Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Transition No. 2

Developing more thoughts about transition and change has been occupying my time and thoughts. As I said yesterday it was been a while before I have been able to “talk out loud about it”. I have been mulling over the stuff that has shown itself through this process.

“I hate change!” is a common thing you hear in church. “Why can’t it be the same as before?”

I remember Walkerton Pentecostal Assembly – my very first pastorate. They had two hymn books in the rack of each pew – a red one and a blue one. The red ones were very old and had been patched over and over again. The blue ones were newer – about 15 years before. When the new blue ones were bought – some didn’t like change… so they left the red ones in the pew along with the newer blue. Change was difficult for them.

One new convert to the assembly during our time, by the name of Ken F., messed up the church. He hated it when the worship leader said “Now close the red hymn book and take the blue hymn book, turning to page 101.” So Ken – went out and bought a whole new set of hymn books at a local Christian Bookstore. One Sunday morning they were installed beside the Red and Blue Hymn Books – they were Maroon in colour.

That was one of my first church conflict to settle. Worse yet later – Ken reneged on his bill at the Christian Bookstore. My wife and I took a loan to pay for the books without the bookstore. Change cost us personally. It hurt then – but now it is plain old funny!

Later when we bought a new organ for the church that had all kinds of amazing things it would do – the older folk were against that one too. Too loud, too fancy, not churchy enough – simply it was a change and change is uncomfortable!

For most of us – Change is not the problem. Even the “old stick in the mud” types look to change their cars, their furniture and even their homes to something better. Granted there are a few that will never change anything – but the operative word there is “few”.

What we hate is “transition” – at least the feelings we have in transition. William Bridges describes that for me in his book, “the way of transition” – ‘embracing life’s most difficult moments’.(again no caps are intentional as that is part of the title)

Bridges says there are two types of Transitions that we experience. Both are difficult to some degree – but one is usually handled better than the other.

One transition is “Reactive” and the other is “Developmental”.

Developmental Transitions happens all the time – i.e. going from Childhood to Teenager years, from Teenager to Young Adult and then from Young Adult to older adult… married adult… parenting and grand parenting… etc.

Reactive Transitions come when something is thrust upon us. Death of a loved one, an unfaithful partner, divorce(though this could be a developmental transition after the initial Reactive Stages), and job loss are some good examples that produce Reactive Transition.

During both kinds of Transitions there are three stages, The End, The Neutral Zone and The Beginning again…

Bridges points out that the Neutral Zone is likely the area that we experience the most uncomfortable feelings, the deepest loss of purpose, the possible depression and all the other millions of sorrowful thoughts that roar at us in quiet times.

It is plain old miserable to be in that Neutral Zone – but there is nothing you can do to get out of it. Buying a ticket to some exotic tropical island simply places you in a hot and unfamiliar place to work through the rage of feelings.

As I have been working through my feelings, doubts, fears and sense of loss over the weeks I have made some unbelievable discoveries about my life. But hey – I am older now and discoveries happened when I was young – High School helped, University was part of it, more studies that followed, and then more when we got married… add to that 34 years of being a pastor to thousands… LORD I HAVE HAD ENOUGH DISCOVERIES – THANK YOU VERY MUCH.

I think Moses likely was in that state as he was a Shepherd for his father-in-law all those years… and maybe each time he had a radical job change/position change. Wouldn’t you think?

Where does the discomfort in the Neutral Zone come from? I mean I was reasonably happy up to the time that the Change came.

I was happy and joyful the week before my dad died… then the very next week my life and the life of my family were in shambles. Dad was dead! Change for me was catastrophic. I was the oldest son, I was the minister that did funerals, I knew what to do. Mom was crushed by this final blow. My siblings had never been near funerals before. As a minister they are part of “my business”. But I functioned at a low and slow level… for weeks after that.

I definitely was in a Reactive Transition and having not been there before it was horrible. It took weeks before the cloud lifted – in fact maybe even years.

In the first week of leaving the job at the church I told Alida that I had a big sob welling up inside. I felt the same as I did when my dad had died. I was in a Neutral Zone and miserable – not understanding. Yet – with the possibility of a kind of early retirement upon me – I should be happy. Add to that the FEAR FACTOR of not knowing where the money would come from to pay taxes, buy groceries, and to just do simple things like buy a coffee… it was doubly over horrible.

I was in mourning for myself – a part of me had died. My dreams and vision for the church had died. My ministry to the people that needed help was now dead. My offer to visit people was not needed – we needed a break from it all to allow the church to change leadership – my being needed for 10 years – was NOW DEAD! A big part of me DIED DEAD!

When I successfully dug the imaginary hole and placed all my dreams, visions, ministries and plans for the continued ministry at the church in that grave… then pushed the dirt back in on top of all of it… I walked away happier than I had been for days. IT WASN’T MY PROBLEM ANYMORE!

Mark this point though… I have not buried the memories. I have not left the wonderful memories of my dad. I have not lost the memories of pastoring the church for 10 years. They are mine. But I have lost the relationship with both situations and now have a new one. In the case of my father I am proud of his life and the impact on me. I anticipate that will be true for the rest of the issues with the church as well as time goes by.

At a weekend service we did recently in another church… I heard myself describe the fact that I used to be the pastor of Northview church. It felt good to say it. I had said that a few weeks ago to some one else and felt terrible when I did. Things definitely have changed.

I apologize if this seems completely self centered in writing and reflecting. I am getting notes and calls about how we are doing. And also others are now going through personal flash backs as they watch us. We are funny that way – the death of someone else makes us remember our own grief from as far back as 20 years ago(in my case).

On the journey again… and off to a Rah Rah session this morning for unemployed people that may be hurting – like I was when I signed up for this class…

Note: They never prepared us for this in our Theological Studies – oh Boy…

~ Murray Lincoln ~

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