A Time in Transition

“There is a time for departure, even when there’s no certain place to go.”
-Tenessee Williams

Our world has changed quite quickly and dramatically and somewhat traumatically in the last 3 months, hasn’t it?

Here in Austin, Texas, at 9pm on Friday, March 13th, the first order of “no gatherings larger than 50 people” took effect. That trend continued rapidly into “stop going into work and school and shelter in place” along with the entire world. Eight weeks in and we are definitely not operating how we used to operate…and we are coming to the realization that where we are headed is not the same place we left. 

Surely, this is what it feels like to have departed, but with no certain place to go.

Leaving us continuously transitioning into more transition—and that itself is our challenge.

There is a brilliant book on leadership titled, Managing Transitions: Making the Most Out of Change, by Dr. William and Susan Bridges. 

The first line from the first chapter reads, “It isn’t the changes that will do you in; it’s the transitions.” And they’re right.

Have you ever sat on a tarmac for hours before being able to deboard a plane? Or experienced the pilot coming on the intercom to tell you because of the weather, you can’t land yet even though you have “arrived” at your destination city? The pilot flies the plane in broad wide circles, lapping the airport again and again and again, giving time to whatever needs to pass by so that she can eventually land the plane safely and securely. At that moment, in the circling, you feel stuck. Why is this?

It’s because transitions are psychological. 

They are real spaces and real seasons, but they are the “emotional wilderness” of the unknown. We don’t think we belong there, and we have no plans to stay. Basically, this is all a way of saying, transitions are hard, man!

When something ends, we must learn to let go. We can do this though! We can learn to let go, to say goodbye to what was, and when we do, it can help us feel more comfortable in transition, because we will no longer be a people striving to go back to a place that no longer exists. 

The unknown of where we are going can feel scary and uncertain—both are valid emotions in this wilderness—but it also can spark creativity and innovation and new ways of doing that will be used to launch us into the next season! 

Those new hobbies, those new exercise rhythms, that hard work you are putting in to be more emotionally healthy…that’s good stuff that can carry over into our new normal. This transitional time holds significance. It has worth. It gives time to reveal parts of us that need healing, but parts we were too busy to acknowledge, out of choice or finite capacity (who desires to be uncomfortable?) but it’s strengthening us. We are gaining new muscle we didn’t use before and we are better for it. 

Some people are out there GET.TING.IT. They are:

-working out

-walking up a storm – Fido has never been so happy! 

-learning how to crochet

-playing the ukulele or some other thing I would never waste time learning how to do (at this point, you can see I am for sure not a 3 or a 4 on the enneagram). 

Others are posting about all the zen time they are fighting for. Taking time to meditate, to be still to listen and learn about one’s true self….oh man, Jesus take the wheel. I am not there yet…I’m not one that just enjoys my own company yet. #relationshipgoals!  One can dream, right?

But really, all of these are great options and can be great responses to this time “in between.” People are learning how to manage in this in-between world. We are having to learn how to transition–or rather, stay in transition.  In other words, we are learning how to remain unsettled and stay uncomfortable. 

We manage transitions better by acknowledging an end to something and sometimes to even celebrate the end! To all the graduates out there…you did that! You put in that work! You accomplished something significant. You chose to stay in the game through all the ups and downs. Oh, the places you will go…like, to the movies when they open back up! Ok, we don’t know how that’s gonna look, but that does not take away from how far you have come! Pause, take a look back. Even in the unknown wilderness, you can pause and look back and acknowledge the land that you have crossed. Congratulations on making it this far. You are strong and capable of handling this transition.

But perhaps the best news of all is that the place we are landing is unknown to us, but not to God. The Israelites, God’s chosen people, were led into the wilderness where they walked for 40 years. They were led out of Egypt and into a new land. In transition, what did they do? 

They took long walks…check

They complained quite a bit…check. 

Their hearts desired to go back to what they knew and where they came from…check. 

They hoarded food and it wasn’t good…check.

Oh, but weren’t they provided for? Check, check and…check. They saw miracles in their midst crossing two rivers on dry land, being led by God by a pillar of clouds by day and a pillar of fire by night. They made it to the promised land, now a new people, no longer bound to Egypt, no longer needing the miracle of daily manna, but entered into a new land of ministry. And when they crossed the Jordan River, which marked the boundary line to their new land, they paused and acknowledged how far they had come and marked in remembrance the faithfulness of God. 

Right now, in this unknown, in-between time, we are praying for miracles and seeing them. We are praying for people to be healed from this wretched virus. We are praying for families that need provision to experience the miracle of being provided for (from the people of God sharing their storehouses). 

And what about the future? The land that awaits our arrival will need new rhythms, new ways of knowing and doing. It will have new soil to till and work. This land will produce new fruit. And our time in the wilderness is what we will lean on to know we are able to move forward and change and adapt as new people. God is still faithful. He still goes before us. He is the compassionate King that sustained us in the land we left, He is sustaining us now in the in-between time–even though our feels may tell us otherwise–and He is preparing the way for us to land on solid ground. 

My heart wants to get off this plane. However, my head knows I can’t control the way the wind is blowing. And weirdly, maybe even strangest of all, a part of me no longer desires to go back to where I came from, even though it was familiar. 

I don’t know what you need to let go of, say goodbye to, acknowledge, and perhaps even celebrate, but I do know that you are not alone. We can all agree transitions are hard, but we as people can also shift and adapt and learn new ways. Regardless of what happens or how we feel, we are the people of God; a community of believers learning how to trust and let go of perceived control, learning how to remain unsettled. We are learning how to let God lead us by day and by night until we reach our destination. That’s worth acknowledging. 

Look at you, slaying transitions. Here’s to you…and that new ukulele song. 

Cori Sullivan

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