools in the States. At age thirty-one, I reevaluated what I wanted to be when I grew up, so I packed my car, relocated from a farm community to a major city, and put all my savings into graduate school.
At the time, completely changing careers felt very daring - though my excitement was mingled with fear of what all the changes might mean. But since then, I’ve seen my story repeated many times by other people who’ve lived their lives - or periods of their lives - in times of unsettling transition.
During any life change - whether it’s one we select or one that’s handed to us - we lose something: a job that gave us satisfaction; a person who was important to us; a home we felt comfortable in. But we gain something else. Until we regain our sense of balance, though, we feel “uprooted” or “in limbo.” These are uncomfortable feelings because we are creatures of habit who want something to do, people who love us, and a place to belong.
As Christians - ”aliens and strangers in the world” (1 Pet. 2:11) - life on earth is a transition. This side of eternity, we’ll always be somewhat ill at ease in our surroundings because this is not our “forever” home. But here are ways we can live fully even in the midst of transition.
Face Your Losses and Your Possibilities
Not long ago, my husband, Jim, and I thought we’d be relocating to another major city. At one point, I said to Jim, “I’m sad because I know exactly what I’m leaving behind, but I don’t know what I’m gaining.” That’s how transition is - there’s much that’s unknown - but it’s also the perfect time to ask God for new visions of family, work, and ministry.
Cheryl, a woman who has experienced several lengthy bouts of unemployment, says, “I’ve developed a confidence that God will come through because He always has. It’s not a question of will He come through, but when.
“While studying the attributes of God,” says Cheryl, “it hit me that God couldn’t possibly not provide for me because that would be inconsistent with His character. That insight was tremendously encouraging.”
When your life goes through a transition, remind yourself that you don’t have to know everything God is doing; you only need to know He is with you. As difficult as it may be, do your best to focus on the good things your future may hold.
Stay Open to Friendships
I taught music overseas for two years after college. It was a short-term assignment, so I knew I wouldn’t be there long. It would have been easy for me to stay emotionally detached in this transition time. But the people in that unfamiliar country, with its relationship-oriented culture, reached out to me - even though they knew I’d be leaving soon. If I’d held back, I wouldn’t have been effective as a teacher or as a Christian in a country where Christians were a minority.
If we wait until life “settles down” before giving ourselves fully in our relationships, we’ll end up holding people at arms’ length. It’s so easy to think, I’m only going to be here a year or I’m too busy with the kids to have real friendships now. But life can’t be sliced into such narrow compartments.
Our life is made rich by many varieties and intensities of friendship. Sometimes, God gives us short-term acquaintances for short-term needs. If you hold back friendship in order to protect yourself from the pain of saying good-bye, you may miss out on the joys that short-term friendship can provide.
Participate in a Church
After years of suffering from an abusive husband, Jenine decided to remove herself and her children from the situation. When asked what helped her make it through her divorce, she says, “The support I received from other believers.”
One way the Holy Spirit works in our life is through other believers. Yet if we’re not interacting with other Christians regularly, we’re at a disadvantage when we face a geographic move, a serious loss, or a career crisis.
A faith community can help carry the burdens that weigh so heavily after weeks and months of coping. When you’re unable to pray, someone else can. When you sit with a new, unfamiliar congregation, fresh aspects of faith and worship can shine through - undistracted by old attachments, duties, and emotions.
Build a Healthy Identity
Several years ago, Beth developed a work-related injury. Thanks to government bureaucracy, she’s still awaiting approval for needed surgery and the permission to train for a different job. She hasn’t been able to work or make plans to find work for more than two years.
Beth’s hardest struggle has been discovering who she is apart from her job. “I tend to be very task-oriented,” says Beth, still waiting for some resolution in her career. “But I’ve discovered that who I am is more important than what I do.”
We never know how fragile our identity is until transition shakes our foundations. But when our main identity is as a “child of God,” there’s room for lots of variety! And we know our purpose: To love others with God’s love. This alone can keep us occupied for a lifetime.
Maybe you’re not who you want to be right now, such as “wife” or “employee.” But at this moment you’re still someone’s child, friend, sibling, neighbor. Remember-there are people in your life who need and love you, just as you are.
If you’re not accomplishing much these days besides spilling coffee on the classifieds or crying over recent losses, now is the time to haul out the scrapbooks and thank God for past accomplishments and the good things in your history. Many songs and psalms in Scripture recount former good times during periods of hardship.
Keep in Motion
Jaymie took a big step last year - she bought a house. Like many women in their early thirties, she’d always dreamed that house hunting was something she’d do with a husband, but Jaymie has yet to get married. The money for the down payment was there. Jaymie decided that it wasn’t wise to wait until that hoped-for marriage came along before she settled into life.
Although romance isn’t in the picture right now, Jaymie’s not delaying the rest of her life. She’s decorating the house, planning trips, staying involved with friends, and building a solid career for herself.
Regardless of what part of your life is up in the air, there’s still laundry to be done, business to tend to, a phone call to make. Don’t succumb to the temptation to let everything slide because you’re “in limbo.” Inactivity adds to feelings of depression and aimlessness. In times of transition, daily tasks can hold your emotional life in place.
Acknowledge the Seasons of Life
Ecclesiastes states: “To everything there is a season” (Eccles. 3:1, NKJV). We’ll survive transitions in much better shape if we learn to recognize and appreciate those seasons.
Sometimes they’re unpredictable. Teri was a career missionary for a number of years. She’d never married, although she wanted too. When she had to relocate to a more isolated country, everyone was sure her chances at marriage were gone forever - she was cloistered off in a place where men and women couldn’t even mix in public, let alone date. But one day, when Teri was in her forties, a temporary support worker came to her mission station. A year later they were married, and within the next year, she gave birth to twins.
Our youth-oriented culture trains us to expect to achieve everything by the time we’re forty or younger. But God’s timetable is different. Christians can afford to be long-sighted. We have eternity ahead of us. And we have a sovereign God who makes it possible for us to do what needs to be done, when it needs to be done. This gives us the opportunity to live wholeheartedly, in whatever stage of life or productivity we find ourselves, thereby saving ourselves needless stress and regret.
Don’t Underestimate God’s Power
More than anything, transition can be a time when our relationship with God is tested, reshaped, and strengthened. After thirty-seven years of marriage, Virginia lost her husband to diabetes. Widowhood wasn’t her first transition; it had taken her mate nearly two years to die, with many close calls.
Ask Virginia how she survived that period, and she says prayer. “I’ll never forget the night I knew he’d never get better,” recalls Virginia. “It was the most terrible feeling I’ve ever experienced. But somehow I was able to sleep through the night. And when I woke up the next morning, I felt as if a gigantic weight had been lifted off me. When I went to see my husband that day, he wasn’t doing any better, but I was different. I found out later the women in my church prayer chain had prayed for me that night. God’s promise to not allow us more than we could bear is true.”
We turn so easily to self-help books and busy activities when life is on hold - or when it’s moving too fast. But we must never forget the grace of God - for He alone is our “true home” in any time of transition.