A letter to myself and anyone else in the mess of transition.
You’re in the mess of transition. Your heart knows it, even if your head seems to forget in the midst of everyday life. One day is a full blown hot mess. The next you wonder “what was that all about?” You can barely remember what felt so awful and terrible and why the tears wouldn’t stop.
I’d like to propose that you aren’t crazy. You aren’t emotionally unstable. You’re in transition. And quite possibly, multiple transitions all at once.
Change happens to all of us, but we get to choose if we enter into the mess of transition. I think it is worth it, but I’ll warn you, it is messy business for the brave-hearted.
It always helps me to remember how transitions works. It starts with loss.
A loss happens. It doesn’t matter what kind. American culture seems to barely give a free pass for grief when someone dies, and even then there is an expiration date on what an “appropriate time” to grieve is. No matter how it may feel, it is okay to still be sad for a long time after someone dies. And a loss is still a loss even when no one dies, or when “good things” happen.
A marriage can bring loss and change. A new baby. A move. A new job. A new church. A new community.The same job with different people.The loss of a job. The same marriage in a different season. New friends. The same friends in a new season. The same kids in a new stage of life. Someone we love getting sick. A divorce. An engagement. Tension and conflict in a relationship. A breakup. A new relationship. Being single, still. These all count. There is loss wrapped up in every single one of these. Just because we don’t talk about it doesn’t mean it isn’t there.
If you’re sad, it is okay. It is normal. Telling yourself bumper sticker phrases about “change being part of life” isn’t going to fix the sad. It is okay to be brokenhearted about any and all of these.
Have you seen You’ve Got Mail? It is a favorite of mine. My husband doesn’t fully understand why, but he’s been kind enough to endure a few viewings of it over the last few years. I love it for the books and the letter writing. I love it for the humor and the familiar story of two people who initially don’t like each other who fall in love. I love it for the daisies and all the quotes that run through my head in Meg Ryan’s voice. But most of all, I love how it makes me not feel alone in the parts of being human that I don’t always like. I love Kathleen Kelly’s (Meg Ryan, for those of you who haven’t seen it) honest words on change when her fight for her business ends with her closing up shop.
People are always telling you that change is a good thing. But all they’re really saying is that something you didn’t want to happen at all… has happened. My store is closing this week. I own a store, did I ever tell you that? It’s a lovely store, and in a week it will be something really depressing, like a Baby Gap. Soon, it’ll just be a memory. In fact, someone, some foolish person, will probably think it’s a tribute to this city, the way it keeps changing on you, the way you can never count on it, or something. I know because that’s the sort of thing I’m always saying. But the truth is… I’m heartbroken. I feel as if a part of me has died, and my mother has died all over again, and no one can ever make it right.
I find myself resonating with her heartbreak. Even though the movie doesn’t end here and much good comes out of her store closing, this heartbreak of change is deep and real.
We have to be grieve in order to move through transition in a healthy way. It is brave to grieve. It is brave to not shut off the pain of what you’re feeling. It may feel anything but brave in the midst of your tears and hot mess moments. Don’t believe how it feels. Believe what is true: it is brave to let yourself feel. It is brave to invite Jesus into the pain of loss and to tell him how awful it is. He holds our tears. He treasures our courageous vulnerability. He is for us.
But transition doesn’t end with loss. Transition is moving towards a new beginning, where the awful fades a bit. In a new beginning, you make new friends. You find your way in that new job. You start to feel like you know what you’re doing a little bit. You’ve made a new start for yourself.
But it takes a while before you get there. You have to go through neutral zone first.
Oh, neutral zone. I wish I could skip neutral zone for all our sakes. I hate neutral zone. It is the thick mud that we have to wade through to finally reach the shores of a new beginning. It is murky and terrible and feels like no progress is being made. It takes great courage to take struggling steps through neutral zone. It feels like a thick hazy fog.
I recognize it so easily, because it where I have spent a lot of time in recent years. Oh friend, it is a dark, slow, discouraging place. Your dreams feel faint. You don’t feel like yourself. You cry a lot. It feels like there are dementors flying around and you don’t know how to conjure a strong enough Patronus charm. (I’m pretty sure mine would be a rabbit, if you’re wondering. And yes, it was confirmed with an online quiz.) It is hard to feel hopeful or good or even see the “wins” that are happening, when the change and loss feels so loud. The loss has happened, but the new normal is not yet here. It feels terrible to be tired and sad, but that seems to be all you can muster. I hate being that way for myself, even if others seem to be able to offer me some grace. Grace for myself in neutral zone is sometimes the bravest thing of all. (I’m saying this on a good day, because it is hard to believe this truth on the hot mess days of neutral zone.)
Friend, it is okay if you find yourself tired and sad, wrestling with how your vision and drive and passions fit into your new life. It is okay to not feel like “you.” Just because there are so many good things in your new life doesn’t negate that there was still a great deal of loss in this transition. Oh friend, neutral zone does not last forever, even though it feels like it will. Jesus will give shape and form to your hopes and dreams in a way that YOU get to be part of and that makes sense for all that is new and different in your life. It will come. He won’t leave you with nothing.
Please be so kind to yourself in these days. Take naps. Eat chocolate. Snuggle. Go outside. No “shoulds.” Go on social media a little less. Breathe deep. Give yourself permission to be sad and grieving and scared. Lean into Jesus. Pray as short as you need to. Ask for help. Keep naming how you’re feeling. Be kind to yourself. You would be so kind to someone else who is in your shoes. I know you would. It just happens to be you in your shoes this time. You need that kindness that you would give someone else in transition. It is okay to offer yourself grace.
You are still good for people. It can feel hard to remember when you are sad and not sure of much and weepy at 9pm. You still are. Even in your pain and fear, you still get to remind people of who Jesus is, simply by being YOU.
There’s no hurry. There’s no hurry to figure things out or have your dreams all laid out. Neutral zone might take a while. It is OKAY to be in process and not have answers. You still get to be good for people in the midst of your mess. Keep showing up. You might be surprised who likes you for YOU, not simply for what you can offer them. Regardless, that is how Jesus feels about you. I’m trying to get churchy or cheesy. It is just is the truth. He likes you for YOU not for what you can do for him. Neutral zone or not. Transition or not. Hot mess day or good day. He likes you for you. He chose you and loved you when you couldn’t do a thing for him, when he wouldn’t get anything out of it. He still chooses you like that.
Keep taking the next step. What is one thing you can do today to move yourself towards a new beginning?
A few Octobers ago, I felt discouraged with the neutral zone I found myself in with my RA team and my job. My dear boss/mentor/friend, Sarah asked me that question and I was surprised to find what the answer was. I told her that if I was moving towards a new beginning, I would carve pumpkins with my RAs. I would do something that felt celebratory and like fall, even though I didn’t feel like it and felt more like giving up. So that’s what I did. I filled a grocery cart full of pumpkins. I pulled out all the sharp knives I could find and we carved pumpkins. It feels funny that this was my act of courage, but it was.
It certainly didn’t change everything all at once to cut shapes into gourds with these college students in my living room. But it was a step in the direction I wanted to go. And that step led to another step, and another. And before too terribly long, I looked around and found myself seeing through the haze of neutral zone. My feet felt a little surer. My tears and frustration were coming on less and less. My heart had an easier time believing truth. And those people had become near and dear to me.
Neutral zone can be a lonely place. Please don’t believe the lie that you are alone. You aren’t. Feelings aren’t always a reflection of what is true. God is greater than our hearts, greater than how it feels.
Wherever you find yourself today, Jesus will meet you there.
I’m cheering you on, and myself too as we bravely wade through the fog, trusting that Jesus will take us to the shore of a new beginning.
PS. For more on transition, you can check out Bridges’ Transition Model here.