What? You are packing for another move? Of course you are. You are a global worker; it comes with the job description! Global ministry is a strange succession of packing, moving, unpacking, living—and then repeating the cycle. Both home assignments and transfers from one place to another can wreak havoc with your family life. While men experience difficulty with change, the larger burden of transition typically falls on the women and children. Men change jobs, women and children change LIFE!
I asked a number of global women: “What do you find hardest about transition?” They flooded me with answers. Here are voices from Asia, Eurasia, Europe, and Central America.
I thought I was good at it!
“The hardest thing about transitions is that you deceive yourself that you are good at it. You think, ‘Oh, I’ve done this before,’ and you assume that previous experience is enough to carry you through. The truth is, each transition is new and no, you have not done this before. You have not made this particular move with your kids at this particular age. You have never done this specific transition at your current age or stage of life. Each transition is a unique experience, and we do ourselves a disservice when we approach transition nonchalantly. Then, because we do not view the transition as something new, we under-prepare.”
I forgot the sheer amount of time it takes!
“There are months/weeks leading up to the transition, the transition itself, and then the months/weeks of working back into the ‘normal’ schedule. For those of us who do short furloughs because of visas, this translates into the better part of every other year being full of transition stuff.”
“One of the hardest adjustments was dealing with the lack of action when we got here. Trying to get our shipment was so hard, and it required hours of trying to figure out: the status on things; why we could not retrieve it from airport storage; who was in charge of getting it out, and so on. There was always another reason it had not yet been resolved. There are many procedural tasks that require multiple steps, but no one ever lays out all the steps at the beginning. You go to take care of what you need to do only to discover that now you have to go somewhere else and do such-and-such. You go to take care of that, and find out that is still not all of it: you have to go somewhere else and get such-and-such a paper…”
It is easy to get lost in transition!
“We can so easily lose sight of who we are in transitions. We go into survival mode, only taking care of the basics—but we are not designed to live in survival mode for extended periods of time. Some of us even get stuck in survival mode. It is extremely hard on us emotionally, physically, and spiritually.”
“Dealing with a new language and culture can be exciting and challenging, but you have to learn to accept that you will often look like an idiot. There is no way around making mistakes, and that can be painful and humbling. It is also exhausting, because you are constantly taking in and analyzing all the context clues and hoping you are coming to the correct conclusions.”
“Transition has a sneaky nature. One minute you think you are doing well. The next minute you are lying on the bathroom floor in the fetal position—or, harder still, sitting next to your child who has collapsed into a puddle.”
Everyone transitions their own way, at their own speed!
“We forget that each member of our family is affected differently. In fact, too often, we forget that our kids may never make it out of transition mode. They feel like they are in a constant state of adjusting to things. The effects of this on their emotional and psychological development are real and can be debilitating.
“Every kid transitions differently. My very sensitive first-born was four when we moved to Asia. He was incredibly sad at the loss of people that were familiar in his life, and that showed itself in anger. Life here was fine, but when life ‘back there’ tried to Skype or FaceTime, he fled the room. He refused to talk to grandparents, friends, or cousins. Fortunately, most people were understanding of his behavior, but some were not and took it personally. Then when grandparents came to visit about six months into our move, he was thrilled, but he threw up when we said goodbye and sank directly back into the angry, ‘I do not want to talk to you’ mode. The process of him understanding that these people could still be in his life, but live far away, took a long time.”
“You know you are where God planned, but that does not lessen the emotional toll. Encouraging your kids when you are fighting frustration and loss is tough. Not only are you working through your own emotional turmoil, but you also have to find ways to help your kids work through theirs.”
“As my kids have gotten older, the transitions have become much harder! Watching their pain, grief, confusion, and growth within the process is difficult—especially at a time when I am feeling vulnerable as well.”
“How do you explain how painful transition is to anyone who has not experienced it? That it hurts. That you cry. That you get angry. That you are extremely lonely. That you feel all the steps on the grief cycle—without any order.”
I was not prepared for the grief of leaving and going back to my home country!
“The deep grief surprised me. I thought we had that one nailed. Not so. When I left the United States of America in 1985, I thought we were going ‘till death do us part’ or until retirement, whichever came first. It never occurred to me that God might have another plan, or another ‘call’ on our lives: to return to our passport country to care for aging mothers and work in administration. Our Asian friends understood caring for parents as an absolute: ‘Of course you need to care for them.’ God made it very clear that it was the next step for us—I have never questioned His call to return from the standpoint of obedience, but I did not expect the deep grief that came with that return.”
“It seems the longer we have been overseas, the more difficult it is to come back to the United States and feel like we actually could make a connection.”
“It is hard to be welcomed home when in reality, you no longer call your home-town ‘home.’ It takes a long time to develop close friendships, and it is especially hard when long-time friends have moved away. It takes time to catch up with your family—a lot has happened while you were gone. You realize how much you have missed in the lives of others.”
“I think we go back to the United States for home assignment thinking that it is familiar, and that we know how to live there. Our expectations of how easy/hard it will be do not match our reality, because we are preparing for old experiences that no longer exist.”
So, what can we do? Transitions WILL continue to happen!
First, recognize that transition stinks, hurts, feels terrible, and is hard. Glossing it over or pretending we can tough it out just adds to the frustration. As humans, as women, we hate change. If we go into each change expecting it to be painful (or at the very least anticipating it may be), we can lessen the discouragement, disappointment, and pain.
Second, allow yourself grace and time. We forget that we need revival and refreshment after transitions. We think we can throw ourselves back into life at break-neck speed, and we end up doing long-term damage. That also means that we need to allow grace and time for our teammates when they are coming or going and not place expectations on them that they cannot meet.
Third, be honest with each other about how hard transition is. Ask a co-worker for help packing or unpacking. Offer help to a co-worker who is packing or unpacking. Take care of each other’s kids. Bring meals. Take care of someone’s dog or cat. Ask your supervisor or team leader to back off if you feel your family cannot handle the immediate pressure and needs a little more time. Be realistic though—you cannot expect to take a year for every transition, or you will never do any ministry!
If the transition is back to your home country, be honest with your family and church. Give them some articles to read on transition. Ask them to allow you the time to grieve, or sleep, or get frustrated. Be vulnerable. Ask for prayer and be specific about your prayer requests. Tell them where you need help. Often help is not given because the church and the family have no idea what to give.
Some years ago a sweet friend of mine was struggling with leaving Spain and returning to the United States of America. She wrote, “I think about only having the rest of June left to live in this rhythm of life to which I have become so accustomed: my friends; the market on Wednesdays with my favorite olive vendor and flower vendor; the colors of the sea and rocks and earth here; the light and shadows and clouds and sky which are so different from at home; the mountains on all sides; the winding highway; the steep narrow streets; the cascades of flowers; the stress; the sound of my neighbor practicing piano which I can hear right now; the bread; the incredible coffee they make in the cafes; and the love/despair relationship I feel for language. My dad wrote to me in puzzlement and a little impatience over my sadness about leaving and my statement that I would leave a part of me here. Does one try to explain, or is it impossible?”
I reminded her that grief was normal, and she needed to allow herself grace. No one can ever quite understand unless they have done transition—and then it was THEIRS and not yours.
I said to my friend in Spain, “You have been so far and seen so much. Your mind is full of impressions, facts, trivia, issues, and places far from your home country. You have made deep friends that you may never see again. You have laughed and prayed and wept together. You move on with a sense of loss that no one else can share or understand.
“So be patient with your transition. If you look blank or far away, it is because you are. If you struggle for a word or a name, it is because your new memories have crowded out other memories.”
Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary or lose heart (Hebrews 12:3).
I have been chewing on that verse. I believe that Christ died not ONLY for our salvation but included in his torture and violent opposition a factor which can help when we grow weary and feel as though we are losing heart!
Have you lost heart? Lean hard into the Lord, and ask for help from those around you who understand the pain of transition. Jesus transitioned from heaven to Bethlehem. He understands.
Questions to consider: Have you lost heart? How have you seen the Lord in the pain of transition?