Transition. The word makes me tense. Our family is currently in the midst of transition, relocating from Eastern Europe to Southern California. For many, the end of summer signals an impending transition – families moving, new neighbors, new church, new job, new house with a different floor plan. For some, transition does not include a physical relocation. Parents sending a child off to college signals the beginning of a transition to an empty nest. Freshman college students will perhaps undergo the hardest transition of their lives thus far. For new retirees, there is transition to a new routine and new relational dynamic in the home. When are we not going through a transition?
After innumerable cross-continental and cross-cultural moves, I have learned to anticipate the emotional highs and lows of transition. Though I’m still learning to navigate transition gracefully, as a parent it is also my responsibility to teach my children how to respond and handle emotionally tense times. Parent or not, how can we encourage people, including ourselves, who are enduring the emotionally volatile territory of transition?
Psalm 34 Gives Hope During Transition
During our trans-Atlantic move these summer months, verses from Psalm 34 became a guide. I returned again and again to these words. They were instructions for my husband, our children, and myself on how to deal with the long relocation. Whatever type of transition you may be undergoing, recognize that God’s Word has supplied us with the truth and encouragement we need to bring us through the other side.
One of the strongest emotions we experience during transition is sadness. We mourn the loss of a lifestyle we’ve become accustomed to. When my six-year-old daughter’s eyes moistened with tears as we spoke of leaving friends, I told her of God’s promise in Psalm 34:18: “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” She is broken-hearted, crushed. What do I do? My daughter, Jesus is with you and knows how sad you are. He, more than I, can understand your sorrow and is your comfort.
Then verse 18 gives a promise: “When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears.” My daughter, tell Jesus about your sadness. Tell him those fears, the confusion, the sense of loss at saying goodbye. When a child (or you or a friend!) are broken in spirit and the tears come, this is the time to practice giving those burdens, telling those sorrows, to Jesus. Pray together, out loud. Everything you’ve just told me, tell it to Jesus.
Transition’s close companion is the fear that arises from uncertainty. Will I ever find good friends again? Will we be safe? Jesus replaces those fears of the unknown with a godly fear of him. “I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears” (v. 4). It would not be incorrect to say he delivered me from fearing. My daughter, what are some of your concerns during this transition? Tell them to Jesus. He delivers and replaces those fears with himself. “Oh, fear the Lord, you his saints, for those who fear him have no lack!” (v. 9).
Reflecting on the past can exacerbate grief. Will we ever have that experience again? Will we ever have such a great church family again? Healthy reflection means acknowledging God’s goodness and faithfulness in the past. “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!” (v. 8). My daughter, what are some of your favorite memories from living here? What will you miss the most? Those were all blessings from God, evidence and reminders that the Lord is good. We grieve losing them, but we grieve in thankfulness and hope.
Then, in the midst of it all – the jetlag, the loneliness, boxes, lack of routine, unknown expectations at the new job— what does verse one tell us to do? “I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth.” Yes, the Lord has been good. Let’s praise him. “Oh, magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together” (v. 3). Worship, as an individual or a family, brings the changes into their right perspective. God’s glory eclipses our anxieties.
With most relocations, there is an initial time of lull in routine. My circle of friends is still small, the children are not yet enrolled in classes or extracurricular activities, and regular commitments are few. This time is a gift—a gift of reflection, seeking the Lord and his will in this new place. Though I may feel like I lack friends, activities, and routine, verse 10 reminds me that in seeking the Lord we “lack no good thing.”
But the sadness, anxiety, or fear can still come. We must remind ourselves that the Lord is with us (v. 7). As we move, He moves with us. Our sanctuary is with Him, in His presence, not in the comfort or familiarity we have in a particular house, neighborhood, or circle of friends.
Much as the Lord offers salvation and redeems us to become his own, he redeems the losses we’ve felt again and again. The experience of transition is an instrument God uses for our benefit and His glory. When all our certainty, anchors, and expectations crumble, “the Lord is near.” Though my little daughters and son may not recognize and be able to trace God’s faithfulness in their lives right now, it is a part of their story, something they can learn to identify as they move yet again.
Whatever future transitions may come, may we all remember, as Psalm 34 directs us, to find our hope and security in the Lord.
Heidi Carlson is a third culture kid and a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy. She holds a master of arts in security affairs and is currently living a nomadic life as her family moves from rural, southern Romania to San Diego, CA. She and her husband have three children. She is currently a member of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Norfolk, VA where she was a teacher in the women’s Bible study program. She blogs at Will Travel with Kids.