I concluded the last blog by saying that just like the airline preflight emergency instructions for a parent is to first place an oxygen mask on themselves before attending to a child, parents need to recognize what they need as a parent in transition in order to better help their children to successfully span this literal and spiritual passage. The following are some practical suggestions to help your family successfully navigate transition with God.
Transition is a part of life. Life is fraught with transition. Whether it is the welcoming of a new life or grieving a loss, moving to the other side of the world, moving up a level at school, or down a level at work, transition is the bridge we must cross from one way of knowing and being to the next. While it may feel unsettling and disruptive (and it is), it is also the means by which we are invited to new ways of relating to our Triune God. More often than naught, the stories tucked within the overarching narrative of the Bible illustrate how men and women caught in the midst of transition had the potential to know God, and themselves, on a deeper level the other side of transition.
Transition has a shelf life. Every transition has its own life cycle. In his book Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change, author William Bridges distinguishes the difference between change and transition, describing change as situational while defining the rhythm of transition as a three-phase psychological process: Ending, losing, letting go; the neutral zone; the new beginning (2003, pp. 3, 5). While this model doesn’t determine the length of a transition, it does indicate that the madness will eventually end. Our reaction to change, and our transitional response, can mean the difference between surviving and thriving.
Transition favors the prepared. While change is unavoidable, there are certain strategies that we as parents can implement into our everyday lives which can offer us a safe landing place when transition causes us to feel as if the bottom has dropped out from under us. Life-giving routines such as the reflective prayer of the Daily Examen, breath prayers, and intentionally living with mindful attentiveness to our present moment with God and ourselves can help us to stay in Trinitarian fellowship no matter what season we find ourselves. Practicing these during seasons of stability can keep us spiritually grounded when transition threatens to shake us.
Transition requires that you “own your stuff.” It is perfectly normal to feel like you are coming unglued during times of transition. You don’t have to have it all together. No one expects you to. Have grace for yourself as you and your family move from one season to the next. No one can force you to work through the emotional upheaval that is brought on by transition, but then no one can help you either. Whatever we don’t work through gets carried over into the next season of life. Treat yourself and your feelings with the same kindness and “inner hospitality” (Paintner, 2011, p. 96) that you would offer to a friend, even (or especially) the “bad” or “negative” emotions. Remember, your children are watching, and they are looking for permission, to be honest about their raw emotions and personal struggles. Give yourself that same permission to be real. Lean into Holy Spirit for wisdom, both on how to model vulnerability as well as how to seek forgiveness when you blow it.
Transition requires support. Transition can feel isolating. As creatures designed by Community, for community, we are meant to share our faith journey with others, and no time can be more imperative to share than during times of transition. For some, this is easier than others. I have personally tried both isolation and interconnectedness during transition. While suffering silently may seem easiest, it is more painful and damaging in the long run. There are no gold stars for stoicism. Having the courage to say what you need in hard times to safe people can feel challenging initially, but it leads to a more authentic, “whole-hearted” (Brown, 2010, p. 1) approach to life, both within and without transition. Once you are able to live in this place of receiving from your koinonia, or faith journey friends, you will be better able to offer that same fellowship of support to your children.
No matter what the circumstances, change is a hard but constant part of life; it is that part which has the most potential to transform our and our children’s hearts. How we choose to engage and move through transition as parents will significantly impact the course of our families, especially our children’s faith journeys.
Getting Practical: An Examen for Transition
Ignatius Loyola practiced a prayer we call the Examen. This form of prayer leads the participant through five steps: acknowledging the presence of God, practicing gratitude, emotional awareness, praying through an element of one’s day, and looking ahead towards tomorrow.
Find a few moments of quiet in your schedule. Intentionally plan out this time as you would an appointment. Allow yourself somewhere between five to fifteen minutes, which you can of course extend as necessary.
- Sit in a comfortable upright position. If you are in a chair, place your feet flat on the floor. If you are on the floor, sit in a cross-legged position. Roll your shoulder back and extend the spine. You can place your hands in your lap, palms down or up. Take in a deep cleansing breath through the nose, then release with an audible exhale through the mouth. Do this two more times, trying to deepen your breath with each inhale. Let your breath return to a normal rhythm. As you do this, turn your attention to the presence of God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), right now, in this moment, in this place, with you.
- After you acknowledge God’s presence, reflect on your day. As you mentally review the parts of the day you have already lived, identify three things, people, opportunities, etc. for which you are grateful. Give thanks to God for these things.
- Move now into awareness of your emotional state. Where are you at right now? Are you frustrated? Impatient? Elated? Surprised? Ask yourself why you are feeling this specific emotion and what this emotion can teach you about yourself and about God. What other emotions did you experience today? Did they rule you? Did you numb? Were you present? Did you share? Ask God to reveal to you one way in which you experienced your emotions in a healthy, life-giving way; give thanks for this temperance. Then ask God to reveal one way in which you mishandled your emotions, either towards yourself, others, or God. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you how you could have responded in a greater measure of love; ask for forgiveness. Ask also for awareness, wisdom, and courage to respond in greater love the next time. Thank God for your emotions and for what they can teach you about God, His kingdom, and your humanity.
- As you continue to review your day, identify areas of your transition which have impacted you today. It could be a major event or a smaller action or even a simple thought, but transition impacts us on many levels. Recall ways in which your ordinary routines and thought processes were altered or interrupted as a result of your transition. Choose one particular “interruption” and examine it, allowing your thoughts, and the emotions attached to them, to emerge as a prayer. Ask God to help you to use this transitional incident to draw you deeper into Trinitarian fellowship and to equip you for transitional elements which may present themselves tomorrow.
- Look ahead to tomorrow. What are you expecting? What might surprise you or catch you off guard? Do you have any anxiety or worries about the future? How might your transition impact the events or emotions of tomorrow? Present these concerns to God, and ask that you may be filled with hope in the midst of uncertainty.
- Conclude your prayer time. Invite Jesus to teach you the ways of the Father through the Holy Spirit, empowering you to live tomorrow, and in your transition, with abounding grace, abundant life, and transforming love.
Bridges, W. (2003). Managing Transitions: Making The Most Of Change
Brown, B. C. (2010). The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed To Be and Embrace Who You Are
Paintner, C. V. (2011). The Artist’s Rule: Nurturing Your Creative Soul with Monastic Wisdom.