By Lisa Liou

How to Handle Transitions Well

While I was away at college, my parents considered buying a new house. I sobbed when I found out. I just wasn’t ready to say goodbye to the familiar surroundings of my childhood. It felt like too much change, too fast.

I have a nostalgic personality. I find comfort in stability and often feel threatened by change. In contrast, my husband dreams about change. Somehow, together, we have learned to trust God in several times of transition, but I would have preferred a manual at the start of the journey.

I can’t give you a manual, but I can share the lessons I’ve learned about transitioning well. 

1. Identify each transition.

It is pretty common to make multiple transitions at once. Student to graduate. Student to employee. Old state to new state. Parents’ house to new apartment. Single to married. If I don’t identify all the transitions I am experiencing, I tend to feel like a jumbled ball of confusion. Name them. Reflect on them. Process them. It will help you talk about them with others.

2. Allow yourself to feel mixed emotions.

Before our first out-of-state move, I hated hearing, “I’m so happy for you guys.” I was actually grieving what my husband and our daughter and I were leaving behind. It became important to realize that my feelings were going to be more complicated than the niceties we exchange at going-away parties, because it’s normal to feel tension. I have learned that I should embrace and expect seemingly contradictory emotions. Honesty with myself helps me be honest with God, my much-needed source of consistency in any transition.

3. Treat old relationships as a bridge, not a crutch.

Community is a necessity, and long-distance community can suffice temporarily. But many of us make the mistake of latching on to old relationships to cope with loneliness rather than investing in new connections after a move. When I was a Resident Advisor, the mom of a first-year student in my hall called me and asked me to befriend her lonely daughter. Of course, the daughter and I never clicked since the mom was imposing from the outside. But I can appreciate her concern. The people who love you want you to find support in your new community, and they can’t do it for you! If your loneliness is a constant discussion topic with old friends but you aren’t also making space to try a new church, look for a small group, or make some local relationships, you are using your old friends as a crutch instead of a bridge.

4. Develop a good theology for transitions.

God’s people were in a long transition when they followed Moses through the desert. If you were to draw a map of their forty-year path, it would look windy and inefficient. Yet God was faithful. In fact, throughout Scripture God’s people are told to remember God’s faithfulness in the exodus. Reflecting on the Israelites’ journey has helped me have confidence in God through the wilderness experiences of transition. Sometimes the only thing that makes sense is an understanding that God was with you before and will therefore be with you again.

As much as some of us hate to admit it, transitions are inevitable. The next one is always waiting around the corner. The good news, I have learned, is that you don’t have to love transitions in order to handle them in a healthy way.

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Lisa Liou has served with InterVarsity on campuses in Michigan, Illinois, and California since 2002.

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