Recently, my mom showed me a couple of letters she had saved from my kindergarten teacher. It was amazing reading these notes and seeing how my personality was already developing at the age of four. Nothing in these notes surprised me. One talked of how I’d chosen a book about kittens instead of chocolate when picking out a birthday gift (not surprising in the least). The other note I share below:
Thank you for your note. Sarah was fine just off the bus, then she was a little weepy. I gave her a hug, said she was fine and then walked around. As it turns out Sarah was the helper today so that put her mind off missing you.
I think the best bet is to reassure her that she is okay and then get her involved in other things. I believe this will pass. She does seem to dwell on the unknown things. She is very sensitive – it is hard to know whether to warn her of events or just let it be.
We will be talking a little about Hallowe’en over the next two weeks. Basically fun and safety.
Nothing’s really changed since then; I am still quite sensitive, I hate unknowns, and I often express emotions through tears. I’d like to think, however, that in the twenty-five years of life I’ve now lived (rather than just four), I’ve gotten better with transitions. You see, that note was written when I had just started school for the first time—since then, I’ve gone through many transitions: graduations, moving cities, moving countries, saying goodbye to old friends, making new friends, and the loss of family members.
I am by no means an expert, but I wanted to share some things I’ve learned from the transitions I’ve gone through:
You are free to grieve
Transitions are naturally messy. Some are easier than others, but whenever change happens, a mix of emotions will inevitably ensue. When I graduated from university, I felt at peace knowing that my time at Carleton was done. But that knowledge didn’t change how much I was going to miss the friends I’d made, or the school I’d grown to love.
Similarly, when I moved to Copenhagen, it was hard. But surprisingly, I found coming home to be harder. Over those ten months in Copenhagen, it had become my home and, although I was excited to return to Canada, I was sad to be leaving. I would be leaving behind amazing friends, favourite cafes, and a lifelong dream of mine: to live in Europe. I was mourning the loss of what was; it was an experience of a season of life that I would never get back.
Joy and sadness often go hand-in-hand during times of transition, because in order to gain something, there’s often loss involved in that process. It’s natural to mourn that loss while simultaneously being excited for what’s next. It’s a tension that can exist during times of transition, and you need to allow yourself the chance to experience both feelings. These conflicting emotions can help your body and mind to cope with the changes occurring in your life.
Be honest with God
Whether you realize it or not, you have expectations from a stage of life you are finishing up, and it might not be until you’re removed from that situation that you realize all that you experienced or hoped for during that season.
Getting the chance to live in Copenhagen was amazing—I loved being on STINT (participating in an international internship with Power to Change – Students)—but it wasn’t until I got home that I realized that there were parts of my year which I didn’t fully enjoy or that I wish had gone differently.
There were expectations I had—places where God had asked me to wait and trust him—and after my waiting and trusting, the outcome didn’t turn out the way I thought it would. Honestly, this experience left me feeling hurt, angered, and betrayed by the one relationship I thought I could trust the most—my relationship with God.
There were moments during my transition back to Canada when I was angry at God for the way things had turned out; I no longer felt like I could trust him. There were moments when I wrestled with the idea of whether following God was really worth it. If listening to his voice and obeying him was going to bring me to a place of pain, I was no longer sure that he was worth following.
During that difficult transition, the one thing I made sure to do was to tell God exactly how I was feeling. Sometimes, it was simply me crying in my room, telling God I wasn’t happy with him. Sometimes my prayers were more elaborate, more specific. Sometimes, I even had the energy and mental/emotional capacity to write them out. No matter what, though, God knew I was angry and hurt. I told God everything and never once did he turn away from me.
Whether your transition is going smoothly, or whether you’re in the midst of a painful one, I would encourage you to be honest with God. Tell him exactly how you’re doing. If you’re experiencing joy, praise him for it. If you’re experiencing anger or sadness, share it with him and ask him to help you. God created emotions, therefore they are good (Genesis 1:31), yet it matters how we display and act on them. We need to bring them to God in surrender and allow him to direct how we manage our emotions. God wants to be involved in all aspects of our lives—not just what we deem as spiritual—so, invite him into your emotions.
Be gracious with yourself
This transition you are currently in is a messy middleground that won’t last forever. You will get used to the new city, new job, new school, etc., but it will take time. I’ve been in Montréal for seven months now and it’s only just starting to feel more like home.
During the first few months of living in Montréal, I was hard on myself. I had already experienced moving to a different country, so I figured that moving to a new city within my own country should be easy! But it wasn’t. I wanted to be okay right from the start and I wasn’t.
I think that part of the reason I found it so hard was the fact that I didn’t recognize this new Sarah. It was a Sarah who cried all the time, who was anxious, and who was depressed. As someone who tries to be optimistic at all times, it was hard seeing this version of myself and learning to love and care for her.
What did giving grace to myself look like in this transition?
It meant staying home to rest more than going out, in the beginning.
It meant being proud of myself on the days when I was brave enough to go out and run an errand, rather than staying in my room (some days it’s easier to hide, ya know?).
It meant being brave and trying new cafes, and even inviting friends to go exploring with me.
It meant crying (a lot, in my case) with the new people God had brought into my life. They were people who took care of me, listened to me, and prayed for me as I mourned the loss of my life in Copenhagen.
It meant being okay with the fact that some days there was no joy at all, only sadness.
Finding stability on the other side
It’s taken me several months, but finally, I see glimpses of the old Sarah returning. Or perhaps, a new(er) Sarah—one that’s changed through the grieving, joy, and transition. She’s finding joy in the sunshine, getting a latté from her favourite cafe, and is brave enough to go to a new Bible study starting up at her church. This wasn’t me five months ago, but as time has progressed, through talking with God and others (experiencing his grace), and through giving myself grace, I’m slowly feeling like I’m leaving this transitional stage and entering into a more stable one. One where I’m learning to love life again and enjoy this beautiful city that God has placed me in.
As I leave this transition, I’m not forgetting Copenhagen, nor am I forgetting the pain of the transition. Rather, I’m looking at it through the eyes of someone who is grateful for God, who never leaves my side, even though I sometimes felt oh so alone.
In closing, I want to leave you with two things:
The first is some Scripture that came to mind in writing this. Honestly, they weren’t verses that God used during my transition, but upon reflecting on that messy season, I recognize that they were true. God was with me and was there to help me.
Don’t be afraid, for I am with you.
Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you.
I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.
The second is a simple reminder. I’m not sure what type of transition you’re currently going through, but I want you to know that you most certainly aren’t alone.
For I hold you by your right hand –
I, the Lord your God.
And I say to you,
Don’t be afraid. I am here to help you.