Think of a “normal” transition, such as when a person gets married. Those individuals who successfully emerge from their honeymoon year will have made a shift from thinking primarily about themselves, their old friends, and their family of origin, to putting 110% of their attention into this new relationship and their shared marital identity. Society recognizes this in the wedding ceremony by having the family of origin and/or friends release the couple. The father of the bride, having walked her down the aisle, steps back, and takes a seat with the spectators. In both the ritual and the toasts before the meal, words are spoken as to how these two are no longer independent players on the world’s stage, but bound into a new identity, often further symbolized by sharing a new last name. The honeymoon further segregates the couple for a brief period, so they might begin the work of reframing their identity.
William Bridges says:
“Change is situational. Transition, on the other hand, is psychological. It is not those events but rather the inner reorientation or self-redefinition that you have to go through in order to incorporate any of those changes into your life. Without a transition, a change is just a rearrangement of the furniture. Unless transition happens, the change won’t work.”
Trauma induced transitions are more like the reframing of identity that a caterpillar must undergo when it becomes a butterfly. The creature who has spent day after day munching along a two dimensional leaf, must reframe its entire identity to become a creature of the air. No wonder the early Christians engraved butterflies on the walls of their catacombs to speak of how they had already begun to ponder the great transition of death. Those who die, do not sleep, but undergo an extreme metamorphosis of their identity.
Here and now, we are children of god.
What we will be has not yet been made known.
But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be made like him…
(I JOHN 3:2 )
There’s an old saying, “Don’t ask a fish to tell you about water.”
When we see ourselves in the mirror, we notice minor detail and miss the reality. We are not who we once were. We rarely see how much has changed. The image of our former selves is too deeply rooted in our minds.
We inherited a certain identity from our family of origin. It may no longer suit us. Who do we desire to be? Transition’s forced quest for self-understanding promises to reshape us into something more appropriate to our souls.
The Impressionist painters challenged the art world by seeing the reality of light and subject in a new way. A photograph of this cathedral is not as authentic as Monet’s impression of how the light transformed it throughout the day. Your soul seeks for you to take a fresh look at your identity.
When Jacob wrestled with the Angel of the Lord at the Jabbok River (Genesis 32:22-32), his hip was put out of joint. He limped into his new identity as tribal patriarch with a painful reminder that none of us chooses who we will become. His name was changed from Trickster (Jacob means, “one who grabs the heal,” or pulls your leg) to Israel, one whom God fights for (or with). Under Moses, the people reframed their identity by first letting go of the things of Egypt. They stopped seeing themselves as slaves and became a nation under God. Following 911, the American people reframed their identity to become a people seeking secure through isolation. For twenty years we have been building walls and resisting the globalization happening around us. Now we find this identity being reshaped by a virus that ignores our border patrols.
At retirement or when a worker unexpectedly loses their career, there is often a struggle to rediscover who we are. After 33 years of serving in local churches as a pastor, I entered a new career as a writer and digital content provider. I had to learn to sit quietly in church, no longer being expected to preach. The phone stopped ringing with requests to visit the sick, perform weddings, or burry the dead. My new identity took years to establish itself. I said no to activities that belonged to my former career and yes to things that developed the skillset I needed as an independent author.
The Apostle Paul writes:
Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold, but let God re-mold your minds from within, so you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all his demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity.
(Romans 12:2 J.B. Phillips)