St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church August 25, 2019
Transitions: Eccles 3: 1-8; Romans 12: 1 – 2; Ephesians 4:17 – 24
When we think of these amazing transformations in nature, it looks so natural and easy. When it comes to humans, we seldom embrace change. We resist, often kicking and screaming. What frightens us so much about change? Frequently, our fears are based on the unknown…all the potential things that could possibly happen … all the what if’s … Some of us get all spiritual, reciting: God, grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change… Courage to change the things I can, and Wisdom to know the difference. Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time, accepting hardship as the pathway to peace … you know the rest. Yup, that sounds great but most of us would rather pray …God please change others to think the same way I do. Help them to realize they’re wrong and grant them wisdom to know that I’m right. Living 10 days in one, trying to fit everything I can into 24 hours. Taking my pain and sorrow away so I can live an easy life and don’t have to deal with problems. Trusting that You will give me everything I want so I can be happy in this life without thinking about the next … Amen?
When we look at the Bible, it is filled with transitions, beginning in Genesis with the creation of the world and Adam and Eve being kicked out of the Garden of Eden to the succession of Israel’s prophets, priests and kings to Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection, to images of heaven and the future in the book of Revelation. As humans, most of us seem hard-wired for routine and yet, change is all around us. You only have to look at our present technology to realize that the train has left the station and many of us are left behind, gawking from the platform. There are many things for which we can be prepare, and yet we can’t prepare for every eventuality in life. There will always be those surprises, those last-minute glitches, those unspeakable, unavoidable tragedies.
Transitions fall into a few categories: transitions by choice, such as changing careers or moving to a new community; transitions that are forced upon us, such as those related to accidents, death, or health; and transitions related to growth and healing, that often come with anticipation. How well we handle these transitions depends on our attitude and how we cope with the changes. It has been said that there are three primary stages: ending, the neutral zone, and beginning. It sounds simple, however, it is often very complex. When something in our life comes to an end, our equilibrium is lost. What was once, is no more. There is a great sense of loss. Even if it were something bad, it was known, familiar, predictable. Our identities have changed. I am no longer the exact same person I was. Our perspective has also changed, yet it is unclear as to what that is or what it will become. We feel incomplete, confused, disoriented. This is natural … normal. Our old life, as we knew it, is gone. We need to grieve that loss, not jump ahead without saying goodbye, otherwise it will impact the opportunity for growth.
Letting go is hard. We have a lot of mixed feelings about this: positive and negative and some downright terrifying. Letting go is even harder when we don’t know what to grab onto next. And that takes us into the neutral zone, somewhere between feeling a victim and wanting to be in control. A place that is neither connected with the past nor solidified with the new – neither egg nor butterfly. This is a challenging place to be because it is a place of many questions and few answers. Why did this happen to me? Why now? What did I do to deserve this? IF there is a God, why am I being punished? During this time, doubt may seep into our lives. We’re not able to trust who we are, what we think, how we feel. We may make rash decisions, consider suicide, take our anger out on others or we may be paralyzed by fear – immobilized, like deer in the headlights, wondering if we’ll be hit by a loaded 40,000 lb. tractor-trailer coming at us at 80 miles an hour … and POW! we’re roadkill … At this point, we usually want our circumstances to change, either to go back to the ways things were (that nice, cozy egg on the milkweed plant) or to a better place. We want the pain to go away. We want to feel better. We want to go around, over, or under the problem, rather than through it. Sometimes, we never let go … of that toxic relationship, of that painful memory, of that old way of life. As long as we hang on, and usually it’s with both hands, we can’t live in the present or consider the future. It’s like an anchor, holding us at one place in time … forever. We think that if we let go, all will be lost, forgotten, wasted, forever bobbing up and down on a turbulent ocean of despair.
We crave certainty and stability, yet what we face is another challenge, neutral zone, the gradual envelopment of the caterpillar by the chrysalis. It’s counter-intuitive to think that solitude and reflection could lead anywhere – maybe that’s the point: there’s nowhere to go, nowhere to be. As we are immobilized in the cocoon, all else disappears. All our senses are impaired. Bound in our own vulnerability, we have nothing to offer. How do I get out of this? The chrysalis cannot be forced open; if it is, it dies. This re-birth emerges in its own time, in its own way. Despite outward appearances, change is happening within. Our life continues in the darkness, with shallow breath. We fear the dark, the emptiness, the loneliness of this place. We feel as if each breath may be our last … and, sometimes, we wish it were. Whether we choose to embrace or resist these phases is up to us.
In this no-man’s-land, all is not as it appears – some things are hidden, others are confusing. If my only child dies, am I still a mother? If I have a cochlear implant, am I Deaf or hearing? If no one loves me, does that mean I’m unlovable? Romans 12 says, Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. New beginnings are rarely clear and yet … we put one step in front of the other, hoping that direction is the right one. If we are able to use this “down-time” as an opportunity to reflect, we may discover renewed energy, clearer direction, and increased commitment to live a better life.
Jesus often took time to be alone, in the desert, to slow down, to be with his thoughts … and God. When we are in the desert, ask, “What can I learn from this? How can I do things differently in the future? What is God trying to teach me?” In Jesus’ humanity, I’m sure he felt he was ready to begin his ministry earlier in life. He apprenticed with his father and probably wondered, why am I making tables and chairs? Is this what the Messiah is supposed to be doing? And yet that neutral zone prepared Him for a new beginning. When we look at our own lives, we may have regrets … about lost opportunities, detours, how we handled certain situations … and people. God’s not asking us to be perfect. He wants us to learn from our mistakes. He wants us to be transformed into His image, not conformed into what and who others think we should be. We have a desperate desire for God to wave a magic wand, revealing a road map with detailed instructions about how to navigate this foreign territory. However, those signs are often within. They may begin as a faint glimmer of something different, a strange thought or feeling, or may present as a Still Small Voice … or a shout Could this be the Holy Spirit prompting us to change? It’s not necessarily logical, however, there is a resonance with our spirit – our mind, will, and emotions. At first, it may not readily be explained, appearing as a dream and yet there is frequently an increasing sense of “rightness” about this new path.
New beginnings are often providential … that one teacher who believed in you and encouraged you to finish high school when you wanted to drop out, that stranger who introduced you to your future spouse, that neighbour who gave you a job lead, taking shop because the math class was too early in the morning and you wanted to sleep in. These all lead us in a particular direction along life’s path. When we’re ready to let go of the past and make room for new beginnings, opportunities arise. We have more energy, more strength to break out of the chrysalis … and a new creation emerges. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. (Eph 4:22- 24) Genuine beginnings depend on re-birth, an inner change that impacts us: mind, body, and spirit. We need to consider that maybe we need to “unlearn” a few things – to recognize that the old way of doing things, the old way of living and thinking, isn’t working anymore. Otherwise, we could stay in the cocoon forever, stuck in a never-ending tossing and turning of thoughts and ideas, spinning a chrysalis of confusion to the point that we are encased in a casket of hopelessness.
How we deal with adversity is also a matter of perspective. Yes, life is uncertain at the moment and there are many unanswered questions and … God is with us. Despite how we feel, we are assured we are not alone, even through the valley of the shadow of death. We need to trust the process of death to re-birth. In the Bible, we hear of this again and again, particularly through laments in the Old Testament that take us from depression to praise. We are not alone. As with the butterfly, we, too, struggle with our metamorphosis from what we once were to whom God would have us become. We often want to hasten the process, to lessen the pain, to slit open the cocoon, and yet it is in God’s time that this all comes about.
There’s a song in every silence, seeking word and melody; there’s a dawn in every darkness, bringing hope to you and me. From the past will come the future; what it holds, a mystery, unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see. Who would ever dream that the Mojave Desert in southern California could be transformed from this [arid desert] to this [flourishing flora]? Torrential rains and scorching heat made it so.
As members of the Body of Christ, we each have different gifts, abilities, roles, and responsibilities … and they may change over the course of our lifetime. Don’t be afraid to embrace, explore and initiate that change, whatever it may be. As we let go of the past and all that goes with it, we’re also making room for the present and future … a little scary, but also exciting. While taking a quiet moment for prayer and reflection, consider who you were, who you are, and who you would like to be … with your desire and God’s grace, you can change. Amen