Handling and Embracing Change
By Lisa Elliot
Transition is a hard topic to discuss. While there is plenty to say about it, most of us really don’t like change, and with transition comes change. I find change is good as long as it doesn’t affect me. And I enjoy it even more if I’m the one initiating it!
As I write this, my pastor-husband of twenty-six years and I have moved to a new city after living and ministering in one place for the last ten years. My husband’s job is new. Our church family is new. Our house is new, in a new neighborhood. Now it’s up to me to make new friends, get acquainted with neighbors and the people in our church, and immerse myself in a new community. Everything is different. Nothing is the same. Everything has changed. And to add to the challenge, I’m a new mother-in-law, entering the empty nest years in a peri-menopausal state!
But I’m no rookie at transition. My life was changed forever on August 12, 2008 at 12:40 p.m., when my husband called, informing me that he was on the way to the emergency room with our eighteen year old son, Ben, who had collapsed at work. Ben was subsequently diagnosed with leukemia, which he battled until the Lord took him home on August 19, 2009. I entered into a time of profound change: change in family dynamics; change in how we did life as a family; change in behaviors as grief set in; change in thinking; change in perspective; change in life.
Change can cause upheaval, confusion, stress, anxiety, and fear. It only makes sense that our first inclination is to resist it. When we’re faced with new challenges and new opportunities, we instinctively want to head back to Egypt where the leeks and onions were at least something we could count on! But change is more than a part of life. Change is life. Whether it is change in our health, career, role, or priorities, change is inevitable. The only thing that is unchanging is God Himself.
My husband has developed a vision statement for one of our churches that states, “Living things grow. Growing things change. And there is no growth without change.” In other words, transitions are actually necessary for growth. Just as transitions in music bridge melodies, and transitions in language create understanding through smooth flow of ideas, transitions in our life are the strings that tie our life together. So how do you make good, healthy transitions?
Embrace what is.
I’ve heard it said that life is ten percent what happens to you and ninety percent your response to it. You can choose to resist and fight change or respond to it positively, embracing it. I am still learning to live each day to its fullest with no regrets and no fears, seizing each opportunity to respond to change in a positive way.
Let go of what was.
In order to embrace something, you need to release whatever else is in your hands. We think we have a right to hold onto things of this earth as if they are rightfully ours. I love what Corrie Ten Boom said: “Hold everything in your hands lightly, otherwise it hurts when God pries your fingers open.” But we have a hard time letting go, don’t we? We cling to the past, the comfortable, and the familiar. However, if we strive to hold onto the past, we run the risk of trapping ourselves in what was. Rather, we should seek to live in the moment, freely embracing the opportunities that God wants us to experience.
Anticipate what will be.
During times of transition, the things which stir up feelings of fear and anxiety are the same things that create excitement, freshness, and anticipation. We mustn’t forget that our God is a God of new beginnings.
- new covenant (Jer. 31:31; Luke 22:20)
- a new commandment (John 13:34)
- new life (Acts 5:30)
- new creations (2 Cor. 5:17)
- new name (Isa. 62:2; Rev. 2:17)
- new self (Col. 3:10)
- new birth (1 Peter 1:3)
- the hope of a “new heaven and a new earth” (Rev. 21:1; Isa. 65:17, 2 Peter 3:13)
- His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness (Lam. 3:23)
Why wouldn’t a God of new beginnings want to do something new in each of our lives?
In my son Ben’s final days with us, it became obvious that he was making a transition of his own. One day he asked his dad for his eyeglasses, then, after putting them on, handed them back saying, “It’s funny, but I can see more clearly without them now.” Ben was getting ready to leave his earthly home and enter into his eternal home. The things of this earth were fading away.
As I consider all the changes that took place during this time of transition, I see more clearly how these changes have actually brought me to where I am today. I’m beginning to see the good coming from it all. I’m beginning to experience the beauty from ashes.
Without question, transitions are unsettling. But God never told us to settle ourselves here on earth. As Carrie Underwood sings, “This is our temporary home. It’s not where we belong.” Jesus has gone ahead to prepare a place for us where we can settle in for eternity (John 14: 1-2). There He has promised He will make all things new (Rev. 21:5).
Life is a transition until we reach our eternal home. In the meantime, God wants to do something new in our lives. He wants to do something new through our lives. He wants us to experience new adventures, new people, new ministries, and new opportunities to help prepare us for eternity with Him. I don’t want to miss out on all He has for me because I can’t accept what is or because I’m stuck in what was. It’s a matter of choice.
“See the former things have taken place, and new things I declare: before they spring into being I announce them to you. Sing to the LORD a new song, his praise from the ends of the earth” (Isa. 42:9-10).
“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing: Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. (Isa. 43:18-19).
Tips for Making Healthy Transitions
- Keep looking ahead.
- Take inventory of your new surroundings, whatever they may be.
- Allow yourself some time to grieve those things that you have left behind in order to fully embrace the new transitions.
- Be honest regarding the things about your changes/transitions that you don’t like. Then ask God to help you accept the things you cannot change.
- Process with someone who knows you well and with whom you can trust your transitional feelings and emotions as you adjust to your new.
- Gradually take initiative to enter into your new home, job, relationships, or season of life.
- Focus on the good aspects of the changes.
- Journal those things that you are learning through change. What are you learning about you and about God-in-you?
- Turn regularly to the One who is unchanging.