Each of the steps we have taken across transition’s wilderness has prepared us to enter the next stage of life. As we approach the end of the journey, we stop begging for things to go back to normal. We begin to glimpse the future, another life. Our willingness to face Current Reality in Step One has equipped us to soberly enter the future, without unwarranted optimism or crippling fears. Reframing our Identity forced us to clarify our personal mission statement, boiling it down to a few bullet points. What is most important to our lives? Can we list it on a post-it note? Thoreau recommends using the back of your thumbnail. Before the trauma, we were too busy to do this prioritization. Having jettisoned what we don’t need (see Step Three) we near what Dr. Kubler-Ross called the Stage of Acceptance. In the fourth step, we discovered that having an appropriate process for making decisions would serve us better than our gut instincts in this new future.
Most of us can recall a time when we spent months trying to envision our future. The great transitional ceremonies that mark the end of our teenage years — graduation, marriage, enlistment in the military, acceptance into a labor union or profession, etc., — encourage us to clarify our ambitions and goals before entering the next stage of life. No one ever says, “I wish I hadn’t spent so much time trying to prepare for adulthood.” Before the wedding, most couples complain about having to attend premarital counseling. In the years that follow, they all wish that they had taken it more seriously.
Jesus spent forty days in the wilderness before he entered his public ministry. It would be helpful to have a similar period of social isolation and personal reflection before we enter a new career, marriage, or major lifestyle change. So often, we jump into planning a new future without doing Steps One through Four. Transitions induced by trauma — the loss of employment, a health crisis, divorce, homelessness, etc. — drive us like Jesus, out into the wilderness. Here we are given a gift. Time to prepare, to plan for the future. Finding our own personal sense of mission requires solitude.
It’s important to distance yourself from others when thinking about your future. Each individual is like a newly fertilized egg laid by a loving hen (or a negligent birdbrain, depending upon your view of God). The egg has only three fates:
1) It can hatch with curious eyes. To explore and grow, entering into new relationships on its own terms. He or she can become a compassionate but independent chick. Another name for this is self-differentiation.
2) It can turn inward and choose a self-serving, passive, existence and become a rotten egg. This is a bitter life, marked by occasional happiness stolen from others.
3) The egg can become someone’s breakfast. This splash-in-a-pan existence is known as codependency. It means depending upon someone else’s appreciation to give your life value. It is the need to be needed. Codependents know what everyone else wants. They don’t know, or aren’t willing to act on behalf of their own needs.
Think of your life as having three circles of influence. Your relationship with God is the uppermost circle in this diagram. This circle of influence also includes your personal saints; the teachers, authors, and cherished relatives that have left a spiritual marked on your life. These influencers call you to be compassionate, holy, and just.
The circle to the lower left represents the temperament, talents, and the physical resources you have at hand. When David went to face Goliath, he reached into his bag and pulled out five smooth stones. What personal assets are you going to carry into the next stage of your life? Name your five smooth stones.
The circle to the right represents the world’s needs. You aren’t expected to meet all the world’s needs. You can’t die on every cross. We must use reflection and spiritual discernment to understand which concerns belong to us. Jesus ministered to large crowds. But he did it by touching one individual at a time.
Your soul’s future mission lies at the intersection of these three circles of influence.
“What lies behind us and what lies before us, is trivial compared to what lies within us.”
-Henry S. Hopkins
My parents loved to play bridge. I was often roped in when they needed a fourth hand. There were many rules for the game, but the one that my father added has served me well in life:
Always play the hand you’re dealt, not the one you wish you had.
Take a deck of cards. Think of the four suits as representing the four broad categories that your activities have fallen into.
♠ Spades – represent everything you have done to build material assets, preserve what needed preserving, and/or hold on to sacred traditions.
♣ Clubs – represent everything you have done to benefit the next generation
♥ Hearts – represents the love you have shown, both in your personal relationships and in your charitable work.
♦ Diamonds – represents where you have sought to excel; whether in sports, the arts, or in academic study.
Now write a list of times in your life when you have felt a sense of accomplishment. Work at it until you have about a dozen items. Then assign a playing card to each item on the list. Choose the card’s suit to represent the category the item fell into. With Aces and face cards high, choose cards that represent how significant you think each accomplishment was.
Now organize your hand according to suits. If you have played bridge, you’ll understand the concept of bidding according to the strength of your hand. Where do you have both length of suit and significant strength? What does this tell you about the assets you bring into the future?
The Wizard of Oz is all about transition. A tornado sucks Dorothy out of her former life. Oz is her wilderness, and she spends most of the movie trying to get back home. The friends she meets on the Yellow Brick Road, each have their own goals. They are on the same journey, but headed to different destinations. Together they discover the hidden talents that will serve them in their future lives. Having fellow travelers is important for a healthy transition. There is a point, though, when we click our ruby slippers and say good bye. A key skill to learn during transition is self-differentiation (see 1st column).
Use the following questions to develop your personal mission statement:
1)What does it takes to be human? (or what would make my life authentic?)
2) What relationships (spiritual and human) do I value?
3) How will I make the world a better place?