I recently finished a book that I would not normally have been attracted to. It was in the Psychology section! However, a friend lent it to me and I immediately became fascinated. It was titled Transitions by William Bridges. The title is self-explanatory but the author delves into the subject by dividing transitions into three categories: Endings, the Neutral Zone, and The New Beginning.
Mr. Bridges explains that all beginnings come after an ending. It was a self-pondering moment for me. Although it is not a “Christian” book, my mind drifted immediately (as we have just finished celebrating Easter) to Good Friday when Jesus had to die. He had to die! There had to be an ending. That ending! Painful as it was for the Father and the Son, it had to happen. Why? So there could be a New Beginning! Even though God and Jesus knew what would come next, it was still painful. The separation was unbearable. “My God, my God, why have You abandoned Me?” Matthew 27:46
The New Beginning, of course, was the Easter Resurrection. It was that New Beginning that saved us!
In my own life, as in everyone’s, there have been many endings. One that immediately comes to mind was my father dying. He was sick. It was a blessing. And it was painful. It was a big loss to me. But years later, I see that if he had not died, I would not have given my entire focus to my Lord and Savior. My relationship with my dad stood in the way of my relationship with my God. As I eventually realized this, years later, it was my New Beginning.
One of the most intriguing parts of Mr. Bridges book for me is his discussion on The Neutral Zone. He defines this as “the second hurdle of transition: a seemingly unproductive time-out when we feel disconnected from people and things in the past and emotionally unconnected to the present. Yet the neutral zone is really a time of reorientation. . .”
Wow! I think a large part of my life has been in The Neutral Zone!
Endings are not necessarily bad. We all experience endings followed by new beginnings such as graduations, marriages, births, jobs, etc. And then there are the not-so-good ones: flunking a grade, losing a job, miscarrying, divorcing, dying, etc.
To give an example: a pregnancy ends in a new birth OR a miscarriage. It’s a transition of being a couple to being a family OR being a couple, hopeful for a family but experiencing a death. And there is always that sneaky Neutral Zone in the middle.
What do we do with that?
My deal has always been to sweep “it” under the rug and move on to something else. That was probably motivated by my dad’s influence of not caving to emotions. But sooner or later my emotions would always win. Then I’d become really neutral in the Neutral Zone. I don’t think I ever realized that it was ok to be neutral for a while. I was always very hard on myself for getting into a funk! I would never allow myself to grieve or mourn or just reflect over what was lost or changed.
Mr. Bridges says, “Every transition begins with an ending. We have to let go of the old thing before we can pick up the new one – not just outwardly, but inwardly, where we keep our connections to people and places that act as definitions of who we are.”
As I again focus on the Bible, I’m reminded that Jonah had time to reflect while in that “whale”. Jesus needed to go off alone in the garden to pray. Moses used a tent; David experienced green pastures and quiet waters; Elijah found a cave. It was their Neutral Zone!
I’ve been known to advise friends who are going through “stuff” that it’s a “season”. That always gives hope that if it’s a rough season, maybe it’ll be short and there will be something beyond to look forward to.
But I see now how important it is to “stop, look and listen” or “stop and smell the roses” as they say! We need that time to regroup and refocus and prepare for the change, to be thankful for the past and to look to the future with hope, and most importantly, to listen for God’s leading.
I don’t think I could do that without having trust in God that He loves me and would NEVER plan anything to hurt me!
As I get older, change seem more difficult. I guess I am set in my ways, in my comfort zone. Kids seem to be resilient, thank goodness. But older age seems to butt heads with change, even though I’m more resigned to the fact that more change is headed my way. So, on the other side, I need to remember to only visit The Neutral Zone, not to live there. There is no timeframe as all endings are different but I need not get stuck! God still has plans for me and I’m excited to see how it all turns out and what all the New Beginnings will be about.“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11