Don’t Fear Transition

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Terry Crist


Change is not simply a season in our spiritual journeys; it is a process we undergo for the whole of life.

her labor pains intensified, I watched in amazement as my typically
sweet-natured, mild-mannered wife took on the appearance of Sigourney
Weaver in Alien. In one startling moment her peaceful
appearance was replaced by a taut jaw, steely eyes and the bark of a
drill sergeant preparing young soldiers for the battle of their lives.
The thin line of sweat that had formed on her brow began to pulsate in
rhythm with her temples.

wanted to run for my life, to get as far away from this frightening
creature as I could. But the next moment she was back to normal—normal,
that is, for a pregnant woman about to give birth.

a moment I wondered at the amazing transformation I had just witnessed.
Was she possessed? Should I call the church intercessors? Was this the
time to order the anointing oil I had seen advertised in Charisma?

I remembered the warning of the wise old doctor who had done everything
within his ability to prepare my wife for this moment. “Transition is
unlike anything you have ever felt before.” Suddenly, it all became
clear to me. This was it—the dreaded stage called “transition.”

lessons I learned on that stormy night 25 years ago have enabled me to
keep my sanity during many other transitional experiences in my life,
both natural and spiritual. Here’s what I’ve discovered:

Transition is unavoidable.
The inescapable reality of life in the 21st century is, “Change, or you
will be changed.” If there is anything we’ve learned from the last few
years of experience in “doing life,” it’s that the near future holds
anything but the expected! We live in the midst of changing times.

are the days of predictability and routine. Those frameworks that have
held firm for generations, providing the basic structure of life, have
begun to falter. The concepts that have governed business, science,
government and philosophy no longer seem to apply. The traditional
formulas for interpersonal relationships cannot guarantee the same
results they once did.

And no one has felt the pain of transition any more than women.

women have begun to take a more visible role in shaping our world, they
have experienced the direct effects of transitional living. Fifty years
ago it was unheard of to have women as heads of state, industry and
education, yet now they lead us capably and successfully. This social
transformation has left women managing the pain of personal transition
while also dealing with the pressure of learning new skills.

years I lived with the idea that we were simply in a “season” of
change, only to wake up one day and realize that this “season” was
unending. Transition is not simply a period of time in our lives; it is
the whole of life. In fact, transition is the lifestyle of Spirit-led
men and women.

It is vital
for us to embrace this truth because if we perceive transition to be
only a “momentary affliction,” then we will be incredibly disappointed
when we move from one period of transition headlong into the next. My
wife, being the insightful woman that she is, quickly discovered that
the transition of labor leads to the transition of motherhood, which
leads to more transition in every area of life.

true of life in general is also true of our relationships with the
Lord. As one well acquainted with transition, Paul said that in
following Christ we are “transformed … from glory to glory, just as by
the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Cor. 3:18, NKJV). The end result of spiritual
is total and complete glorification; anything less than that will keep us on the road to change.

ancient Israel, God created us to be a spiritually nomadic people who
travel light along life’s journey as we pursue the pillar of fire, the
cloud of glory and the ark of His presence. We were created for the
journey, not just the destination.

Transition will redefine you.
For this reason, transition can be frightening, especially for those
who have defined themselves by what they do rather than by who they are.
I have counseled a number of women who fall into this category:

Working women who quit their jobs to raise children—”I don’t even know who I am anymore without my career.”

Married women who have just gone through a divorce—”If I’m not his wife, who am I?”

Mothers whose children are now grown—”With our last child out of the nest, I don’t know what to do with myself.”

recently experienced a similar identity crisis. After pastoring for 15
years, I went through a six-month period during which I wrote, conducted
seminars and spoke in conferences but didn’t actively pastor. One day
during this period, Tyler, my youngest son, came home from third grade
with a question.

“Dad, what are you now?” he asked. I groped for an answer, rambling on about what I was doing. His eyes glazed over.

was looking for a noun—pastor, lawyer, doctor, teacher—and all I could
give him was a string of action words telling him what I was doing. For a
few months I struggled with the way transition was redefining me.

I finally realized that there was no point in trying to get comfortable
because as soon as I did, change would appear on the horizon. Just
about the time my wife became comfortable in her role as the mother of
an infant, the baby began to walk, and our whole world changed. When we
moved the breakables to higher shelves and covered the electrical
outlets, we realized our world would never be the same.

we were eventually able to return the delicate figurines to their
original places, we had to make other adjustments in our home and lives
as we went from being the parents of a toddler to being the parents of a
grade-schooler to being the parents of a teen-ager. Through the process
I learned that the only way to avoid transition is to stop growing.

Transition takes time to assimilate.
Science teaches us that light travels through space at a constant speed
of 186,281 miles per second. The governing laws of the universe dictate
this speed with absolutely no deviation.

humans travel through life without the benefit of a fixed velocity. We
move at a variable rate that fluctuates according to our capacity for
assimilating new information and influences. How well we absorb the
implications of change dramatically affects the rate at which we
successfully manage the challenges we face—both individually and

Each of us was
designed by God to move through life most effectively and efficiently
at a unique pace that will allow us to absorb and respond to the major
changes we face. When we assimilate less change than our optimum speed
allows, we fail to live up to our potential. When we attempt to
assimilate more than our optimum speed permits, we become overloaded and
stressed out.

Many of the
women to whom I minister have recently found themselves in an
unprecedented state of disequilibrium. They’re not quite sure where the
world is going and where they fit in the journey; consequently, they
feel “out of balance” emotionally, spiritually and physically. As a
result of this upheaval, they often find it difficult to maintain a
healthy balance between work, rest, worship and play.

result is that they are allowing change to manage them rather than
managing it. This can cause them to become bitter instead of better.

and author Alvin Toffler was the first to popularize a term that
describes the potentially debilitating effects of transitional living
when he coined the term “future shock” in 1965. In a book by the same
title, he accurately predicted the devastation that could result if we
are unable to properly absorb major changes in society.

shock” occurs when people are asked to tolerate more disruption than
they have the capacity to endure, and it results in high levels of
stress and low levels of effectiveness. A few years ago, I learned that a
number of pilots were in open revolt against more technology. These
pilots were saying: “Please don’t increase the technology in my cockpit.
If I can’t manage everything in here, you’re going to kill me.”

seems the pilots were not complaining about inferior technology. In
fact, what they were given was very often equipment they had asked for
and even helped to design. But they were worried about making a rapid
transition to new instruments without proper time for assimilation.

all need time to assimilate the changes that are necessary for our
survival. Learning the principles that will allow us to manage change
and increase our spiritual resilience is not just a luxury but a

Find something to focus on during transition.
I believe that the greatest challenge we face in life is the challenge
to forget the past, consider the present as transitional and focus on
the future. When we “camp” in one spiritual or emotional location for
too long, “spiritual rigor mortis” sets in. To remain where we are is to
remain as we are.

years ago, I found myself standing in front of a kiosk in the shopping
mall, desperately trying to focus on a three-dimensional mosaic picture.
I had walked by the booth a hundred times smirking at the silly people
wasting their time trying to discern the unseen. After one of my caustic
comments, my wife threw down the gauntlet: “All right, wise guy, if
it’s so easy, let’s see you do it!”

marched confidently over to the booth, picked up the picture and
entered a world of total confusion. No matter how hard I tried, I could
not see anything but a thousand unrelated pixels.

allowing me to wallow in my humiliation for a time, my wife finally
revealed the secret: “If you get close to the picture, relax your vision
and focus on one spot, it will magically appear before your eyes.” I
finally did, and the picture became clear.

key to retaining your sanity during the unexpected moments of
transitional living is to stay focused on the big picture. Many people
find themselves struggling with arrested emotional and spiritual
development because they have lost the power of vision during the
process of transition.

What I
thought was anger in the delivery room that stormy night in Kansas City
was actually the intensity of my wife’s focus. When I questioned her
attitude, she quickly reminded me of the doctor’s advice: “Find
something and focus intently on it. It may be a picture, a light bulb or
even my bald spot, but whatever you do, don’t break your focus.”

The same advice can be applied to transitional living. Find one spot on the horizon of your destiny, and focus on it.

ability to change determines whether or not we survive. The simple
reality is that we have no choice over whether or not we will encounter
the force of change in our lifetime. Our power lies in the ability to
handle it correctly when we are confronted with it.

you resist the changes that are necessary to succeed in business, you
will eventually file bankruptcy papers. If you refuse to change as your
spouse matures, you will eventually file divorce papers. If you resist
the changes that are necessary for soul growth, you will eventually face
defeat and despair.

order to survive transitional living, we must make peace with the
journey. The challenge to change is not some kind of divine punishment;
it is a gracious invitation to rise to a new level of being.

you stop resenting the process you can engage in the exciting journey
of encountering the unexpected. I challenge you to settle these issues
once and for all and get on with the business of being
“transformed … from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord”
(2 Cor. 3:18).

Terry Crist is the senior pastor of·City of Grace church·in Scottsdale, Ariz. He is the author of The Image Maker (Charisma House) and The Language of Babylon (Baker Books).

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