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Life is made up of transitions as we make changes either necessitated by age and circumstance or chosen by deepening wisdom. Ready or not, we all go through numerous transitions in our lives, and they usually involve loss. Are you experiencing one now? Perhaps you have a lost a loved one or a spouse through divorce. Perhaps you are losing clarity of sight or hearing. Perhaps you have lost the good level of health you had taken for granted. Or, maybe you relate to the experience of my sister and mother-in-law who have recently let go of the majority of their possessions when they moved out of homes that had held their lives and families for half a century. Talk about transition!
Every transition involves change, and Richard and Linda Eyre say that, “change is the hardest thing. Even changing our ideas about what and who we want to be is hard. Our brain and our body resist change. But giving in to either of them is like giving them license to slow down and atrophy and weaken.”
I saw my loved ones triumph over the resistance that kept popping up as they prepared to move. When we recognize our resistance to good or inevitable change, we can ask the Lord to lead us into acceptance and new strength.
Transitions are unique times when we are in process of tossing off the old and stepping into the new. This article will offer guidelines that will smooth rough transitions. While the circumstances are always different, the attitudes needed to successfully forge ahead are always the same, namely being positive, patient, and persistent.
A positive attitude means to see change as “opportunity.”
In the movie Up in the Air, George Clooney plays a character whose job is to fire people for companies that are downsizing. He always begins his termination speech with, “I’m here to talk to you about new opportunities.” A bit of a stretch in that situation, but nonetheless true. Every ending brings a new beginning, a fresh start. We effectively wipe clean our slate, whether by choice or by circumstances thrust upon us. From there, we get to choose exactly how to respond to the changes and how we wish to start a new life.
Leaving behind the old can be scary and sad. But mourning the passing of the old doesn’t mean you aren’t going to appreciate the new. You can be grateful for the good in what has been and then move boldly forward into all that can be. We realize we will never have back the old in the same way again. But we can remind ourselves that the new life we are beginning could never be if the changes hadn’t happened.
We should never expect new patterns to immediately feel comfortable, because we have stepped out of our comfort zone. Experts advise that we can expect some anxiety and even some depression in these transition times. No surprise there! If we don’t focus on the positive steps we need to take, our imaginations can run wild, and we can get stuck in worry about an unknown future. I saw both my sister and my mother-in-law go through this whole gamut of emotions. One of them said something like, “I feel like I’m on a shaky bridge. I can’t go back, but I have no idea what is on the other side, and I resist moving ahead.”
When we are feeling such uncertainty, we should always turn to the Lord. And support from others can help us keep perspective and keep us motivated to move ahead in positive ways. Family and friends can be our angels unaware, and make so much difference. Both my mother-in-law and my sister said many times, “What would I have done without family!” Sometimes professional help is warranted. We may need counseling, and if we are moving we may need professional cleaners, movers, Estate services, professional shoppers or professionals that help with the multitude of decisions that need to be made. Don’t be afraid to ask for the help you need. None of us can do the hardest things in life unaided, and maintaining a positive attitude is so much easier when we have the help we need!
While the particular circumstances in a transition may be new, the fact that the process itself is familiar can help us stay positive about it. We have all made transitions many times before—changing schools, neighborhoods, relationships, or jobs. A woman’s life is all about transitions as we move from one stage of life to another. We know the terrain, and we’ve acquired experience and skills along the way. We can keep our thoughts about the change positive by saying to ourselves, “I can face change again, and this time be even better at making the most of it.”
An Ecuadorian proverb humorously states, “Everything takes longer than it does.” Our ability to be patient can increase if we simply accept the fact that every step will probably take longer than we wish it would. When my sister was looking for just the right place to move (and looking and looking), she was often tempted to be impatient. She had to remind herself to accept the reality of the process and the time it would take. As my mother-in-law waited for an offer on her house, she had to remind herself of the same thing.
Writer Tim Maurer suggests that we add a significant margin of time to our calendars above and beyond what we think all the steps in our transition might take. He said, “Major life transitions are necessarily taxing on our time and money, at least initially. And because of the elements unique to every major life event, it is virtually impossible to accurately forecast the necessary allotment of time and money that will be required. The only solution is to plan for the unexpected by leaving a reasonable margin of time and money—a buffer—that can be consumed by the inevitable surprises that arise. Expect that it will take 20% longer and cost 20% more. This is the only defense against heaping more stress on an inherently stressful event.”[i] Perhaps calculating by a percentage is not necessary, but just plan that everything generally takes longer and costs more than we originally think it will.
It must be said that not all major life transitions are equal, but the nature of life’s major transitions include changes and surprises. Both can be a breeding ground for bumbling. Some mistakes are inconsequential, while others, as a result of our limitations in new experiences, may seem major. We all err, and in order to move forward, we need to develop more patience with ourselves and with others. When we expect glitches to happen when navigating life’s biggest transitions, we have the opportunity not only to survive them, but to thrive in and through and even because of them. The benefit of transition is that each one, while taxing and stressful, can lead to new growth and fresh experiences that can revitalize our lives.
Romans 5:3-4 gives us a great summary of the benefits of working through the hard times with patience: “We glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope.” What a great assurance to know that we can come out in the end with more hope!
Persistence and courage trump fear of the unknown.
We need to acknowledge the loss in whatever transition we are experiencing, but we don’t want to get stuck in the past. Acknowledging that a door is closed is psychologically healthy; spending time staring at a closed door is not. Remember that life is not tied to place or possessions or jobs or people: our life, identity, and memories are intrinsically tied to us, no matter the extent of the outer change or loss. What we need is the courage to persist, courage to keep moving ahead in spite of hard emotions.
Writer Reena Nagrani speaks of fear and discomfort when faced with major change and transition. “These feelings come on when I’m at a precipice in my life, when I’ve reached the edge of my comfort zone, when I’m standing at the threshold of an open door. In the past, I created much of my own anguish by lingering at the threshold of those open doors in my life. [I could become] paralyzed by indecision, poised in the terror of choosing between what was old, familiar, comfortable, or the possibility of something new, most likely better, but completely foreign. It felt more like jumping off a cliff than walking through a door. I know now from my past experiences that once I push past that barrier of the terror and pain, doors fling open and magic happens. Courage is like a muscle, you see. The more it’s used, the stronger it gets.”[ii]
I saw both my sister and my mother-in-law accomplish Herculean tasks as they flexed their courage muscles and let the motivation of new possibilities help them persist toward their goals.
That concept is comforting: the more we have the courage to persist, the easier persistence gets. Each time around, we know better. As we face open doors, we don’t need to linger at the threshold. We can persist, moving forward step by step, knowing that when life moves, it does so for us. Things are likely to get better. We can trust a guiding force greater than ourselves, and a loving One, at that.
The key is to keep moving ahead. You don’t have to do extraordinary things to insure that your transition will lead you to an extraordinary life, but you do have to be doing something. Elder Keith K. Hilbig, an emeritus member of the Seventy, said: “The path to eternal life is not on a plateau. Rather, it is an incline, ever onward and upward.”3 In order to move forward in life—past the stagnant parts of the river—we need to keep taking forward steps.
Complacency is surprisingly powerful, and the simple ins and outs of daily life can keep us in ruts. Big transitions can shake us out of complacency and help us enlarge the vistas of our existence. Overcoming complacency and finding the motivation to progress are the first steps to using a transition to improve the course of our life.
Progression is not only an eternal principle of the gospel but also an integral part of creating a meaningful life. Although life transitions can take you by surprise, you can find meaning and fulfillment by using them to shake free of old patterns and finding new and more satisfying goals.
My sister and my mother-in-law are both reaping the benefits of persisting through a really hard time and moving forward to a new goal. They have expressed relief at having far fewer possessions and square footage to care for and real satisfaction in regard to new beginnings.
We can experience those things, too. We just need to persist: take that next step. Put one foot in front of the other. When persistence seems too hard, we can remember a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “If you can’t fly, then run. If you can’t run, then walk. If you can’t walk, then crawl. But whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.” Transitions give can give us great motivation to move forward and take that next step.
Not just any step is optimal, however. Wisdom dictates that we pray to find the next step motivated and approved by the Spirit. When we resolve to keep taking the next step with a positive attitude, patience, and persistence, and feel that our direction is in line with the Lord’s will, a new spiritual journey awaits.
[i] Forbes magazine, 24 July, 2014.
[ii] Huffington Post, October 13, 2015.
- Keith K. Hilbig, “Quench Not the Spirit Which Quickens the Inner Man,” Ensign,Nov. 2007, 38.