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Michelle Warner

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Posted on May 2nd, 2012

My dear friend loaned me the book, Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes, several years ago. But I never read it. Then as I was going through my books before the movers came last month, I had the thought that maybe I would appreciate its message in this new chapter of transition. I finally opened the book today and settled in to hear what God may want to tell me about my new transition/move. Below is an excerpt that I thought was interesting and has left me pondering. If you are in the middle of transition, whether brought on by you or imposed on you, whether happy or sad, I think you would appreciate not only this excerpt but the entire book.

Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes, pages xii, 8,13-16
By William Bridges

“Our society confuses [change/transition] constantly, leading us to imagine that transition is just another word for change. But it isn’t. Change is your move to a new city or your shift to a new job. It is the birth of your new baby or the death of a loved one…In other words, change is situational. Transition, on the other hand, is psychological. It is not those events, but rather the inner reorientation and self-redefinition that you have to go through in order to incorporate any of those changes into your life. Without a transition, a change is just a rearrangement of the furniture. Unless transition happens, the change won’t work, because it doesn’t ‘take.’…

[All transitions are composed of] (1) an ending, followed by (2) a period of confusion and distress, leading to, (3) a new beginning…There are ways of facilitating transitions, and they begin with recognizing that letting go is at best an ambiguous experience. They involve seeing transition in a new light, of understanding the various phases of the transition. They involve developing new skills for negotiating the perilous passage across the ‘nowhere’ that separates the old life situation from the new. But before that can be done, you need to understand your own characteristic way of coping with endings.

One way to do this is to think back over the endings in your own life. Go back to your early childhood and recall the first experiences involving endings that you can remember. Some may have been large and terrible–deaths in the family, for instance; others may have been insignificant to everyone except you–your parents’ departure on a trip, the death of a pet, or a friend’s moving away. Continue forward on this tour of your life history and note all of the endings you can recall along the way. Some were physical; others involved relationships inside and outside the family. Some involved places, social groups, hobbies, interests, or sports; others involved responsibilities, training, or jobs. Some endings may be hard to describe. They have few outward signs, but they may leave long-lasting scars; the ending of innocence or trust, for example, or the ending of irresponsibility. How many such endings can you retrieve from your memory?…

What you bring with you to a transitional situation is the style you have developed for dealing with endings. The product of early experience and late influence, this style is your own way of dealing with external circumstances and the inner distress they stir up. Your style is likely to reflect your childhood family situation, for transitions tend to send family members off to do different tasks: One person feels all the grief and anxiety for the entire group, another comforts the mourner, another takes over the routine responsibilities, and yet another goes into a sort of parody of ‘being in control of the situation.’…

Looking back over your ending experiences, what can you say about your own style of bringing situations to a close? It is abrupt and designed to deny the impact of the change, or is it so slow and gradual that it is hard to see that anything important is happening? Do you tend to be active or passive in these terminal situations?…

Although it is advantageous to understand your own style of endings, some part of you will resist that understanding as though your life depended on it. If this process of recollection activates that part of you, you’ll find it hard to remember past endings or to see that you have a characteristic way of responding to them. Let that be. Just note your difficulty and try a different approach to the same question. Think about how you tend to act at the end of an evening at a friends’s house or a night on the town. Do you try to drag things out by starting new conversations and activities as others seems to be ready to leave, or do you say suddenly that it was a nice evening and dash out? Or what about some recent larger ending: leaving a job or moving from a neighborhood. Did you say goodbye to everyone, or did you leave a day ahead of schedule just so that you could avoid the goodbyes?

Everyone finds endings difficult, so your own style is not a sign that you have some ‘problem’ that others don’t have. The person who leaves early and the one who stays late are both avoiding endings and the discomfort of facing a break in the continuity of things. Whether you are a dasher or a lingerer is largely a result of how you learned to avoid the ‘party’s-over’ experience as a child. You might, on the other hand, have learned back then that although some endings are unavoidable they do not usually bring unendurable distress, and that dealing with them at the time avoids difficulty later; you are likely to try to take the experience one step at a time, saying goodbyes and moving on to whatever comes next…”


“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like¬†shifting shadows.” (James 1:17)

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