Keeping the Faith: A Spiritual Checklist for Unsettling Life Transitions
It’s never easier to fall out of faith than when experiencing unsettling life transitions. Waking up with a mental to-do list of what needs to be packed during a move, what forms need to be filled out for a new position, or what needs to be taken care of after a significant loss can easily disorder anyone’s priorities.
This summer, I finished graduate school in New York, moved back to Houston, started a new job as a youth pastor, and began preparing for my upcoming first semester of seminary. Just before my move, I got to thinking about all the things I could be doing to make sure my transition to a city I haven’t lived in for two years was as smooth as possible. I quickly realized, in the utter chaos typical of the moving process, there wasn’t much I could control other than keeping a positive attitude and remembering to take care of myself physically. Spiritually, I felt uneasy. I knew I needed to be proactive to stay committed to my pursuit of Christ.
Proverbs 3:5-6 reads, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”
The word acknowledge captures me; in all our ways, in every path in our lives—even amid upheaval—we are to acknowledge God.
When I think of acknowledging someone, my mind refers to the regrettable moments in my past in which I walked into a room and didn’t pay attention to a specific person’s presence. To acknowledge someone, you have to look up, see them and initiate some form of communication, be it a smile, a wave, a reluctant “hello.” It’s not something we always want to do, but it’s more painful when we don’t; at least, I certainly get anxiety when failing to acknowledge someone. I know I’m not the only one guilty of doing this with God, and it happens most often when I’m frazzled by change.
Scripture states it clearly: when we acknowledge God, no matter what situation we find ourselves in, He will make our paths straight. He will calm the spiritual unrest that physical instability threatens. I can’t think of a better reason to put faith first when undergoing a transition, but it’s often so easy to lay aside for whatever problem we’re facing at the moment. I know this well. But now that I’m finally starting to settle into my new normal, with some lessons recently learned the hard way, I recognize several ways to put God first before the uprooting begins. Not everything will go to plan, but with careful forethought, we can all stay faithful in times of change.
KEEP YOUR DAILY ROUTINE WITH GOD.
Worship habits different person to person but training your spirit to seek God first each day sets your priorities from there. I believe everyone would live more peacefully if the first and last conversation they have each day is with God. More than that, trying to have a continual exchange with Him throughout the day is extraordinarily powerful because it reminds you you’re not alone in your stress. Reading Scripture and listening to worship music are also soul-stirring ways to communicate with Him, praise Him, and take your mind off yourself. In truth, if you’re aiming to foster a peaceful heart, one of the best ways I’ve found is to dedicate your thoughts and actions to others throughout the day. Sometimes we can get so caught up in our trials that we forget others are being tested, too, and the strength God’s given us could be of service to them.
DON’T “FIND” A CHURCH. INTENTIONALLY SEEK ONE.
If you’re on the move and in search of a new place to call your church home, do your due diligence about the churches in your area. For example, before I moved back to Houston, I made a list of all the places I wanted to consider calling my new place of worship. I wrote down the attributes I thought were important in a church, which were just qualities I’d seen in past churches that had appealed to me. Then I realized my error: my church should not glorify me and fulfill my desires; it should glorify God and honor His. The Bible lays out what a God-honoring church should look like in verses such as Matthew 18:20, 1 Corinthians 11:23–26, Titus 1:5–9, Ephesians 5:18–21, and 1 Corinthians 14:26. Consult Scripture and pray about where God would have you deepen your knowledge of Him, recognizing that no church is perfect. Humans are not infallible, and neither are our institutions. Thankfully, God is, and He’s in control.
CONNECT WITH FELLOW CHRIST-SEEKERS.
Matthew 18:20 states, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” If you want to be overwhelmed by the presence of God, get together with a group of believers. I have been a part of several Bible study groups over the past few years, and the difference in my relationship with God from before a group started to after the semester ended is transformative. It was at one of my first groups at my previous church in New York that I met some of my closest friends, one of whom would end up being my roommate a year later. I’ll never forget that group, not only because we read what would go on to be my favorite book—the one that inspired me to continue pursuing a life and career centered on Christ, Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis—but because I could genuinely feel the workings of God’s grace in our conversations. When I’d joined the group, I had just finished my first semester of grad school, during which time the closest friend I’d made decided she didn’t wish to be my friend after all. I missed my family. It was cold. My dog was upset with the climate and wanted to go back to Texas, I could tell. To say it was an unsettling transitional period would be an understatement. But those strangers brought me into their group, covered me with love, and instilled in me the strength of fellowship I’d need to embrace a future dedicated to the truth of the Cross. Now every time I’m among two or three believers, I remember those first winter meetings in New York, knowing God resided among us all.
SAFEGUARD YOUR TIME.
As opposed to opening yourself up to the emotional or spiritual harm that often comes with change, develop a plan for how you would like to spend your time, where you should spend it, and with whom. Be mindful that if the centrality of God is not present in what you’re doing, where you’re going, and who you’re spending the majority of your time with, you’re not drawing closer to Him. Safeguard the free time you have by doing what is honoring to God: continue developing the talents and abilities He gave you, stay active and take care of your body where the Holy Spirit dwells, and step outside the confines of your comfort to serve others in need. Read Scripture and ask aloud what Jesus would have you do with the time He’s given you each day. Pray that it’s in accordance with His will, as opposed to your own. Mind you; we won’t always get this right—our address is within a world fallen from grace—but God is forgiving, even when we spend our time as if we gave it to ourselves. I look at it like this: I owe myself nothing; as I am of dust, I was once nothing and will one day return to nothing. I owe God everything because He is everything, always has been, always will be.
TRUST THAT HE’S GOT YOU IN THIS, AS IN EVERYTHING ELSE.
Whether we’re moving homes, cities, or jobs, whether we’re getting into or out of a relationship, whether we’ve lost someone or something that’s forcing a shift in perspective, I think it’s safe to say transitions are rarely easy. In the throes these things, we tend to forget ourselves. We tend to forget others. Frequently, we forget God. But what I’ve found during seasons of change is that while life tends to unmoor everything we know to be true, Christ is always there to settle us in the truth of His love. In my experience, it’s the only thing worth clinging to, as it’s the only thing I know will never change.