illustration By Owen Gatley
Stories

Living in the In Between

How to navigate life’s many transitions.

Mary Leigh Keith

I tore out the journal entry—a list of everything that’d happened over the past three years—and handed it to my counselor.

She studied me. “How did you feel writing this?” she asked.

“Tired.”

Eight moves. Four states. Three jobs. Two surgeries. One wedding. 

I was drowning.

Unbeknownst to me, I was in the thick of a transition. God was ready to teach me something new, but the process wasn’t going to be easy.

What are transitions, really?

I used to think “transition” was directly linked to life change, like getting married or changing jobs. Though transitions are often triggered by life changes, Terry Walling says in Stuck! Navigating Life and Leadership Transitions, that transitions can be any “defined period of time where one phase of an individual’s development ends, and another phase needs to begin.”

Like vehicles, transitions take us from one place in our journeys with God to the next. God uses them to reveal and heal areas of woundedness, correct faulty belief systems, and breathe new direction into our lives.

This takes time. Terry says transitions can last from three months to three years. These seasons, he says, are “often characterized by a prolonged period of restlessness, self-doubt, lack of motivation, job stagnation, diminished confidence, lack of direction, distance from God, isolation, relational conflict and tension, lack of effectiveness, and a struggle to stay focused and motivated.”  

Transitions become the most significant seasons of our lives. But the journey can be confusing and frustrating, as we wait for God to reveal just what it is He’s trying to do.

Recognizing a transition

Does life seem like it’s spiraling out of control, nothing working the way it used to? In transition, you might feel overwhelmed, confused or weary. When you cry out to God, you sometimes experience silence in return.

Terry lists four stages of transition. Try to identify if and where you fit in the transition life cycle.

Entry

It wasn’t long after getting married, moving cross-country and beginning another new job that the relational conflict began—mostly with my husband. My tendency to try to control my relationships and keep everything in life operating perfectly was on steroids. Things were beyond my ability to control. I became edgy, anxious and easily thrown into fits of anger or despair. 

The worst was the silence from God. Trials had always brought us closer, but now all I felt was His distance. Is He even real? I wondered. 

Life crises—whether losing a job, having a baby, encountering new health problems or marital conflict—can catapult us into transition. Sometimes these happen simultaneously, making them immensely harder to handle.

“As the struggles continue, isolation grows,” Terry says. “Hope and courage are linked. As hope diminishes, so does courage. They begin to be replaced by anger and despair.”

Tension builds. Gradually, life unravels.

Evaluation

My pain led me to begin exploring what I believed and why. I needed to go backward before I could move forward.

With the help of Christian counseling, I reflected on early memories that were pivotal in the formation of my value systems. My self-worth was rooted in my performance and the approval of others, including God. I loathed myself, because I wasn’t performing well anymore. 

The idea of God loving me anyways? No way.

Over the course of several months, I uncovered some of my greatest areas of wounding and my most twisted belief
systems. I desperately wanted to be free.

In the second phase of a transition, “Christ followers often rehearse past struggles, confront issues of wounding, consolidate lessons, deepen convictions and challenge life assumptions,” Terry says. “Evaluation will produce moments of truth when a follower comes face to face with issues of self.”

Imagine a surgeon cutting out a cancerous tumor. The scalpel hurts. But our Physician
always cuts to heal.

Alignment

As God bring things to the surface, He wants to align them with His will. There’s a word for this: surrender. That might mean forgiving someone, repenting of self-sufficiency or learning to accept God’s grace and love.

“The prize of surrender is revelation,” Terry says. “Most want revelation. Few want surrender.” 

The process is painful, and again, it takes time. God uncovers something; we wrestle and then hopefully surrender to Him in it. But then He might uncover something else. God is never in a hurry, and sometimes this can be frustrating.

After almost 17 months of uncovering wound upon wound, I was angry and bitter. Any time I sought God, I did so brokenly. 

While I was jogging one drizzly day, a song called Good, Good Father played through my headphones.

God’s presence. Quiet, but unmistakable. And from Him I felt only love. Raindrops mingled with my tears as I realized He was still there. Refusing to give up on me. Refusing to stop loving me.

Oh God, I cried. I’ve challenged You to leave a thousand times. Yet You keep coming toward me, arms outstretched. I concede to Your nonsensical, unconditional love. 

That rainy run was a surrender moment for me.

Direction

The last stage of transition is often characterized by one or more moments of revelation. The scales are slowly removed from our eyes, and God’s plan and purpose begin to unfold. 

“Months, maybe years, of journey are galvanized into a future direction,”
Terry says.

We start hearing God’s voice again. The path that was twisted in darkness lights, if dimly, before us. 

Toward the end of my own transition, I got to sit with a young woman who was in the thick of one. I listened. I offered my story. Tears streamed down her face as she whispered many “me toos.” I put my arm around this woman and prayed for the things I myself had needed just a few months before.

I also began writing publicly about my experiences with transition, depression and wrestling with God.

God’s biggest purpose for my transition was to help me understand that my worth stemmed from His unconditional love for me. Now the challenge is stepping out in faith and believing He can use my voice to help others. 

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