I’ve recently met with a lot of people going through transition. Whether they are leaving a posting, parting company with their sending agency, closing a ministry, going to a new country… people in mission relocate frequently and are no strangers to change.
People going through change often notice their physical reactions. They may be unusually tired (beyond the usual jetlag symptoms) or unduly emotional. This disturbs them, as they like to think of themselves as self-controlled, focussed people who don’t fall apart easily. But something about leaving has rocked their boat, and they lose emotional equilibrium. And losing emotional equilibrium rocks their boat further. So they get tearful, or angry, or sleepy. It’s a perfectly natural response to a stressful situation. And relocation is stressful.
It’s like being a plant that has its roots pulled out of a nice snug pot, teased apart a little, and planted back in new soil, unfamiliar soil. We all know that this needs to be done periodically to help the plant thrive, but you can be certain that the plant doesn’t appreciate the experience. Most plants wilt a little, or drop a few leaves, before bouncing back with new growth. Transition is seldom enjoyable.
There is the stress of packing things up, deciding what to keep and what to do with the rest. There is the endless paperwork involved. There are emotional goodbyes with people we love. There is grief at losing relationships, guilt at having the freedom to move on, and bereavement as we leave projects and people we have worked with for years. If things haven’t worked out there may be a nagging sense of failure, and if our departure is forced, there may be fear, anger and disempowerment involved.
There is also uncertainty about the future – where we are going to live, be church, work and relax. We may be going to a different culture with which we are unfamiliar. And we know from experience that transition is seldom one clean step – there are many moves, new starts and restarts until we can feel settled again. And just as we think we’ve got there, another change rocks our boat, or some innocent comment or event triggers a memory and throws us back into crisis.
Recognising how the uncertainties and stresses affect us is the first part of the solution. Understanding how the transition affects us reminds us we need to take steps to treat ourselves to familiar things – if you’re going to a major world city it’s quite possible that your favourite chain of coffee shops or restaurants has got there before you! Doing familiar things helps us cope with the unfamiliar, so we can take refuge in our favourite meals, music or hobbies, and take time to talk with loved ones who support us through the change.
But above all connecting with God is important. In the busyness of transition God often gets squeezed out, when he is needed even more. He is the one unchanging constant in our ephemeral lives, and when everything else is upheaval he is the same – yesterday, today and forever. Many of the Psalmists in times of difficulty and turmoil wrote songs to him reconciling their trust in his unfailing goodness with their unpleasant experiences. Reading them helps us to connect with him in the midst of our turmoil:
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, and the mountains slip into the heart of the sea…
Cease striving, and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:1-2, 10)