by Joy McDonald Coltvet
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven. Ecclesiastes 3:1
Transitions are a part of life. In a fast-paced culture, it can even seem like that’s the only way of life. Change. Change. Change. Even things that we may have thought of as unchanging have changed: landscapes, borders, leadership, ways of life over time.
The writer of Ecclesiastes describes this phenomenon in a radically different time and culture—“there is a time for everything.” As a human family and throughout the course of life, we will experience all of these at some point: birth and death, seeking and losing, silence and speaking, weeping and laughing, planting and harvest.
For a year, I volunteered at a retreat center where transitions were the fabric of daily life. Every day we said hellos and goodbyes as people came and went. We all memorized the prayer that we repeated daily to bless people on their way. An important component of each person’s job in that ministry setting was to regularly update the “turnover file,” a description of everything someone needs to know to do your job—because each of us knew that everyone’s position is temporary. What each one does will be passed on to another. It’s a reality at every workplace, but not every place acknowledges that so openly. Even when practicing transition daily, it can feel like too much sometimes.
There was another time in my life, when many of my colleagues were moving on all at once to other ventures and workplaces for a variety of reasons. After goodbye after goodbye, I started to feel like I couldn’t go to one more farewell party. I was done. Not one more transition. I was overwhelmed by the flood of goodbyes.
“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” Isaiah 43:2
This promise assures us of God’s presence through all of life’s changes, especially when those changes feel overwhelming.
Other transitions lead to incredible joy
We pack up a car and head to college, full of the dreams and hopes of a community that has blessed us on our way. We walk down an aisle to a new life of partnership. A baby is born, an adoption referral packet comes—we bear and build family.
In the beginning, it seems as if nothing can make a difference, but then there is a break-through. One day we cannot imagine life without a wall. The next day that wall is crumbling. In any struggle, there are identifiable steps: ignoring, then resisting, then anger, then mocking, and finally, change. When we get to live through and see these steps, there are tears of relief and gratitude and joy.
But what if the transition we long for is not happening? Plenty of good people will say to the one who is waiting for change, “Just hold on. Relax. Work on you while you wait.” That doesn’t make it easier when we are longing for a transition, when we want to go to college or become married or bear a child.
When we long for healing or an end to pain or relief from grief. God has a heart for those who cry for change.
Sing, O barren one who did not bear; burst into song and shout, you who have not been in labor! For the children of the desolate woman will be more than the children of her that is married, says the LORD… Do not fear, for you will not be ashamed; do not be discouraged, for you will not suffer disgrace; for you will forget the shame of your youth, and the disgrace of your widowhood you will remember no more…for the LORD has called you. Isaiah 54:1, 3, 6a
In the waters of baptism, we are adopted by God. We emerge, dripping wet, born anew. As we remember our baptism, we mark the sign of the cross on our foreheads and daily are born anew. Each day, we experience sin and death. We experience forgiveness and new life.
And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true. Revelation 21:5
A new thing
“Oh yes” may be followed immediately by “oh no!” in our minds and hearts. Life is transition and depending on where we stand, we may rejoice or grieve as changes come along. When transitions in life are rapid or seem to be piling on one after another, they can feel overwhelming. A very human response is to dig in our heels and resist change. But sometimes God is the instigator of change. Where we are broken, God is at work piecing together the shards into a great mosaic. Where the fabric of life is ripped apart, God is mending and quilting. Where the stains of sin and evil are set in, God is scrubbing and cleansing. When God is doing a new thing, we can trust God. However difficult the change from old to new—Jesus is with us. God’s Holy Spirit breathes on us, helping us to catch a glimpse of how the winds of the Spirit are shaping the world and our lives—and helping us to share that story.
And they went out and proclaimed the good news everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that accompanied it. Mark 16:20
The Rev. Dr. Joy McDonald Coltvet is pastor at Christ on Capitol Hill, Saint Paul, a diverse urban worshiping community where she has the opportunity to talk daily with people experiencing transitions. She is also experiencing her own transitions through the journey of family, watching the seasons change, and the Spirit’s transforming power.