Your soul is the vessel God fills, yet there is no room for Him to fill if your soul is wrung out, twisted, haggard, fried. Put another way, your hands cannot receive a gift while they are still tightly clenched. That is the condition we are trying to recover from and avoid further commerce with. Which brings us to how important transitions are as an expression of kindness.
When our boys were young, we established a family tradition of a summer vacation in the Tetons. Rivers, lakes, mountains, ice cream, wildlife — like summer camp, but everything suited to our own desires. Precious memories. Now our sons are raising families of their own, busy with their careers and church communities, and those trips are harder and harder to come by.
Last summer we were able to pull off a return, this time with an armada of strollers, car seats, and portable cribs. We had a wonderful time, and it passed far too quickly. Because of the demands on their lives, our children needed to fly straight home. But Stasi and I chose to drive, to set a gracious pace over our return. We further intentionally broke the drive up with a night in a small Wyoming town we love, at a charming little motel along the Wind River.
Sure, we could have gotten home in two hours, not two days, had we also flown. We could have made the road trip a direct push and made it home the same day. But we have learned that to yank our souls out of wilderness, beauty, family, joy, and happiness in order to hurl ourselves back into our world is simply violent. We are choosing to recognize the importance of transitions.
Do you allow a grace of transitions in your life, or do you simply blast from one thing to the next?
When the technological revolution of the twentieth century was taking place, led by the development of the microchip, the human race watched breathlessly as breakthrough upon breakthrough accelerated computer design and how quickly we could process information. (The first computer was the size of a small house; now you carry its capacity in your hand.) Which led to breakthroughs in communication, commerce, travel. (By “breakthroughs,” what we primarily meant was faster; we were able to do everything so much faster.) Technology was going to make our lives easier, make room for doing the things we love.
Exactly the opposite has taken place.
Technology took over our lives to be sure, but instead of creating more room for living, we have had to force ourselves to run to the dizzying pace of technology. (Notice how irritated you are when your computer takes ten seconds to boot up instead of two. Or when you can’t access your favorite app because at the moment you don’t have a cell signal.) Without thinking, we simply expect our souls to process information and communications as quickly as computers and mobile devices. “Electronic mail” replaced actual handwritten letters; texting replaced email. But texts have proven too cumbersome (can you believe it?), so we resort to the emoji. A tiny cartoon face to let our loved ones know we are surprised, or embarrassed, angry, happy, sad. Supremely efficient, and utterly stripped of humanity. This is progress? Honestly — you can’t stop long enough to write an actual reply?
(It appears even the emoji is too much effort now; my friends have all resorted to replying to a text with a “like” exclamation point, or the equally banal “ha ha” instant reply device. This isn’t even communication; we are grunting at one another like cavemen.)
I worked in Washington, DC, in the late ’80s. My daily commute was by train; I could read or look out the window. I couldn’t do email, check the latest news feed, update my status, text anyone. I arrived home disentangled from the intense life of the Hill and much better able to be present to my family and friends and non-work life. Technology — and the resulting assault on our attention — has robbed us of ordinary transition spaces and opportunities. As soon as there is a down moment, everyone is back on their phones. Myself included.
I was at the department of motor vehicles the other day, updating a car registration. Realizing it would be some time before I was served, I instinctively reached for my phone. Then I stopped and chose to simply sit. Look around. Breathe a little. People watch. It was alarming to me how much discipline it took. We truly don’t know what to do with downtime any more.
My sons have taken up triathlons (where athletes compete in a multi-discipline race typically composed of running, cycling, and swimming).
They explained the margin of victory is often made up in the transitions: when the athlete leaves the water and needs to get to their bike, often strip off a wetsuit, pull on bike shoes and helmet, and get pedaling as quickly as possible. The goal is to do all this while still moving, stripping as they leave the water, etc. This is precisely the attitude we’ve taken to the events of our lives. The problem is, in a triathlon transitions are meant to be whittled down to nothing. But that’s not true for those gracious spaces between the events of human living.
I wonder — how many situations that we would call “disappointments,” “hassles,” and “setbacks” might actually be the loving hand of God trying to slow us down for the sake of our souls, and so that we might receive Him?
Friends were recently on vacation in Mexico. Eight lovely days to celebrate their anniversary. The weather was glorious sunshine until their last full day, when it rained cats and dogs for twenty-four hours. No chance to get to the beach. Just stay inside and read. They felt disappointed, felt their last day was being robbed — until they realized how gracious this was of God to prepare them to let go of what felt like paradise and return to their demanding worlds, leaving golden beaches, flip-flops, and eighty-three degrees for snow and sleet back in the Northwest. God provided a transition day to allow their hearts a more gentle change.
I believe that God is often providing the opportunity for transition, but since we don’t have eyes to see it we may have been missing it. A friend of mine was on his way home from a business trip. Rushing through the airport, trying to get a standby seat on an earlier flight, he had a whopper of an argument with his wife on the phone. He did not get the standby seat and was delayed several hours. First he simply sulked; the anger which lingered from his argument with his spouse carried over into his travel woes. He later realized God was in the delay — that he needed those hours in the airport, first to cool off, then to realize the argument was mostly because he demands his wife live at the furious pace he does. Those hours provided room to process that realization, to get time enough with God to allow his soul to come to the grace of repentance, and to call his wife back. All that lovely redemption would have been missed if he had been allowed to continue what he considered simply the normal pace of an ordinary day.
Our souls need transition time. Especially in this world. We will find God in the transitions.
Notice that in the Gospels, it was during those transition times the disciples got to have Jesus to themselves; the intimacy was in those moments. God is in the mission too; of course He is. He meets us in crisis and action. But there is a sweetness to the downtime, even if it is brief. We can find more of God there.
GIVING IT A TRY
We practice kindness. We intentionally create space for transitions. The One Minute Pause is a wonderful tool. I’m learning to use it in the midst of busy days, when I would normally just hit “launch” as I walk out the door in the morning, and blast all day like the space shuttle from meeting to phone call to writing something to conversation to lunch and back at it again. It is new for me — and so gracious to my soul — to pause after I hang up the phone and before I turn right back to email or make another call; pause after one meeting before I go into another; pause when I arrive at work after my morning commute; and pause when I pull into the driveway at the end of my day.
If you have five minutes waiting time, don’t look at your phone. Just… be. Look around; people watch.
When planning events like holidays or vacations, or coming demands such as a memorial service we must attend, create a little space for the transition needed before and after. Especially after.
Let’s be honest — we will need to loosen our grasp on efficiency. Efficiency is often what drives us to remove all margin from our lives. To fill every moment. It is especially hard on our relationships.
Efficiency is the “how” of life: how we meet and handle the demands of daily living, how we survive, grow, and create, how we deal with stress, how effective we are in our functional roles and activities.
In contrast, love is the “why” of life: why we are functioning at all, what we want to be efficient for…
Love should come first; it should be the beginning of and the reason for everything. Efficiency should be “how” love expresses its “why.” But it gets mixed up so easily. When I was a young parent, I wanted to take good care of my children (efficiency) because I cared so much for them (love). But I soon became preoccupied with efficiency. What were my kids eating? Where they getting enough sleep? Would we be on time for the car pool? My concerns about efficiency began to eclipse the love they were meant to serve. Getting to the carpool on time became more important than attending to a small fear or a hurt feeling. Too often the report card — the preeminent symbol of childhood efficiency— was more significant than the hopes and fears of the little one who brought it home. It happens to all of us.1
So — we embrace a little inefficiency in our lives. So what if you are late to the carpool? It’s not a massive issue. So what if people have to wait an extra day for you to reply to their email? It’s good for you, and it’s probably good for them.
And when the hard stuff hits — the unexpected news, the delay, the setback — we practice kindness. Just today I was looking forward to my writing time. I had several hours blocked out in the afternoon to work on this book. But when I came home there were some troubling messages from credit card companies; after a few calls we learned our identity had been compromised. We had to make a number of calls to try to stop the hemorrhaging. We got things worked out, but it was stressful and upsetting. That done, I needed to resume my work as an author. Life carries on. But my soul was not ready. So I allowed some space for transition. I played some worship music while I simply sat in my office. And when I did turn to work, I began with simple tasks like checking research, picking up some lost notes. Kindness. Transition.
- Gerald G. May, The Awakened Heart (San Francisco: HarperOne, 1993), 3–4.
Excerpted with permission from Get Your Life Back by John Eldredge, copyright John Eldredge.
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Have you ever longed for a slower pace of life? The choice is actually ours! We can allow for transitions and be kind to ourselves enough to allow room for our souls to breathe. “Your soul is the vessel God fills, yet there is no room for Him to fill if your soul is wrung out, twisted, haggard, fried.” Does that sound familiar? Come share your thoughts with us on our blog. We want to hear from you!