Tag Archives: God

How to Navigate Transition

I just fell down the stairs. I was walking downstairs to make a cup of coffee, my drug of choice for writing a month’s worth of Sunday School lessons, and I slipped. It’s been awhile since that happened and I forgot just how terrible it is. I slid my way down half the staircase until finally running into the closed door at the bottom. It was loud, it was ungraceful, my cloth pants only added to the speed at which I was tumbling, and more than anything it hurt.

Because drawing an analogy may give some meaning to the pain I’m currently experiencing . . .

. . . sometimes transition feels like suddenly slipping down half a flight of stairs.

You think it’s all going okay until a few steps down and suddenly you’ve spontaneously lost your footing. Once you start slipping, panic and frustration set in, as you find yourself seemingly unable to stop the fall. So you brace yourself for the crash.

Part of why I hate falling down the stairs, aside from the obvious things like throbbing pain and sacrificing my dignity, is that I know it doesn’t have to be that way. I’ve done staircases enough to know they can be done with grace and poise. More than that, I’ve seen enough movies to know there’s nothing better than the feeling of walking down a spiral staircase in a ballgown and having the whole room freeze and turn to watch you descend. I may not have had that experience yet, but I’m convinced it exists and that I need a staircase for it. Not only does walking down stairs not have to be a bad experience, it can actually be a great one.

elevator-suitcaseTransitions don’t have to feel like falling down a flight of stairs. It doesn’t have to be such that you feel yourself bracing for the impact of all that is new, overwhelming, and intimidating. Transitions don’t have to be bad and rough; they can even be wonderful, if you’re watching your footing before you step.

That doesn’t necessarily mean all transitions are going to be flawless. Sometimes you slip on the stairs even when you’re paying attention. We would have much fewer funny videos if people never fell down the stairs. Sometimes a hard transition leads to the kinds of funny, transformative, growing stories that change our lives or lives later on.

Here are three principles that give my life a sense of meaning and stability. I, as a 22-year old with limited life experiences have found these things helpful, and hopefully they can help you or give words to things you should pursue in walking through your next or current life transition:

  • My relationship with the Lord and a sense of His nearness in my life is foundational and going to change.

The one thing that has provided the most stability and peace in any transition is my relationship with the Lord and sense of His nearness. When my life is oriented towards His glory, no matter what is going on, there’s a bigger sense of purpose. In that, there are two reasons that I’ve noticed my relationship with God changes during transition, regardless of how big or small the transition actually is.

One of them is harder to articulate because it’s inherently unseen. The Spirit of God often feels different in different places. That’s not to say that God is changing or that His relationship to us is different, but there are spiritual realities present in lives and places that we can’t see. Verses like 1 Peter 5:8 and Ephesians 6:12 give us a sense of these unseen realities. My relationship with God felt different in Georgia than it does in Illinois, which is different than it was at Wheaton College, which is different than it felt when I visited India, which is different than it felt in Costa Rica. The Spirit of God isn’t changing but the spiritual realities of these places changed my emotional and sensory experience of my spirituality. It’s hard to explain because so much of what’s going on we won’t know this side of Eternity, but even just knowing that my relationship with God is going to feel different in different places gives me a peace and an elasticity in being okay with those changes. He may feel closer or farther away in certain places; that doesn’t necessarily mean His proximity has changed or that I’m doing anything wrong. It means it’s okay if it feels or looks different.

The other reason my relationship with God changes in transition is more concrete: often during transition, my routine changes. A new job may mean that mornings with the Lord aren’t as viable as they used to be, or that a 6am quiet time may feel harder than an 8am one. Sharing a room with someone may mean that late night worship sessions aren’t exactly respectful or hospitable. Moving away from friends may mean that spontaneous Bible study conversations aren’t as readily available. When the places that I engage with the Lord change, my experience of Him innately changes. While we may not be able to change the spiritual realities with anything other than prayer and a pursuit of discernment, we have direct control over the patterns, practices, and rhythms of our lives. Knowing the things that consistently bring you life and revitalize your relationship with Jesus are critical in transitioning into new schedules and routines. It may look different – the time, location, and structure may change – but if you know what your soul needs, you’ll be better able to build it in during transition and keep the foundation that’ll help with your footing.

  • The people in my life and my interactions with others give my life inherent meaning, regardless of whether they’re deep or momentary.

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I used to think that is was only the closest and deepest relationship that actually mattered and meant something to me, but as I’ve navigated transition, I’ve realized that it’s often whoever is standing in front of me that gives my life meaning. Things like doing work in a coffee shop so that I can interact with the barista, spreading out trips to the grocery store to talk to the clerk, working out in a popular gym, making small talk with people in the office, or listening to middle school student tell a joke make my life feel significant. These interactions don’t have to be profound; they often aren’t. They just have to be present. There’s something about standing face-to-face with another human being that gives life a sort of significance. Actively putting yourself in places where there are people naturally increases a sense of meaning, especially if you make the time and expend the energy to engage with them.

With that, taking the time to invest in deeper relationships is vital in navigating transition. Relationships take time, so take off the pressure and expectation that this needs to happen immediately. Beginning to develop meaningful relationships beyond a small talk conversation in the check-out line also gives life meaning. If this can happen before the throws and heat of the actual transition, it makes the process that much smoother. In that, don’t be afraid to let previous relationships change and shift. That doesn’t mean those relationships have to die – life-long friendships are an incredible blessing – but holding tightly to the relationships and connections of a previous season often hinders people from living into the new ones. Comparing the people of a new season to those of an old one only increases the challenge of stepping fully into what is new. Delve into new relationships with the understanding that they are not going to be the same as the people of your past, but they are critical in providing a sense of meaning and seeing what the Lord is doing in these new places.

  • An others-oriented perspective, direction, or projects shifts the focus off self and offers a sense of something bigger than just you.

Just because my relationship with God feels solid and I’m engaging with people doesn’t necessarily guarantee that a transition is going to feel smooth; both of those things can still be oriented towards me. In my experience, nothing offers a sense of meaning more holistically than focusing on others. It doesn’t have to be big and can literally be anything that orients you towards others. It can be something as simple as giving money towards something that you’re actively engaging the stories of – give towards a cause and then watch documentaries, videos, and talk with people about it. It can also look like volunteering or opening your home. Make it personal; let it be something that matters and something you enjoy. There’s lots of talk about doing things with a “savior” mentality or out of a sense of privilege, so guard yourself against that. But getting outside yourself and doing something that diverts your attention to someone or something other than you can return dividends in living with a sense of joy and purpose. Even just being aware of your co-workers, bringing them coffee because you noticed they had a hard day, or stopping to buy the homeless man on the corner a burger can offer a sense of life beyond your needs, wants, and hardships.

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One more analogy for you. It’s too simplistic of a picture, since seasons, experiences, and relationships often overlap and affect one another, but it can be helpful in navigating transition: our lives are like a row of shelves and we get boxes for each season. Putting things in a new box is difficult when you haven’t completed the former one, capped it, and placed it on the shelf. If you keep looking through the old box or refusing to put it on the shelf, it only makes starting a new box that much harder. Begin a transition by giving yourself permission to sort through, celebrate, and lament that which is ending. Organize the box, label it, throw away that which doesn’t matter, and keep that which does – give yourself space to acknowledge what the Lord did beyond your expectations and that which went unfulfilled. It’ll make it easier to snap on the lid and focus your attention on what the Lord is giving you to put in the new box, whether the previous season was one of pain or blessing. Pulling out a new and empty box on the foundation of your relationship with Christ, knowing that it all may look and feel different, pressing into your interactions with people, and focusing on others and causes outside of yourself, will hopefully make it easier to begin filling and celebrating the new box and the work of the Lord in the new season.

Happy transitioning.

Overseas.

I let the papers slide from my hand into the recycling bin and climbed onto my bed. Across the room I could still see the corner of the support letter papers I’d printed out, mocking me from the trash can. Pictures from previous trips lined the bottom of blank pages where I’d planned on writing heartfelt pleas for summer funding. If you didn’t want me overseas this summer, Lord, why not start with that? Why lead me to meeting after meeting, sorting through a dozen different opportunities and organizations, to find one that I was sure I sensed You moving in, only to have it all fall through?

I’ll spare you the details of my angered, and often one-sided, spats with the Lord and suffice it to say that those pleas of winter break 2015 led into what would become the transformative summer of 2016 – all without leaving Wheaton, Illinois.

You make me laugh, Jesus.

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A year ago, I couldn’t force my way overseas; I know because I tried. It was like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole – nothing fit, felt right, or worked out in the end. In typical, omniscient God fashion, He knew better. Little did I know that I needed both the refinement and redemption that would come from a summer working at World Relief in Wheaton. So, with initial begrudging, I let the Lord do what He wanted to do. I should’ve expected this, but as it turned out, the last year has been so clearly the Lord; way better than any plan I had tried to concoct for myself.

I could take you through the successive, crazy, it-has-to-be-the-Lord-because-otherwise-it-doesn’t-make-sense chain of events that has followed since the summer (but let’s be real, He’s been moving in those kinds of themes for a lot longer than the winter of 2015). I struggle to find a starting place and would you even believe me if I tried? Maybe later I’ll start writing down some of those individual stories. They aren’t necessarily grand or exciting, just lots of little moments and random connections that the Lord likes to break through in.

I’m looking at my calendar and three trips overseas sit in front of me – trips that I didn’t plan or go looking for. Trips that scream the name of Jesus and the continual call to simply trust what He’s doing. A trip to Europe with friends, better friends than my lonely and scared freshman year self could’ve dreamt up, exploring the countries where a missions organization that I’m considering works. A trip to the British Isles with family, an unexpected blessing that has opened the door to potentially meet missionaries working with refugees in a context that I’ve been praying about for awhile. And a vision trip, to a country in the Middle East, where I’ll get to experience what the Lord is doing in refugee camps up close, and tangibly discern further what He’s leading me into long term.

I say all of this for two reasons:

  1. because I would love your prayer as I go on these trips and take the next eight months to really press in, pray, and discern not only what the Lord is doing in the moment, but what He may be leading me into long term. It’s all the normal prayers for direction that anyone with an impending graduation date (although mine is a little extended because of a master’s program) needs, with a little extra tacked on because if He’s asking me to raise support and move halfway around the world, that can feel just a little daunting. (If you want a prayer card to tuck in your bible or stick on your fridge, let me know!)
  2. because every story, be it stories of the details or the overarching narrative of the past year, points directly back to the trustworthiness and faithfulness of Christ! I don’t know where you are at in terms of believing the Lord or what you need Him to do; I don’t know what He’s doing in your life or what situations of dependance He’s put you in (or perhaps you are running from). But I know this – He is more gracious, powerful, and wise than we often give Him credit for.

Meeting Jesus in the Quiet

I’ve become hesitant to talk so frequently about having “quiet time,” “devo time,” or “time with the Lord.” Not because I don’t think it’s one of the most important ways we can spend our time, but because it’s not the most important. In our individualistic, western view of Christianity, it’s easy to adapt a solely personal and isolated view of our faith and relationship with Jesus. We can lose a value for cooperate worship, fellowship, prayer, giving, and service when it becomes, albeit subconsciously, a me-centered emphasis. There’s a fine line, which isn’t to say that spending time alone with God isn’t imperative or universally commanded (Jesus Himself makes it clear that He needs time in solitude and seclusion with just the Father).

After all, my time alone with Jesus leads to some of the most necessary, precious, and life-giving moments of my day.

However, sometimes I believe a lie about my time alone with the Lord. I’ve been fed this idea, through a variety of often hidden means, that every time I sit down before Jesus and force myself to be aware of His Spirit, usually with Scripture open, that I should expect something profound. I’m sitting before the God of the universe and I’m told to approach with a sense of expectation. If I don’t walk away with some incredible spiritual revelation about my life or someone else, what was the point? What am I supposed to tell people about my “quiet time” when they ask?

The point of our time with the Lord isn’t anything more than our being. Stop. Period. It begins and ends with our willingness to simply show up and be. To still our hearts and minds, as best we can, and listen to Him, as best we can, because we not only affirm that He’s worth it but we prove it by our actions. We genuinely and wholeheartedly believe that He is worth our time, our attention, our hearts, our minds, and our response.

It’s less about what I walk away with and more about who I’m slowly becoming.

Ten minutes of alone time with Jesus doesn’t necessarily guarantee my spiritual rejuvenation.

What it does is remind my soul, whether I feel it or not, that I’m the Beloved. It reminds my spirit what His voice sounds like, whether or not I feel like I’m hearing it in the moment. It sensitizes my soul to His nearness. So that when His whispers and nudges come in the midst of the noise of my daily life, I’m more able to recognize it.

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Known and Loved

I have this theory about life, which I’ve likely borrowed from any number of books or lectures I’ve heard over the past 21 years, and here it is:

our deepest longing as people is to be known and loved.

We live busy, rushed lives where these things often get pushed to the wayside. Meaningful connections and moments are replaced by a hurried pace and self-absorbed actions. Our deepest desires manifest themselves in other ways as we seek to be known by others – through what we post on social media, through the way we talk about ourselves, through self-promotion of the things that give us confidence. All of that stems out of a longing to be unconditionally loved; when we don’t feel that kind of love, we question whether or not all of us is worth loving, and we engage in subsequent image management. If we control what people know then by a strange association we can control their love. Thus, we continually seek approval, relationships (whether emotionally or physically intimate), and anything else that enables our desire to either run away from engaging in deep knowing/loving of others or to pursue it in ways where we still maintain control.

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So tonight, I find myself curled up in my Clemson blanket, next to a candle that I’m not technically supposed to have lit, in the sunroom, writing out a tentative plan for highschool small group tomorrow. I’m drawing from Bonhoeffer’s God is in the Manger for themes of waiting, hearing, and the season of Advent in general. I’m intentionally leaving space at the end of the time for the girls to reflect and develop a personal awareness to the movement of the Holy Spirit in the space we’ve allotted for that kind of thing. The tentativeness of the plan comes from a desire to the let these girls, on the precipice of adulthood, have some level of say in what their small group looks like. If they want to talk about something else for two hours, that’s fine. I’m flexible.

As I’m hitting a sweet spot in terms of typing out potential questions and spaces for their engagement, I realize there’s a foundational principle that I want to keep in mind, both in my planning and in the way I lead the time tomorrow. So, I scroll back to the top of my note and type: “remember, the goal is that these girls would leave knowing that they are both loved and known, not only by me but infinitely more so by the incarnate God of the universe.” It’s a principle that I want guiding not only this youth ministry but every action of my life. To do whatever I can in making people feel known and loved, whether thats intimate relationships or passing interactions, for the sake of reflecting but a shadow of the love and knowledge that our Creator has for us. He’s El Roi, the God who sees us. How can I choose to see others so that they might feel His presence?

Yet as I sat in the sunroom tonight, typing out that simple reminder, it was like a tidal wave of grace overcame me:

“you know that’s true for you too Maddie”

I can’t adequately explain when Jesus speaks in these kind of moments; I just know that I’m never the same. Because when He says things like this, it touches on the deepest parts of who I am. Everything else slips away as I sit in the presence of my incarnate Savior, the One who indwells my faithless, sinful, fragile being. And yet, it’s that being, every intricate part of it, that He knows more intimately than I can imagine and loves more deeply than I will ever understand.

Because when we spend our days focused on making others feel known and loved, it’s easy for our souls to forget just how deeply we are known and loved ourselves. While He demonstrates that love in a myriad of ways, not the least of which is lavishing love upon us in community, there is something fundamentally central and profound about the depth at which He, El Roi Himself, knows and loves us.

I don’t know about you, but that truth feels overwhelmingly enough for my soul. Now, for the grace to walk in it.

Tuesday Night Devotional on Community

One of the blessings (and honestly one of my favorite parts) of being a Christian Education major is the regularity with which we hear and plan class devotionals or lessons. For my Tuesday night Spiritual Theology class, I had to lead closing reflections and prayer this week. These passages from Bonhoeffer had been on my… Read more. . .

The Power of Prayer

I hate to admit it, but I sometimes go through waves when it comes to prayer. I wish I could say I am 100% prayer warrior all the time, but if I’m honest, I have to say I go through seasons. Sometimes I believe prayer has the power to change the world and the idea… Read more. . .

So It Begins Again

It’s so good to see people in the dining hall. To bump into people between classes. To have familiar voices filling our apartment stairwell. To listen to my friend’s stories. To give big, lingering hugs to people I’ve come to know as family. The boxes have been unpacked. The textbooks have been purchased. The dekes… Read more. . .

In the Stillness of Summer, He is God

My journal is sitting on the table beside our guest bed. It’s been mostly unopened all summer. My Bible sits next to it. It’s not much better. And there’s this tension, because it’s not that I’m running away from Jesus. But am I actually running toward Him? There was something soothing about the busyness of… Read more. . .