Navigating Life In Between
by Hayne Steen, MAMFT
The very things we now wish that we could hold onto and keep safe from change were themselves originally produced by changes. And many of those changes, in their day, looked just as daunting as any in the present do. No matter how solid and comfortable and necessary the status quo feels today, it was once new, untried and uncomfortable."
~William Bridges, author of The Way of Transition
This summer, more than any I can remember, is one of significant transition for our family. It has definitely been a season of "living in between." Two of our children will enter middle school for the first time. Our dearest friends are moving to California. Our church is walking through a pastoral transition as our beloved pastor (and dear friend) retires after serving our congregation for 25 years and two of our associates (both dear friends) accept exciting new calls to serve new churches as senior ministers. There are a host of other more personal transitions that I could describe but needless to say, I feel like I am grieving many losses and at the same time celebrating newness of life.
In transitions, I feel so...in between. Recently, I was watching the film Toy Story 2 with my kids and there is this one random scene that just seemed to really capture what "in between" looks like. Zig Zag (or Slink) the Dog walks casually into a room and his head shows up first. After about a ten seconds delay, his tail end walks into the room behind him. Part of Zig Zag has arrived and part of him is still in transit. When my friend Jim Branch enters into a group, he'll say, "I'll be here in a minute." He's referring to the fact that his head and body are in the room but his heart will soon catch up.
Daily we are all thrust into many unique and familiar transitions. It just takes some time for our hearts to catch up to our bodies. We underestimate the impact these transitions will have on us. In any transition, it is totally normal to have your head in the game but not your heart. You may be heading into something absolutely wonderful already celebrating the adventure ahead...and that is wonderful.
Validate your heart and you will be more equipped to arrive fully. Neglect your heart and you may never fully arrive. Pay close attention to your heart and give yourself permission to make the transition with your whole heart. Feel glad for the new adventure ahead but give yourself permission to tune into any sadness, anger, fear, loneliness, hurt, guilt or shame as they surface. Sadness and anger are normal experiences. So is feeling numb for a while. Many people experience all three feelings on both sides of the transition. There is no one "right way" to navigate transition as long as you have someone to process how you are really feeling as you negotiate your way through the messiness of it.
My own story is one marked by transition. In my childhood from 6th-12th grade, I attended six different school in seven years. My father, a decorated career Naval aviator, was deployed over 3000 nights before I turned 12 (that's 8.5 years). That's a lot of coming and going. The last ten years of my life have been marked by "learning how to remain" and "allowing my roots to grow deep." In a transition season in 2004, I asked some close friends to speak into my life in some specific ways. My friend Brad wrote me saying, "Hayne, I am praying that you will allow your roots to grow deep on Signal Mountain and that you would see any new and shiny opportunity that would pull you from that community as a big fat distraction." Moving, for me, has been one way of minimizing relational or professional risk. If I moved, then I could step away before being asked to leave. Remaining, I am also learning, is more difficult than I imagined but has been one of the most substantial gifts I could ever give myself. Leaving and remaining are both marked by opportunities to take healthy risks and navigate transition in healthy ways.
I am learning how to navigate transition in a new way all over again. As our dear friends pack up their life and prepare for a cross country move, our hearts are gripped by the transition that is already occurring before our very eyes. While we have known for months, our hearts have needed time to absorb the loss. As a child, I learned how to microwave friendship as we moved so much. Thankfully my life has been marked by enduring deep spirited friendships. Still, I am grateful even now for images like "Slink the Dog" who remind me on a daily basis that I am a creature who is marked by transition. It will take my heart a while to fully grip the reality that our friends are longer just moments away. Their move is forcing us to trust God and one another in some beautiful but painful new ways. So, why does it hurt so much?
This world is in fact not my home. This life is one that is lived in the ongoing awareness of being "in between" but the beauty is that I am not alone in the transition. God has given me Himself and many dear friends, some who even move far away, to love and be loved by. And as I grieve and celebrate my way through these recent transitions, God is comfortable to allow me the space to make that journey without pressure or shame. He never said we would not feel pain. This afternoon I enjoyed a steak with a friend whose mother is dying. He tenderly shared about what some of his final moments with his mom have been like. The themes of those moments are are all steeped in transition. She is a woman whose time on earth is concluding and is sensing the Lord inviting her into His rest...for the first time possibly. Life and death seem to facilitate a more sober embrace of these beautiful truths. When someone dies, we are far more generous to those who grieve. We give them space as they live "in between." Even still it is not uncommon for some people to want to rush the grieving process along and ignore their heart's need to slow down and sit still with the loss. The truth is, the heart will not be denied the opportunity to feel. If it is not given permission, it will come out in some even more painful and broken ways.
What brings people into counseling often is not what keeps them there. Initially some pain, fear or loss usually cues up a first appointment. Eventually, many people come to view the work of counseling as a critical dimension to being a healthy person. Instead of utilizing counseling as a crisis response they begin to anticipate transitions by inviting a familiar and objective voice they have come to trust. In Christian Counseling, we also serve as a curious spiritual guide who demonstrates a dimension of warmth and empathy that can facilitate heathy transition.
Feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423.517.7070 if you would like set up a time to process any aspect of this article. Feel free to check out our counseling practice online as well at Elbow Tree Christian Counseling.
BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS FOR MAKING SENSE OF TRANSITIONS:
The Way of Transition: Embracing Life's Most Difficult Moments by William Bridges
The Perfect Loss - A Different Kind of Happiness by Chip Dodd
A Grace Disguised - How the Soul Grows Through Loss by Jerry Sittser
Where is God When It Hurts by Phillip Yancey
Good Grief by Ganger Westberg
Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan
A Letter of Consolation by Henri Nouwen
FILM RECOMMENDATION FOR MAKING SENSE OF TRANSITIONS:
When doctors told Ed Dobson that he only had two to five years left to live, at first he lost hope. But thanks to friends and family, he soon found himself on a path filled with new discoveries, fresh insights into his faith and the revelation that truly, "it ain't over till it's over."
Ten years later, Ed still lives to tell his story. His touching words of wisdom will inspire you to seize the day - and make the most of every moment you still have left.
Watch the first of Ed's seven films HERE.