The Truth About Transition
Anyone who has ever moved knows the challenge of that experience. I remember well the first months of my family’s move to Virginia five and a half years ago. For years I have spoken to my mother by phone at least weekly, and she has always asked me, “What’s new?” For months after our move to Virginia, my response was, “Everything. Everything is new.” I really had to think about every move I made—even where to get the cup and spoon for my morning coffee. I had gone from a place that was known and familiar to a place that was unknown and unfamiliar, and that is an experience that often leaves us feeling very vulnerable.
I have been reflecting this week on the life of Jacob in Genesis 29. Jacob has stolen the blessing from his brother Esau who now wants to kill him. Because of his efforts to take things into his own hands to get what he wants, Jacob is now forced to leave his home and all that he has known to save his life. The passage doesn’t really say much about his feelings, but he must have felt fear or he wouldn’t have left in the first place. And I would imagine there must be some sadness about leaving his parents and home as well as anxiety about where he is going and whether he will be received by his uncle. Despite all his efforts to control, he is certainly facing an unknown, uncertain future.
Transition of any kind is always a vulnerable place because we are in the place between where we have been and where we are going. As we live into that experience of transition, what is required of us is to let go of what we know to be open to what we do not yet know. This may include letting go of family, friends, a sense of place, a job, the routine to which we are accustomed. Letting go involves grief as we wake up to all that we are leaving behind and live into that vulnerable place of not knowing.
But what is so encouraging to me in Jacob’s story is that in that very place of vulnerability, God appears. God comes to Jacob not when he is in the Promised Land, not when he is living in community with the family of promise, but in this new and unfamiliar place. And he comes to Jacob while he is in that most vulnerable of human experiences—while he is sleeping. Jacob has done so much to grasp and control his own future, believing it’s all up to him. But in the vulnerable experience of transition, God reveals himself in a dream and speaks words of grace and promise. For the first time, Jacob begins to wake up to the reality that the promises given to his grandfather Abraham and his family are now the promises to him. He has a personal experience of God, and it is so significant that he seeks to mark this moment, this place, this turning point in his life in a memorable way.
Transitions come in many forms, not just physical moves. In truth, we are always in transition as we move through various ages and stages and seasons of life. Some of us are in the season of new beginnings with a new baby, a new job, or a new place. Though we may not be aware of it, even great joys require letting go as we rearrange our lives to open up to new realities and opportunities before for us. Other life experiences leave us with a deep awareness of our loss and need to let go as we adjust to being an empty nester, wrestle with a broken relationship, or grieve the death of a loved one and the treasured relationship we enjoyed.
But the good news is that we have a God who is with us and eager to meet and reveal himself to us—not where we were, not where we want to be, not where we wish we were—but right where we are. It is often in these times of transition when we are feeling most vulnerable that we are also most open to God—who he is and what he is doing in and for and through us—and able to recognize and celebrate his presence and promise. I am not currently in a time of significant transition in my external experience, but I am in a kind of spiritual transition in my soul. It’s unsettling, uncomfortable in many ways, but I’ve been through enough transitions to know that God is working in ways I do not yet see and will do for me what I do not even yet know I need. So I am taking time to name where I am in the journey, and I am waiting and expectant that the God who is with us will meet me where I am and give me what I need for this place and every future place in my journey. Jacobs’s story reminds and encourages me. God is always good, and loving, and faithful even when I am not.