I don’t do transitions well. In 1981 I left Malaysia/Singapore to commence my studies in Regent College, Vancouver. It was a dream come true. I would be studying with faculty I highly respected at a school whose unique philosophy I really believed in. And Vancouver is a gorgeous city. Yet for most of that first year I was feeling down and blue. I was confused. I should have been happy but I was not. Towards the end of that year I had a chat with a faculty member who had become a mentor and friend, Dr John Nolland. I told him my confusion — I should be happy but I was not. He asked me to list down all the things I had left behind to come to Regent. It was a long list. He then said you will experience grief for every loss, but given time it will get better.
This was a significant “A-ha” moment. It didn’t make me feel better straight away, but knowing what was happening to me really helped. On further reflection, I noted that I had experienced the same grief experience at my previous major transition, when I had left Penang after my A-levels, to begin my dental studies at the University of Singapore. It was the first time I had left Penang. I grappled on and off with depression that first year. It affected my studies. I did poorly in my final exams that year and it is only by the grace of God, in the form of supplementary exams, that I was helped to move on in my dental education.
Last Tuesday, we talked about transitions in our Friends in Transition group — a ministry to help followers of Christ make the transition from tertiary education to working life. The main text for the group is Erica Young Reitz’s book, After College (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2016). Chapter Two of her book discusses transitions. I wish I had read that chapter before my first major transition, leaving home to go to university. A number of things she wrote really resonated with me.
As you enter transitions, it will be helpful to keep in mind that transitions are made up of cycles. Though different theorists may describe the cycle differently, transitions contain a necessary ending, a middle time and a new beginning. (34)
I wish I had known about these cycles and prepared myself properly, especially the need to intentionally end well a chapter of life I am leaving behind.
Any time something ends, we experience loss. It’s important to name that loss and give ourselves space to grieve it. (37)
Bernice and I were glad to discuss the process of transition with our group. We all need to understand the dynamics of transitions because we will face many transitions in our lifetime. Every time we turn a page in our life story then, we need to do the following:
1. End the previous chapter well, embracing the grief and sometimes the fear that the ending will entail.
2. Embrace a middle time when we can perhaps ask the big questions of life again: Who is God? Who am I? What is the purpose of my life?
3. Enter the new chapter trusting in God’s presence and leading.
Of course we all know that life doesn’t happen in neat sections and there will be ebb and flow. Still, understanding the dynamics of transition is helpful. We can then be more intentional in our transition journey and better able to understand what is happening, so we will not be too disturbed by any negative emotions that may arise at that time.
Bernice understood the dynamics of transition and how badly I cope with it. When we got married she moved to Petaling Jaya so that I wouldn’t have to move down to Singapore and have to cope with an added layer of adjustments all at the same time. (We did, however, move down later.) Knowing the steps of transition is great. Having loving significant others who journey with you, even better.