Spiritual Formation

How to Navigate Change

We are the midst of transition again here—the bi-annual reordering of our lives—from our simple summer selves to the crazy school-year circus. Back and forth we swing, every fall and every spring.

It’s always a shock to our system. It always comes with equal measures of irritability and joy, excitement and fear. And—I’ll be honest—I haven’t always handled it well.

This year, though, I am determined to grow. I’m longing to shift gears more gracefully, so that this ride is smoother for everyone involved.

My starting place has been to cover this transition more persistently in prayer. I began weeks ago—when I felt the first sensations of stress begin to surface—and I will carry on.

I’m also releasing my anxiety on a daily, sometimes hourly, basis. (Peter’s recent post on peace continues to be a great help in this.)

I’ve even been reading a book about change. (Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change. See my note at the end of the post.) Peter bought this book for me after I expressed to him my desire to develop in this area. I’m pretty sure that books are my love language. My solution to most problems is to purchase one. It’s clear that Peter knows me well, and I’ve found some helpful advice on those Managing Transition pages.

So, here are a few things that I’ve been learning, a few points that are important for us to remember when we face into change.

Predict and prepare.

I spent a great deal of time and energy over the past few weeks preparing us for this back-to-school shift. I didn’t do it perfectly. I’m already seeing a few things that fell through the cracks. A couple of homeschool textbooks didn’t make it onto my order, and—oh, yeah—Daryl still needs new shoes.

But much of my planning is serving us well. I reorganized our homeschool books and supplies. We charted out our carefully choreographed weekly schedule of school subjects and activities. I assembled around us the human support we will need to make this work. And I bought myself a bag of my favorite coffee to soften the blow of my early-morning commute.

Here’s the thing, though…rarely does one element of change happen in isolation. Change usually creates a domino effect. This affects this, which bumps up against this, which could threaten to topple this if we’re not careful enough.

When possible, we do well to predict how the change is going to play out. Start with the obvious, the physical, and the practical, but don’t stop there. Think, too, about the emotional and relational and spiritual toll this change might take.

Then strategize. Put plans into place to handle each aspect of the transition (physical, emotional, relational, spiritual). And resource yourself. As best you can, provide yourself with the tools you will need to succeed in the new situation to which you are called. Anticipate your own needs—and the needs of others involved—and prepare now to meet them when the time comes.

This might look like purchasing physical supplies—bins, books, new clothes, a new car. It might look like inviting other people into the process and knowing where you need support—arranging to have coffee with a friend, hiring a tutor for the kids, planning for regular play dates, indulging in a house cleaner for a season. It might even look like scheduling a weekend of solitude for yourself three months down the line.

Grieve what is gone.

Change comes in many shapes and sizes. Some change is long-anticipated. Other change is thrust upon us unexpectedly. Some change is welcomed. Other change brings us to our knees. Some change is pervasive and overwhelming and complex. Other change is seemingly subtle.

But all change has this thing in common…all change means an end to whatever was. All change—by its very nature—even if it’s a change that we long for—all change involves a loss.

So, if we are to navigate any transition well, we must acknowledge this reality. To ourselves and with the other people involved, we must recognize what we are letting go of. Privately and in community, we must process the emotional aspect of the experience, allow ourselves to feel what we feel, and then release those feelings to God.

Make no mistake. If we don’t process the loss, it goes underground. Our brain and our body hold onto it, and that pain will surface in other places—as anger and irritability, depression and doubt.

On the other hand, when we do grieve well, we are also better able to walk with others through their time of transition. Even as I face into my own sadness over the end of summer, I am better able to help my kids (my husband, my friends, my students…) face into theirs, and so on…

Finally, be patient with the process.

William Bridges notes that change and transition are not the same thing. “Change is situational…Transition, on the other hand, is psychological.”

Many of us go through life changes without making the transition. Our external world changes around us, but we are not intentional and thorough about walking well through the transition—the internal piece.

Change can happen quickly. Transition takes time. So we must be patient with the process, patient with ourselves and with the others involved, understanding that we won’t all transition at the same pace.

Bridges describes the all-important middle-point of a transition as the “Neutral Zone.” It’s that period of time when we have left behind the status quo, but we aren’t yet settled into the new reality. The change doesn’t yet feel like “home.”

We are particularly vulnerable in the Neutral Zone. We can easily feel lost, confused, anxious, and insecure. Our identity may be in flux. We aren’t any longer who we once were, but we aren’t yet certain of who we will become.

However, Bridges also notes, that this Neutral Zone time is also full of opportunity. It’s a time to ask questions and examine things we may not have seen before. Problems that we may have previously ignored can now come clear. In the Neutral Zone, we may be more open to new ideas and new opportunities. We may find the courage to do hard things we would not have considered before.

But we have to be patient with the process. The Neutral Zone may be brief, or it may take quite some time.

But as we draw our strength from God and trust His hand to guide us through, we can find hope in the fact that a new normal will come.


NOTE: I have found William Bridges’ book (Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change) to be helpful as I think about change. However, it is written specifically for organizations, not individuals. The title doesn’t reflect that, so I wanted to make sure this was clear.

1 thought on “How to Navigate Change

  1. I was remembering the move to Phoenix which was a very had transition for me. I called in all the outside support that I could find. Your husband brought over some Moody students to put stuff in a truck for us. I had a two year old and a hyperactive five year old that had a terminal diagnosis at that point. I am so very grateful! I still pretty sure I got to Phoenix with a diagnosis of PTSD.

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