by Heidi Regier Kreider, WDC Conference Minister
Happy 2020! The beginning of a new decade is a reminder of the past pace of change and the transitions constantly taking place in our world and communities, our congregations and wider church, our families and personal lives.
At a WDC staff gathering last week, I shared William Bridges’ description of transition. (His book, Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes is in the WDC Resource Library). Bridges says that change and transition are different things. Change is situational – the external events taking place around us, whether by our own actions or beyond our control. Transition, on the other hand, is the process that we go through as we internalize and deal with the new situation that change produces.
According to Bridges, transition has three stages: The first stage is Endings, when we come to terms with the losses that come as a result of change, and we ask “What is it time for me to let go of?” This may include familiar habits or structures, cherished possessions or relationships, long-held assumptions, a job, personal health or mobility. It is natural to feel sadness, anxiety or anger in the face of such losses. The second stage of transition is the Neutral Zone, an in-between time when the old reality is gone, but the new isn’t fully present yet. This state is marked by both uncertainty and creativity, when things are in flux. We may feel disoriented, yet we can also experiment, imagine, and test possibilities.
Finally, the stage of New Beginnings involves new understandings, attitudes and practices. We gain a sense of renewal, fresh identity, understanding and purpose, and have energy to move forward into the future.
In our gathering, WDC staff reflected on these stages of transition through the story of the Israelites’ journey in Exodus 16. Leaving Egypt and finding themselves in the wilderness, the Israelites realized their losses and complained, “Why didn’t God let us die in comfort in Egypt where we had lamb stew and all the bread we could eat?” Then, they began exploring new questions and possibilities, as they discovered quail to eat and experimented with gathering manna (which means “What is it?”). Through trial and error – or, perhaps we should call it disobedience and failure – they learned not to hoard more manna than necessary on week-days, and also to accept God’s gift of Sabbath rest on the seventh day. Finally, the Exodus 16 story hints at new beginnings when it says that the Israelites ate manna for 40 years until they reached the land in which they would settle and develop new patterns of life as God’s people. (Yes, sometimes it seems that we are in the in-between space of transition for a long time!).
As we recognize changes in our lives, the church and the world, let’s also consider how we are experiencing transition. What is it time to let go of, and what losses do we lament? How will we trust God in the “in-between” spaces of uncertainty and exploration? What new beginnings and possibilities might God be calling us to?
The WDC Resource Library has many wonderful resources related to personal and congregational transitions. The book For Everything a Season: 75 Blessings for Daily Life offers this prayer: “God of new beginnings, thank you for this past year – the joyful moments and the growing moments, the celebrations and the defeats. Give to all the strength to entrust this new year to you, knowing that with you there is a future filled with hope. Amen.” May it be so!