Managing Transitions

given Sunday, May 17, 2009Looking at the calendar, I cannot ignore that the week has been filled with all types of life transitions.  Mother’s Day may have started the week and that certainly signifies one transition that occurs in so many lives, but on Tuesday I celebrated my dad’s 83rd birthday representing another transition.    The transitions just kept coming up as the days went past.
My sister-in-law finally made the leap from a hobbyist to an artist by showing her rugs at an art show on Friday.  Graduation marks transitions in so many of our young people as they leave high school or college or even move up a grade.  The graduates certainly had their calendars full with all the celebrations.
Finally, two more life transitions filled the calendar on Saturday:  a funeral and a wedding.  The two seem so opposite, but yet they are united by the significance of the change in one’s life they represent.  Death is our final transition in this earthly life we experience.  Marriage is a transition filled with life, hardly the end of life.
Filling our calendar with event after event is not always a positive, but as I began thinking about everything that was going on around me, I realized that there certainly was a common thread in all of them—God.  No matter what event is on the calendar, there is not one doubt in my mind that God is there and that is how we manage the transitions in our life.
As our lives unfold, we typically recognize the various transitions in our lives through a ritual, a sacrament, or a tradition of some form.  The baptism or a christening or a consecration depending on the denomination frequently follows the birth of a child.  The baptism sacrament is not required, but for many it is a celebration and according to the UMC’s Book of Worship, “the Baptism Covenant is God’s word to us, proclaiming our adoption by grace, and our word to God, promising our response of faith and love.”  As Methodists, we recognize all Christian baptisms and we baptize any age, from infant to the elderly.  Baptism is not specific to one denomination rather it is initiation into Christ’s whole Church.  The method of baptism does not matter either.  Whichever method is chosen, the symbolism is the same.  Baptism by the water represents the washing away of sins.
The transitions in our lives are also accompanied by gatherings.  In reading about baptism, I learned an interesting piece of information:
The New Testament repeatedly records that when a believer was baptized, the believer’s whole household was baptized (BOW p.82).  The references to this are in Acts and I Corinthians, according to the BOW.  The BOW goes on to state that “Nowhere does the New Testament record, or even suggest, that any Christian family delayed the baptism of their children until they could make their own profession of faith.”
If we look at how our families celebrate the birth of children and their baptism today, we know that traditions grow up around the planned event.  Special clothing is bought.  Godparents or sponsors are sometimes identified, the family gathers for the special day, and frequently a meal is planned to end the day.  The life transition of a new baby is managed through the church and God is present.
But life does hand us transitions that are not included in our faith’s regimen of sacraments.  Sometimes the life changes must be managed differently.  For instance, the 8th grade graduation of our parents’ time is seldom a noteworthy event.  The church does not have anything special built into the Book of Worship or the hymnal; nor is there any ceremony all laid out for that move.  Instead, it is the family that must manage the transition.
And just how do they do that—a family gathering often around a meal.
Turning to the Archeological Study Bible, one can see that meals have long been part of celebrations or major religious festivals.  In an article “Jewish Meals and Meal Customs,” we learn that most of the early Christians combine Jewish religious traditions and Greco-Roman practices.  Meals were often followed by music or “extended conversation.”  These traditions are still similar to the practices we maintain around our special meals.
Think about this—whether the transition event is a graduation, an engagement, a wedding, or a funeral we typically include a meal.  Whether the meal is a sit-down affair or a buffet,  a grace or a blessing is given.  God is there.
But some transitions are not ones of celebration.  Life does not follow an easy path.  We have transitions based on happy events, but we also have frustrations, set backs, and devastation which create a different type of transitions.  This week we have experienced the loss in our church family.  The transition is not easy for any of the family members and the friends, but the church family helps comfort those who are grieving by providing them support, by helping with food or other care needs.  The fellowship takes on a ministry that eases the transition.  The fellowship is God at work.
In one day, I witnessed the church family mark two major transitions:  a funeral and a wedding.  The compassion, the caring, the sadness, the joy, the excitement, and the celebration of a life ending and another of a joint life beginning are blessings.  God is there not only because he is called upon for healing and help, but because he is there in the hearts and hands of the church family walking through the life transitions right along with the families.
Still, I wonder if we really understand how close God really is during these life transitions.  We have such a tendency to take for granted God’s presence in the happy times, the good times.  We are not good at thanking God for the wonder of the changes in our life—the births, the marriages, the job promotions, the graduations, and the list goes on.  God is there.  We create ceremonies or rituals to help celebrate the transitions and we often include an invocation and/or a blessing, but we simply do not seem to acknowledge that God has been a part of the process that has led to the transition.
Yet, when the transition is more dismal, we call out to God for help.  We do not hesitate to ask God for healing, for a cure, for a solution, for more and more.  I know that we believe in God, but I think it is easy to overlook his role in each part of our life and in the various transitions we experience.  We even have an example of how even Jesus cried out to God at his lowest point.  On the cross in those final moments, Jesus cried out to God using the psalms he learned as a child—My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
As humans, we struggle with transitions–good ones as well as bad ones.  We sometimes are at a loss as to what is next.  Sometimes we cannot find a way to manage the transition, but we do have a way—God’s way.  We should remember that God is always with us.  We also need to look for help among the fellowship of the Christian family.  The Book of Worship provides liturgies for many of life’s typical transitions such as baptism, marriage and death, but it also provides even more.
The Book of Worship includes services for divorce, for marriage reaffirmation, and for reaffirmations of baptism.  I discovered that there are even special services for each season and special day in the Christian calendar.  Why there are even special liturgies for days such as Martin Luther Kind, Jr. Day, Mother’s and Father’s Day, Independence Day, and more.  These are days that mark life changes, our beliefs, and our history.  God is right there along side us as we mark these days, these transitions.
One of the special aides for difficult transitions is the healing service.  We all know the pain of illness, yet the long-term or terminal illnesses that challenge us or family members or friends can frustrate us.  We sometimes feel lost in the medical maze that goes on around us as we work to heal.  God is there, but we are often too busy to talk with him.  The healing service creates a caring, praying Christian community focusing on the well being of the patient.  God’s love is carried directly to the patient while the community joins in prayer for the care of the patient and the primary care givers.
As we look at another Monday and begin the transition into summer this week, let us remember that God is with us.  Managing our transitions whether minor or major, whether joyous or painful, is made easier with God.  Our faith in God helps us to understand that life is full of mountaintops and deep valleys.  The words in Psalms 23 cover all that can challenge us.
1-3 God, my shepherd! I don’t need a thing.
You have bedded me down in lush meadows,
you find me quiet pools to drink from.
True to your word,
you let me catch my breath
and send me in the right direction.

4 Even when the way goes through
Death Valley,
I’m not afraid
when you walk at my side.
Your trusty shepherd’s crook
makes me feel secure.

5 You serve me a six-course dinner
right in front of my enemies.
You revive my drooping head;
my cup brims with blessing.

6 Your beauty and love chase after me
every day of my life.
I’m back home in the house of God
for the rest of my life.        –the Message

We need to know the words of the Psalms and the words of the New Testament so we can find the tools to manage this crazy life we live.
We need to read the stories of the Israelites and understand how difficult their lives were, but they continued to listen to God.  We need to hear the parables and the stories that Jesus told as he prepared us for the new covenant.  We need to read the letters so that we can take hope in the lessons the apostles gave to the young Christian communities.  The Bible has the key to managing transitions.  Our prayers give us direct communication to God as we sort out the changes in our lives.  Our open minds and hearts listen for what God tells us to do and listen for God’s wisdom in the words.   The Holy Spirit moves us into action as we pass through the transition and move on in our journey.  So remember, God is there each and every time life leads us to a new phase in our life.  Sometimes the change is wonderful and sometimes it is disappointing, but God is there.
Dear God,
This week has been so full of transitions for so many of our Christian family.  We have seen joy and we have seen sorrow.  Forgive us of the times we fail to talk with you and fail to hear what we should do next.  Forgive us for taking pride without thanking you for the positive changes in our lives.  Forgive us, too, for complaining to you when life gets tough and we become fearful.  As we move into the summer months, help us to stay faithful, to continue reading your Word, to talk with you in prayer, and to continue in worship.  The transitions may be difficult to understand, but we have faith in you.  We know that you will give us the strength to manage the transitions.  We know that you will be with us for all the ups and all the downs in this life.                            –Amen

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