By: Dennis Gruening
September 17th, 2021
In this four part-series we are looking at four different words to help us examine our ministry as counselors. Last time we talked about the importance of self-care as counselors, meaning purposefully assessing ourselves and our ministry and intentionally refocusing ourselves on Jesus Christ who is sufficient to bear fruit in and through us.
WORD 2: TRANSITION
In my last blog post, I talked a little bit about the transition that we as a family have been in. We moved to Germany to support biblical counseling and replicate the work Twelve Stones is doing in a place that desperately needs it. As I thought about the topics for these blog posts, what was evident to me is that transitions are important pivot points in life and counseling.
WORLD TURNED UPSIDE DOWN
Over the last three years of counseling at Twelve Stones, I have encountered many people who have struggled with transitions. The most obvious and impactful mention of transition has always been people talking about their family’s moves. I’m not talking about the people who moved 1-3 times throughout their upbringing (though clearly every person is affected differently and only one single transition like that can be a very difficult experience). But, I’m talking about those who grew up having to move six, eight, or even ten times. Often these people struggle significantly with life, primarily in two areas: identity and relationships.
For one, people who had to move a lot as kids have been dragged from place to place, each time encountering all or some of the following: different people, different values, different expectations, different histories, different languages, different religions, different churches, and different schools. Each time they try to adjust and fit in. They try to find the right affiliation as well as say and do the right things, and above all, try to find - and then be true to - themselves. But it’s very easy to lose one’s sense of self. I’m not talking about this oft-repeated idea of putting self in the center of life and “finding” who you want to be. I’m talking about the natural process of a human being coming into their own, understanding who they are and how they fit in their community. It’s about the development of stability, routine, habits, character, and values. The more this process gets interrupted or complicated, the more likely it is for a person to struggle.
Secondly, those who have had to pick up their lives time and again often struggle to build healthy relationships. Some people get really good at making new friends quickly without attaching deeply, because they may have to “disconnect quickly.” Others struggle to make friends, so they try to find someone to attach to and go really deep hoping it will be their refuge relationally. In other words, people either champion relationship-building and never go deep or they try to build themselves small relational fortresses which, when breached, lead to even deeper wounds.
I think you’re getting the picture. Transitions can turn our world upside down and we are in danger of getting stuck in vertigo.
...people either champion relationship-building and never go deep or they try to build themselves small relational fortresses which, when breached, lead to even deeper wounds.
FOUNDATION AND PRIORITY
The depth of pain, the influence of confusion, the fear of change, the disruption to stability, and the weariness of trying again are just some of the factors to complicate our lives, especially when we are talking about transitions in life. Obviously, you don’t have to move towns or states or countries to feel the impact of transitions. Moving from elementary school to middle school, changing from a job you had for 10 years to starting over because of a staff reduction, learning to deal with life now that you know you have a terminal illness; any and all of those transitions severely impact life.
As I thought about the transitions in life and the impact they bring, especially those unexpected or known but unanticipated complications, I asked myself, “How are we supposed to deal with this as believers?” When trouble arises, we often ask questions like: “Why do people not like me?” “Why did I have to lose this job?” “Why did I have to get this disease?” “Why couldn’t my dad just stay at this job?”
Tired, weary, frustrated, disoriented, detached, helpless, sad – just some things most people experience in transition. That’s what those questions communicate.
Personally, we have been seen a lot of things like this as we have moved to Germany. Do I know why I am here? Yes – God called us. Am I tired? Yes – because this is very hard. Are there frustrations? Yes, my own, those of my wife, and those of my kids. As husband and father, I have to help carry their problems and point each of them to Christ. But when one of our daughters said, and I’m paraphrasing, “Why did you bring me here? You’re ruining my life!” both my wife and I were gutted! We had prayed and asked the Lord’s wisdom many times – every request was met with a clear affirmation. So, why then would my daughter say this? Why would God allow this pain? In those moments it’s important to be grounded properly and remember what we already know… BUT GOD!
ANCHOR, ATTENTION, ACTION
Hebrews 6:19 – “We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain…” I love, love, love this verse because it reminds me of two important things. First, Christ has already done for me what I could not do for myself. Second, no matter what life throws at me, Christ is holding me safely.
Let’s think about the idea of being anchored. When the storms are raging, things anchored in the bedrock on the bottom of the water are going to weather the storm better than if they had just floated on the water untethered. It’s a helpful picture for us. But we don’t want to just rely on helpful pictures, we want to orient ourselves through God’s Word…
First, Christ has already done for me what I could not do for myself. Second, no matter what life throws at me, Christ is holding me safely.
Do you know any biblical examples of people who had to deal with tough situations, big storms, or rough transitions? How can their example serve us as counselors in caring well for those who come to us with fears, confusion, exhaustion, and doubt?
How about Ruth, whose husband perished and then she went to a country unfamiliar to her and probably hostile? What about Joseph? Torn out of his “good life” by his spiteful brothers? David, pursued by the king he served and later by his own son? What about Job who had everything taken from him? Or how about Daniel who went from servant to the king to enemy of the state? Think about the early church cowering in fear of Paul and then having to accept and trust him. How about Barnabas who served faithfully with Paul but then parted ways?
Of course, there are a lot of other examples in the Bible, and we don’t have all the information about each of these situations. However, when you think about what the Bible does say, it becomes clear, that these people endured for one single reason – faith.
Ruth decided that following the God of Israel was the right thing to do. Joseph believed that the evil of his brothers was God’s good for His people. David chose not to kill Saul, the Lord’s anointed and wept for his son who perished while being his enemy. Job endured hardship and chose to surrender to God’s sovereign rule, knowing that it was the best choice. Daniel was willing to give his life for his faith. Paul set his hope on Christ alone, counting all his previous accomplishments garbage. Barnabas (and Paul too) chose to serve the Lord faithfully in spite of relational difficulty.
...when you think about what the Bible does say, it becomes clear, that these people endured for one single reason – faith.
The truth is, we need to be anchored in Christ – nothing else is even remotely able to tether the weak and weary soul and give hope for better days.
When life gets hard, we lose not only our footing. First, we lose confidence. Then, we lose perspective, then, we lose our footing, then, our hope. See, whether we are aware of it or not, life is often a sequence of different things leading to a particular result. The boy who hit his sister didn’t just do so out of a total vacuum. Maybe he was jealous of her. Maybe she had annoyed him. Maybe he’s been taught that violence is a good way to get what you want. Whatever the facts, while the crossing from temptation to sin happened in a single step, getting close to that line took that boy more than just one step.
We tried to be prepared for this move. We planned, prayed, and persevered through many obstacles. In the transition though, we got tired, we felt hindered to go on, we got overwhelmed with thoughts of fear and confusion, we lost our tempers and cried in grief of things left behind. And we would lose our hope – if God through His Spirit would not remind us time and again of why we are here. Again, he anchors us.
In this season of our lives, as all those in transition need to, we have to pay attention to how we respond to it all. We have to learn to see and understand our wandering minds and wavering hearts. We have to see the subtle lies we believe and the nagging desires that long to gratify the flesh. If we don’t pay attention to what God is trying to do in us, we will have to fight longer and harder than if we carefully and regularly think about what’s coming out of our hearts into our thoughts, attitudes, words, and actions.
In this season of our lives, as all those in transition need to, we have to pay attention to how we respond to it all.
Being anchored is critical and being attentive is pivotal. Now, let’s get practical. Whether we deal personally with the difficult transitions or whether we are counseling someone, we need to have practical points of application. We must learn respond to messy and trying times in manner worthy of the Lord.
What follows is not meant to be a rigid agenda to be taken as a sure-fire way to get through transitions unscathed, not a formula to be applied to one’s life. Instead, we are looking at helpful guardrails that keep us on the right path where the Holy Spirit can speak and therefore guide us through even the darkest valley (cf. Psalms 23 and 143).
We must take time to carefully read, study, pray over, memorize, and actively think on the following things, if we want to weather life’s storms well. The following things are all starting points – please ponder and think on other connected things that would help you or others take the right action.
Who God Is
Psalm 119:68 – God is good and does good – we must trust and believe this truth.
Psalm 34:15, 18-19 – God is paying attention – we must remember that he will lead us through this trial, even when our sense of timing demands that God is not acting.
John 14:27 – Peace is not in the absence of bad circumstances but in Christ’s presence with us in the circumstance. Preach to your heart to rest in God’s power and presence.
Who I am
Isaiah 43:4 – I am valued by God and that is unchanging!
Proverbs 29:25 – Earthly relationships are important but without my identity rooted in fellowship with Christ, my relationships will always drown in dysfunction. Think of it this way: Relationship with Jesus is like the hull of a cruise ship and relationships with people are the cabins on that ship. You have leaky hull, or none at all, all your relationships will suffer.
Matthew 7:24-27 – I’m wise if I listen to Jesus’ words and live by them.
Mourning The Hard Stuff
Psalm 6 – Mourning is hard. We fear the tears, the headaches, the weariness of it. But there is great rest for the soul when we take our weeping to the Lord.
1 Peter 5:7 – Don’t try to run through life with the anxieties on your back – unload yourself at the foot of the cross! (Remember Matthew 11:28-30).
2 Corinthians 4:7-18 – Paul encourages believers to have an eternal perspective. He’s not minimizing the impact of the circumstances. The pain, confusion, weight, and opposition are real – but God is bigger than our momentary afflictions.
Gratitude over Grumbling
Psalm 107:1, 1 Thessalonians 5:18, Psalm 95:2, Colossians 2:7 – The attitude of gratitude has the power to change our perspective. Hopeful rejoicing in the face of difficulty may seem counterintuitive, but with the bitter poison of grumbling as the alternative, wisdom would direct us toward thanksgiving.
Please remember to be patient and empathetic in your care of the hurting – our quick and glib answers aren’t what will encourage the people we serve. However, a consistent, gentle, yet firm refocusing to the Spirit and Word of God will radically alter the lives of those who listen. Let’s pray they will have open ears and hearts for God’s faithful truth.