I’ve always hated transitions—those times when life seems to be suspended in mid-air.
But our lives are made of transitions. We are likely always in one, finishing one, or starting one. Often we want so badly to be at the end of a transition that we focus on how great life would be if only (fill in the blank) happened. If I could only just arrive, I’ll think, I could finally fully live.
But if we are always anxious to arrive at our destination, are we missing out on what God has for us in the present? How do we live in the tension of transitions? How do we honor the present moment while yearning for the future to arrive?
As a native Floridian, these questions plagued me as I transitioned from winter to spring in Wisconsin. Mud was everywhere. It was too cold for shorts, too warm for skiing and snowball fights. When would spring arrive? When would I feel the sun on my skin and ride my bike and have outdoor picnics with friends?
It wasn’t until I asked myself what God had for me in the change of seasons that I realized transitions could be good and beautiful.
I’ve experienced many other transitions: cross-country and international moves, job changes, marriage, and unemployment. Daily I experience smaller, often unrecognized transitions: walking to my car, waiting in line at the grocery store, getting ready to go out with friends. Moments or situations we try to rush through are all transitions—and all opportunities to rely on God.
I’ve noticed in all my transitions, even ones I’m excited about, that anxiety lingers. A fear of the unknown. Change. And deep down, when I explore the root of those anxieties, I find fears I’m ashamed to admit: Will God take care of me? Is God bigger than this?
Thriving in Transitions
Knowing how to live in the tension of transitions is different depending on our stage of life and current situation. How can we take advantage of them and turn them into something good? Here are a few ideas that have helped me and people I know navigate through recent transitions, and have helped challenge my root fear that God won’t provide.
1. Stay present.
It’s easy to focus on future plans, but God is here with us now and is working. Ask God to show you the difference between your desires and your demands for the future, and then give the outcome of the situation to him. What this looks like specifically is different for all of us.
One option is to pick one day of the week when you’ll focus on your plans. The rest of the week you can write down things that come to mind related to your future, but wait to research them until the designated day. It’s a sabbath (or multiple sabbaths) from planning. A friend and her fiancé did this when planning their wedding, and it made the otherwise stressful experience enjoyable.
Another useful tool for staying present is the Examen, a spiritual discipline that helps you recognize where God was present in your day. (You can read more about the Examen here.)
2. Remind yourself of God’s past faithfulness.
This is especially important if you are transitioning to something unknown, like unemployment. How has God surprised you before? How has God been faithful to you or others around you? Reflect on those experiences, write them down, and display them somewhere, like your planner or a mirror. When you’re upset or nervous, they can help you remember.
My husband and I moved to Wisconsin after living overseas and didn’t have money for any furniture for our apartment. Through many people we didn’t know, God provided every piece of furniture we needed and more—a bed, couches, tables, bookshelves, floor lamps, a desk. The only thing we bought was a lampshade. Whenever I worry about a situation or am nervous something won’t work out the way I want, I think about the lampshade and remember how God surprised and took care of me.
3. Seek out a journey partner.
Has someone you know gone through your transition before? Or is someone in the situation you’ll be in soon? Find those people and talk with them. Guard yourself against simply complaining about your transition, though. Share honestly about the issues, but try to move beyond them and see how God is working.
I moved to Wisconsin after living most of my life in Florida. Seeking out others from warmer places and going through winter together helped me feel like I wasn’t alone. I also talked with people who loved winter to find out why they enjoyed it, and then joined them in their favorite winter activities. Both types of people were instrumental in helping me get through a long, icy winter.
Transitions as Invitations
Life is made up of transitions—the in-between phases that we sometimes try to forget. When we focus too much on arriving at our destination, we miss out on the gifts and invitations God has for us in the present.
What might God have for you in your transition? And how will you respond to his invitations?
Sarah Orner works for InterVarsity in Madison, Wisconsin, and enjoys being near water. She blogs about naming the beauty around her at sarahnicholeorner.com.