When Transitions Choose Us

As any woman who has birthed a child can attest, the transition part of labor is excruciating. Although it is generally the shortest stage, that offers little comfort in the midst. While we are screaming for it to end, those around us are assuring us that it is accomplishing great things. The baby will be birthed through this pain. 

One doesn’t need to give birth to experience transition, though. We all experience times of intense change, either by choice or by circumstance. Like waves, ebbing and flowing in and out of our lives, they sometimes feel like they’re taking us under.

Even the most celebratory changes—like getting married or becoming a parent—include big changes. We leave roommates, parents, cities, the single life, or the carefree married life. To embrace something new, we often have to leave old things behind. 

AS WE GET OLDER, TRANSITIONS BEGIN TO CHOOSE US 

As we get older, transitions choose us more often than the other way around, and we leave things behind that weren’t our choice. We don’t always like it. Transitions often involve pain, but they are also necessary to birth a new thing. Whether we wanted that new thing or not. 

If our lives were just about us, it maybe wouldn’t matter all that much how we responded. But people who make a difference in this world don’t spend much time complaining about life. So how do we get through the sometimes painful transition seasons in life? 

  1. WE KEEP OUR GOALS IN FOCUS.

I’m not talking lofty and complicated here. It could be simply believing that love is stronger than anything that comes against it. Or that kindness always counts. Or that seemingly crushed plans are not the final word. This past season required me to cling to the idea that good days were ahead. Some days I would get with a friend for a walk or coffee. Some days I would light a candle and declare that light is stronger than darkness. Some days I picked up an inspirational book. Some days I just prayed for grace and trusted tomorrow was a new day.

  1. WE DECIDE TO NEVER GIVE UP.

Because it really is a choice. That doesn’t mean we are always chirpy or that we never want to give up. It might mean that we enlist help, either professionally or with those close to us. I really did “get by with a little help from my friends” during this past season. Some days all we can do is declare, “I can’t see it right now. But if I stay in the game today, I win.” Better days lie ahead.

  1. WE BELIEVE IN THE POWER OF REDEMPTION. 

It helps to have a core belief that pain is a teacher and every challenge is an opportunity to grow in ways we wouldn’t have sought out voluntarily. I am definitely walking down paths that never would have appeared prior to all the changes. There is often fear attached with the kinds of changes we face as we grow older. Maybe we’re alone now, or we’re dealing with a health issue, or we find ourselves without a job. But if we can remember that something new is being birthed through this process, we can better tolerate the pain of getting there.  

The transition stage doesn’t define the birthing process—the new life does. I am 5’2” and weigh about 100 lbs, but five babies were delivered through this small frame. We are so much stronger than we think. If we are in a lot of pain, we remember that transitions are producing something, and they won’t last forever. There is new life on the other side. 

“Often what alarms us as an ending can in fact be the opening of a new journey–a new beginning that we could never have anticipated; one that engages forgotten parts of the heart.”

John O’ Donohue

Risk: Discovering Beauty Outside Our Comfort Zones

Snow Lake 2

Risk. I have always thought of it as a big deal, something unfamiliar and maybe even dangerous, like moving to a new area, changing careers, leaving unhealthy relationships, or jumping out of airplanes. Not something I would want to do everyday.

But Warren Buffet has a definition that gives risk a more daily perspective. He believes that, “Risk comes from not knowing what you’re doing.” Muscles grow when we ask them to do more than they are used to doing. Every time we take a step during a time of “not knowing,” we are getting stronger.

There are many reasons we can find “not knowing what we’re doing” seasons. Life happens and we often find ourselves confronting situations that are new territory, even if the shift is relatively minor.

These situations can feel disarming, strange and confusing. But the more comfortable we get with this not knowing, the more willing we can be to take risks that we don’t think about when life is filled with the busy and familiar.

One thing I have found over the years: “comfort zone” wants to be my default setting. A comfort zone is a place where security is high and anxiety low, a place we feel some measure of control. Choosing to visit there is healthy; opting to stay there is not. It is outside our comfort zone where we are able to grow.

Whether risk is a big move or a response to not knowing what we’re doing, it involves saying yes to a step that leads away from security and comfort. We don’t always like that idea.

This last year has proven to be a starting-over period for me that began a lot like the others. At some point, I said yes to doing something new. It started as a small step and began a journey down a path of discovery.

The school I taught at for 25 years had unexpectedly closed down, affecting finances, relationships and security. At the same time, I was also diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. I went from a long season of having more life than each day could hold to being mostly home alone without a job. My kids were going to college, moving out, and getting married.

But most life transitions come like that. We find ourselves in situations we may not have chosen. Or we chose them and they weren’t what we expected. Viktor Frankl writes, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”

So I took some tentative steps away from the familiar and allowed that to lead to the next. The hardest part of risk is not knowing how it will turn out. Will there be rejection, or failure, or loss? There are no guarantees when we sign up to get stronger. Only the promise of stagnant comfort zones if we opt out.

Whether it’s by choice or not, being uncomfortable pushes us further than we think we can go. But risks don’t have to look big or make us anxious. We can challenge ourselves in small ways everyday that come from not knowing what we’re doing.

Tips for Exercising Our Risk Muscle:

  1. Make a list of things we would do if it weren’t uncomfortable. It can be trying that class offered on Groupon, or finding a new place to walk. It can be sitting still for 20 minutes to switch out our thoughts. Maybe it’s going back to school or maybe it’s going for a hike.
  2. Remind ourselves that being uncomfortable means we are growing. If we never place a demand on ourselves, our lives will get smaller.
  3. Allow for surprise. We can go to a new restaurant and not google it beforehand. We can go somewhere we have never been and discover it the old-fashioned way. Instead of Google maps, we allow serendipity to lead the way. Maybe we even skip the virtual tour and discover a place when we see it for the first time!
  4. Open up to the world. We can intentionally set out to learn something new, whether it’s reading a top-selling biography or listening to a podcast.
  5. Think of people who might need what we have. We can make a call, send a text, give a word of encouragement, a gift, or a meal. Our lives matter. We can risk giving them away.

Our risk muscle can actually grow stronger as we walk through life. All it requires is not knowing what we’re doing. I love that transition seasons have this woven into their very nature. Every day we can find a reason to celebrate the beauty we are finding both within and without.

He who doesn’t risk never gets to drink champagne.”~ old Russian proverb.

Cheers!