Biblical Principles of Transition

I am in the middle of a major life transition. It is a transition that I never expected, but it is here. There truly was a long period of restlessness and then a triggering pivot point. As is the case, once a pivot point presents itself it requires action and one either freezes where one is or one moves on. It is a difficult choice.

I wrote about it a bit last month when discussing the book, Necessary Endings, acknowledging that pivot points are often times triggered by the sudden awareness of hopelessness in one’s current situation and a compelling action that says move or forever stay frozen. I had a number of you give feedback that the point about hopelessness really spoke to you and caused a great deal of reflection. I get that.

So, now, I have moved from restlessness to that period of alignment asking, “Where do I go now?” In some ways this time of alignment could be compared to being in the doldrums of the Bermuda triangle. There must be a time of sitting in order to determine the course and direction to go. One has this urge to move immediately but this is a case where the soul needs to catch up with the body.

Life has moved into a new setting but in the period of alignment one must take a close look at personal values, beliefs, options and calling. This takes time and, most importantly, it calls for the discernment of the Holy Spirit to know which direction God is calling. The period of alignment is a time of seeking the presence and the direction of God for the new life that is to come.

God very clearly laid on my heart, Jeremiah 29: 11, “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” (NRSV) This is an extremely comforting passage that calls one to recognize that, as in all the phases of transition, God is fully present. This is truly a time of submission as God leads one in a discernment that brings all things together for future mission.

As I sat with this passage I began to pray and wonder where God was leading. Then it came to me that this passage is given to the people in exile just after they had been told they would be going back to Jerusalem. After 70 years in exile many of the people did not know of Jerusalem as home so the prospects were quite frightening. They were to return home to a place that they had never been. It was a time of letting go of where they had been and a call to move toward where God is calling.

Well, as God continued to give me this Scripture, I sat with it and then was called into reading Ezra and Nehemiah to see how God led God’s people out of exile into Jerusalem. I asked myself, “How did God guide the transition of the people as they left exile and returned home?What principles can I learn from the transition out of exile that could guide my life? In what ways was the move to Jerusalem similar to the movement toward alignment and new mission?

As I read through the text I kept looking for themes and patterns that would help me see how God leads people in transition. I am formulating what I call the basic biblical principles for the transitional period of alignment.



Face Reality

The exiles were going to be returning to Jerusalem.  In the process, life as they knew it was going to be totally disrupted.  Nothing will be the same as they leave a place where they have lived for 70 years and move back to a home they never knew.  And, on top of it all, they received a staggering report from those who had gone to assess the conditions of Jerusalem.  The report stated that those who had escaped going into exile lived in appalling conditions:  “The survivors there in the province who escaped captivity are in great trouble and shame; the wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been destroyed by fire.” (Nehemiah 1: 3, NRSV) In other words, they were leaving a known life with order and going to a place that needed rebuilding.


The reality is that the people found that life was in a shambles.  What a reality to face.  Yet, that is most times the reality faced by someone who experiences a major pivot point.  The former life has collapsed and the future life has yet to take shape. What does one do?


This is true for people in life transition.  Responding to the pivot point in one’s life means that one has had to let go of something that had formerly been important.  Life, as it was, is now in a shambles and the life that is coming is not yet constructed.  The walls that one has known are no longer there and one feels vulnerable and nervous because one has no defenses left.


For me, this has involved clearing time to get all aspects of life in order.  I had been on a simplicity “campaign” for a number of years but now I have an insatiable desire to get things cleaned up and in order.  One cannot think, pray or discern in the midst of clutter.


Engage in Prayer

Nehemiah’s response to the news about Jerusalem is one that is a model for us all when facing a new direction in life: “When I heard these words I sat down and wept, and mourned for days, fasting and praying before the God of heaven.”  (Nehemiah 1:4, NRSV).  Nehemiah models for us the sense of being overwhelmed by reality.  Nehemiah knew that God was leading the people out of exile but became overwhelmed as to what they were being led back into.  This is a state of shock.  A state of frozenness with little movement.


I would have to say that in all honesty my life transitions have been the same in that the transitions, including the current one, are absolutely overwhelming.  Sometimes I sit and I just don’t feel like moving.  I just need to sit and I believe the sitting to be good.  At this point, strong prayer involves strong listening.


In the sitting I have wept and prayed as I felt so overwhelmed by it all.  The prayer has led to the Word and the praying and sitting are helping me to see that God is fully present in all things and God is leading through this time of alignment.  My time in the Word and in prayer is deepening and calling me to sit before God.  But, like Nehemiah, we both pray and build.  The time of prayer is a time of sitting; sitting before God in the contemplative silence, knowing that God is present and will direct.


The Benedictine principle of ora et labora (“pray and work”) lends itself well in this stage.  To pray is work and to work is pray and learning to listen to God through contemplative prayer and sacred reading of Scripture leads one to a new situation.  Nehemiah and the people engaged in both prayer and work as God directed and organized the rebuilding of the walls.

As the person in transition engages in rebuilding personal walls and structuring a new life, ora et labora becomes a rhythm of healing.

Seek New Vision

In the prayer of Ezra, we hear how the reality of sin has led the people, and us,  into slavery and we hear how the reality of a loving God leads us out.  In Ezra 9:9 we read: 

                For we are slaves; yet our God has not forsaken us in our slavery, but has extended to us his steadfast love before the kings of Persia, to give us new life to set up the house of our God, to repair its ruins, and to give us a wall in Judea and Jerusalem.

This statement of faith applies to those of us in transition as well.  We are in slavery to old ways or we are in slavery to that which is comfortable.  God does not want us to live in slavery.   It is God’s desire that we have new life and live in freedom.   It is God’s desire that the house of God be set up in our hearts, it is God’s desire that the rubble be cleared and the ruins rebuilt and that our boundaries be re-established in a healthy way.


The rebuilding will look different to each person because God rebuilds our lives around our unique gifts and context.  As one moves through the period of alignment, one’s vision begins to form as one discerns one’s gifts and context and seeks the direction of God.  There comes a point when gifts, vision, mission all align and the ministry begins to happen.

Patiently Wait

The vision will come, but, it may not be immediately.  The period of alignment can take a long time as one waits to see what God has in store.  Many times I have received from God, “wait patiently on the Lord.”   The Book of Psalms (NRSV) carries a strong theme of waiting:

Psalm 27.14:

Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!

Psalm 31.24:

Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord.

Psalm 38.15:

But it is for you, O Lord, that I wait; it is you, O Lord my God, who will answer.

Psalm 39.7:

“And now, O Lord, what do I wait for? My hope is in you.

Psalm 40.1:

I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry.

Waiting is not easy.  This is why it is so important to surround ourselves with those who can wait with us, who can pray with us, who can encourage us.  The days and nights seem long but the promise of God is to hear our cry and to answer.

Build Structure

In a time of transition it is important to provide structure and order.  As the people return to Jerusalem, Nehemiah is led by God to form work teams and to begin a systematic assessment and repair of the walls.  Nehemiah speaks (2:17 NRSV):

“Then I said to them, ‘You see the trouble we are in, how Jerusalem lies in ruins with its gates burned. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, so that we may no longer suffer disgrace.’”

When transitions begin the rubble lies everywhere.  In order to feel safe, one must clear the rubble and then systematically rebuild the structure of ones life.  Routine, quiet, order and peace allow for healing and prayer that brings clarity.

The rebuilding of the wall in Jerusalem clearly lay for us the importance of good boundaries in our own lives.  Boundaries need to be established and order maintained.

Lay A Foundation

“and they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the Lord, “For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever toward Israel.” And all the people responded with a great shout when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid.”  Ezra 3:11 (NRSV)

The creation of structure assures that the parameters of life will then provide safety from those who would seek to hurt and harm those who once lived without borders.  Once the walls are in place one can begin the rebuilding from within.

Note that they began rebuilding the foundation of the Temple.  The Temple is the dwelling place of God and becomes the center of life and living. 

For those in transition, the spiritual foundation is an absolute key to moving on.  The foundation is in Word and Sacrament as God shapes and transforms while guiding the discernment and alignment process.  Benedictines speak of groundedness and stability.  As Word and Sacrament wash over us we are shaped and formed in the ways in which God is calling.  It is a strong comfort to know that God is in the midst of it all and is there to lead, guide and uphold.

Combining structure and prayer at this points begins to provide a solid foundation for what is to come.  If the foundation is not in place, the alignment for mission will shatter.  There is no mission apart from God.

Moving On

There will come a time of launching.  When the alignment takes place it leads to a launching , but, it is a launching that takes place as one sits in the lap of God.  Once the city is rebuilt; then what? 

This is where a spiritual director can be very helpful.  A spiritual director sits with the one in transition and helps listen for God’s direction.  It is very helpful to not walk this process alone.

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