Dr. Connie Befus
Periodically, God calls us into transitions—times of significant change in our work, roles, location, or relationships. Even when we welcome a change, the process of transition is never easy and usually tests both our character and our faith.
Typical Transition Stories
Fred and Carol have lived in their lovely home for 30 years, but Fred is now in a wheelchair, and Carol has trouble with her eyesight. Neither can drive so they must give up their car. They need to move to a senior residence where they can have more help, but both are dismayed at the changes involved. Fred will miss feeding his birds and caring for his yard. Carol is agonizing over what furnishings to give away. There are so many decisions to make! Both Fred and Carol are anxious about what lies ahead. They are having trouble sleeping and occasionally snap at each other. Fred and Carol are in transition.
Tammy feels big and round and uncomfortable. Her baby is due in two weeks. She and Brad are thrilled about the baby, but now that birth is near, Tammy feels overwhelmed. She’s anxious about the birthing process and whether she will be a good mother. The nursery needs to be painted, and Brad is working so many hours that he has no time. His stress shows itself in long silences and irritable sarcasm. Tammy and Brad are in transition.
Nancy has been promoted to vice president in her company. She feels honored, but overwhelmed. She hopes she can do what is expected of her. Also, she now supervises people who used to be peers and friends; she will have to evaluate their performance and reprimand them—if needed. She feels the loss of those friendships and the burden of responsibility. While she waits for movers to do their jobs, her old and new offices are in upheaval. Nancy is in transition.
Other typical transitions occur when we lose a loved one, recover from a long illness, have a kid go away to college, change jobs or schools, or relocate in any way.
Some transitions we seek out; others are thrust upon us. Whether we want them or dread them, transitions involve changing our behaviors and the way we think. In fact, a transition can be aptly described as the process of detaching ourselves from familiar routines, places, or people, and then learning how to connect, be useful, and feel a sense of belonging in the new place, role, or relationships.
In the very middle of a transition, between detaching and re-attaching, there is often a period of anxiety and confusion. It can feel chaotic—and lonely. It is comforting then, to remind ourselves that, in fact, we are not alone. Our loving Lord is right in the chaos and stress with us, for Jesus promised: “I am with you always.” (Matthew 28:20)
Even though our Lord is with us, however, it is normal to feel stressed during transitions. Typical stress symptoms show up, such as irritability, tense muscles, headaches, loss of sleep… We are not our best selves.
We are not our best selves partly because of the stress, but also because most of us become more selfish during a transition. There is so much to be done and so much to think about. So many emotions surface. As a result, we tend to focus on our own survival. It is hard to think about anyone else.
On top of the stress and trying to survive, we might experience some identity confusion. As our location, relationships or jobs change, our self-image may need to evolve as well. Who are we, as things change? How are we affected by what other people think? Who do we want to be? It can be disorienting! In such moments, it is helpful to remember our truest, most fundamental identity: we are God’s dearly loved children, purchased at tremendous cost and constantly watched over and cared for. That is our foundational identity (I John 3:1).
Another truth about any transition is that usually grieving needs to be done. When we lose comfortable routines, familiar environments, closeness with certain people—those are genuine losses. Even when we want a transition and will derive many gains, there are losses we need to grieve.
How wonderful then, that in the midst of loss, stress, and identity changes, our Lord promises not only to be with us, but also to provide his comfort, strength, and wisdom. The apostle Paul wrote, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles…” (2 Corinthians 1:3, 4). And, the Lord, speaking to the apostle Paul, and to us, said: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness,” and the apostle James wrote, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5).
As they move to a small apartment and adjust to Fred’s wheelchair and Carol’s limited eyesight, Fred and Carol will have to adapt many of their routines. They will miss their old kitchen, yard, neighbors, and going places in their car. Fred and Carol’s identities and self-concepts will also change. They used to think of themselves as self-reliant people who contributed significantly to their community. Now they need to receive help from others and be content with contributing to their community in smaller ways. They will need to mourn their losses and, in time, be willing to make new friends. But they can always rely on their heavenly Father’s love and care; they can express their grief to him and draw on his comfort, strength, and wisdom as they make decisions and adjust to new routines and relationships.
Tammy cannot fix up the nursery alone, but she can ask the Lord to give her patience with Brad’s time constraints. After their baby is born, Tammy and Brad can ask for God’s help as they develop new sleeping patterns, share household chores in different ways, and let go of recreations and relationships that don’t accommodate their little one. Both Brad and Tammy will add to their lives the weighty identity of parent, with all of the responsibilities involved, but they can draw on God’s grace to be patient with each other and lean on his wisdom as they create new patterns of family living.
In her promotion, Nancy has lost the comfortable relationship she had with friends at work. She will need to mourn those losses and embrace her new responsibilities with courage. She will need to adjust her concept of her own identity and grow into the authority of her new position. But with God’s help, Nancy can figure out how to be a kind, approachable, yet firm vice president—the kind of person God wants her to be.
Brad and Tammy, Fred and Carol, and Nancy are at different points of the continuum of life and are dealing with different kinds of transitions. But each of them can trust their loving Father as the designer of their lives, who is always working for their good in ways they may not be able to see (Romans 8:28).
How about you and me?
Parts of a transition can be fun—a new adventure. We should enjoy those parts!
But the identity changes, the detaching and re-attaching, the stress, the grieving, the learning curve involved… all that can be very, very hard. Understandably—we may be stressed. We may wonder what God is doing and how it can possibly be for our good. In those moments, it is helpful to pause and remember our truest, most fundamental identity as his dearly loved children. It helps to remember that God is always at work for our ultimate good. That is his promise.
The challenges inherent in transitions serve as tests of our character and our faith. They are great reminders that we need to “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3: 5, 6).
While it always helps during times of stress to pause, take some deep breaths, stretch those tired muscles, and remember all we are grateful for, it is even more important to consciously choose to rest in our Lord’s presence and promises. The psalmist wrote, “Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you” (Psalm 55:22). Notice that it does not say he will take the cares away, but that he will sustain us in them! We can trust him for the strength and wisdom we need—and for help being the kind of people he wants us to be—even in transitions.
Dr. Connie Befus
Congregational Care Coordinator
Dr. Befus began serving as Congregational Care Coordinator at FPC in May of 2017. Before moving to Lakeland, Connie, who is a psychologist, served as Director of Member Care for missions organizations. Connie and her husband, David, also served in various ministries in Latin America for more than 17 years. Connie earned her Master’s in Guidance and Counseling from the University of Michigan and her Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the University of Miami, Florida. She grew up in Africa as the child of missionary parents and has lived in seven countries. David and Connie have a son and daughter, both married, and one grandchild. Connie enjoys occasionally consulting or providing workshops for mission agencies and loves to read, walk, or garden.