“So, do you know what’s next?”
Have you ever been asked this before, or asked someone else? This question inevitably seems to come up when we’re in transition. It’s a question that carries a lot of weight, with many other questions and emotions hitched to it. There just often isn’t a simple, clear answer.
Transitions are demanding, and there’s no avoiding their sets of challenges. We all undergo a multitude of transitions throughout our lives: starting a new job, enduring the loss of a loved one, getting married, moving to a different place, becoming a parent. I bet many of you out there are in the middle of transition right now, and even if you’re not, you likely know someone who is. How can we manage our transitions well or support those we know in transition?
That loaded question of what’s next is one my husband and I frequently hear these days. We recently moved back to the United States after living in Kenya for two years. There, we were partnering with an organization working in East Africa. Here, we are trying to gather our bearings, hoping to go a day without accidentally thanking someone in Swahili.
Sometimes, I respond to this question by cautiously dreaming out loud about the future. Other times, it is my least favorite question, and I find myself either giving a carefully prepared response or stammering out sentences that don’t remotely resemble a coherent answer.
The thing is, my life has undergone some significant upheaval over the last few months. My ministry assignment came to an end, I said goodbye to friends, and I moved. My worldly belongings are stored in suitcases and boxes for the most part, and occasionally, I blank out when someone asks me for my new cell number. So what’s next? I’m still processing what was before, and trying to figure out what’s now. I’m learning to navigate life in-between.
Transitions are the ending of one season and the beginning of another. My husband and I are still walking through the unsettled dust of ours. So much remains in question for us—where we will be longer term, when we’ll feel like we’re really “back,” and so on. We are in an in-between place. Being in that place can be uncomfortable because it requires us to wait, to contend, and to be uncertain. It’s even normal for questions about identity, purpose, and calling to arise as we undergo this upheaval.
Something that can be overlooked is the loss we can experience during transitions. Even in the midst of positive changes, there are losses to mourn. Several years ago, a friend of mine was moving to a different state for an exciting new job. As we sat down for one last meal together, we talked about the things she’d be leaving behind—everything from close friends to favorite places to being a stone’s throw from the beach.
There’s no set timeframe for grief, and there’s no telling how it will look for one person versus another. My grief has looked like sudden crying when a pretty song comes on the radio, and it has also looked like the urgent need to get away to the mountains for solitude.
Though it may be tempting to charge through and leave it all behind, giving space and voice to our grief is a way of pausing, taking time to give thanks for what we had (or didn’t have) and what we are stepping into, and to sort through our emotions.
Navigating Through the TensionSomeone told me, right before moving back to the States, to try to remain in the “tension of the transition” for as long as possible—adding that it’s in that tension that God reveals so much to us, and that he has gifts waiting for us there. As I’ve navigated this transition, I’ve learned there are key things that help me discover the gifts God has for me here.
It’s easy to let this one slip. Be sure you are taking care of yourself by eating well, exercising, and getting proper sleep. It’s tough to function when you’re physically worn down.
Lean on your loved ones.
Identify your inner circle of people—those who know you well and whom you trust. You should feel comfortable around them, because there might be crying. You need people who can and will non-awkwardly take your tears.
Write it down.
Open up your computer and type it all out, or grab a notebook. Write out your thoughts, questions, and prayers. If journaling is new to you, try scheduling regular blocks of time (30 minutes every day, for example) for it.
Take a hiatus from your virtual life.
I took a break from social media for several weeks when I left Kenya at the recommendation of a colleague. It helped me to be more present and self-aware, and it also helped me be more intentional in how I engaged others.
Seek some soul care.
This may include times of quiet prayer and silence in the morning, a directed spiritual retreat, or partaking in life-giving activities. What restores your spirit?
Find someone to walk alongside you.
Consider finding a professional coach or counselor to help guide you during your transition. They can help with processing and keeping you accountable in caring for yourself.
Maybe you’re not in transition yourself, but you know someone who is. Here are some ways to support them:
Offer to help, but be specific.
I had a friend who went through a traumatic time last year, and someone offered to babysit her young son. This lifted her spirits significantly. It’s lovely to hear someone say, “Let me know if I can help with anything!” but it can often be hard to think of “anything” when your mind is in a million places. Name some things you could help with: driving, cooking, dropping something off at the post office, etc.
Let this person know of your presence, but give them some space.
Your loved one in transition may be unsure of how to interact with others or communicate what they are going through. That’s okay and totally normal. Gently let them know you are on their team. That goes a long way.
Do not listen to respond, but listen to understand. It might be hard, but consider asking only a few questions and opt to simply listen. Listening is a profound, sacrificial act of love that can be tremendously supportive.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Cat Caya and her husband Jim have served with CRM since 2008. They are currently discerning the place God has for them, while continuing to invest in Kenya from a new home base.