Recently I've been meeting a few people who have some issues transiting to a new lifestation. And that brought me to reminiscence about my own experience. Having transited across several lifestations since I came to know God, I realize that it's quite difficult to navigate without prior experience and on your own. That said, I think that not everyone has major adaptation to make during transition, for a myriad for reasons. I am, however, one of the few that takes forever to transit and adapt. I remember taking a whole year to transit into National Service whereas most of my guy counterparts seem to thrive there after a month or two. Some others seem like they belong there so naturally. Either way, having suffered, rejoiced, experimented and reflected deeply over those times, I'll make an attempt to crystallize some tips I think will help those who require some navigation aid :) I'll do this through sharing some of my personal stories so you'll get my drift better!
*Read this as an emotional post! Try to catch my emotions in my post :D
Before that, I'll just make a quick guess at:
What kind of people may have more trouble over transitions to new lifestations:
- First major transition in life (JC-> NS or JC-> University)
- Emotionally-inclined people (regardless of gender)
- Previous lifestation holds very dear and major memories for you
- Have people you know who are very dear and yet remains at the previous lifestation
- Significant geographical and cultural differences with the previous lifestation
I'll structure my experience into 2 parts: in terms of "settling into the new lifestation" and embracing the future. To put into an analogy, it's like moving house. Settling into the new house constitutes moving the furniture in; making sure your stove and lighting works, air-con is functioning and you have a place to sleep in. Embracing the future is things like finding which bus stop near your house has which bus; knowing your neighbours; what shops and buildings exist near you; nearest ATM and the nicest, cheapest coffeeshop. This post would be about "settling into the new lifestation". (The second part will be in the next post!)
So let's start:
Settling into the New Lifestation
Of the 2 years of army, I spent 1 whole year trying to adapt and transit well. Of my first year into university, I took an entire year as well and even now, there are some aspects that I haven't fully adapted in. I often wonder why is it that I'm so "slow" in getting used to new environments. In fact, very frequently, I often blame myself and regret the fact that I take so long and I'm "wasting my time" when I could have been much more productive - whether it is serving in a new ministry or outreaching to people the sort. Well on hindsight, that would probably be true. But once upon a time I was reading my devotions (Oswald Chambers' "My Utmost For His Highest"), the passage I was reading spoke of following God at the cost of others. And that just blew my mind! "At the cost of others" meant to me, that in the end I must value my walk with God more more more than what people think is right and important and productive. If people don't benefit directly or are unhappy with the way I prioritize my walk with God by deciding to have more alone time and not serve for the time being, well - Galatians 2:6 "As for those who seemed to be important - whatever they were makes no difference to me; God does not judge by external appearance - those men added nothing to my message." After this discovery and also that there is no "right" way to feel (emotionally), I wasn't pressured to transit ASAP anymore. And that actually helped me to transit more smoothly. I did end up procrastinating from making some decisions or committing into something, but the truth is:
I....DON'T... CARE :)My relationship with God is first and foremost, and it's not like I chose to have struggles in transition! How am I supposed to expect that. So, you know what? I'll take all that I need to transit, and time is one of those things that is essential. Rushing it results in more dread, more pressure, more unwllingness and may cause future complications unintentionally. BUT!!! Here I'm not saying that you just rot in your bed, have no friends or have no life. Rather, I'm saying that you just do the bare minimum for you to continue in the lifestation. If you have to do projects to pass your module, do it. If you have to make just one friend in class so you won't be a social hermit for 4 years, do it. If you have church responsibilities that you can't drop or it is irresponsible to drop it, DON'T (or you are asking for judgment from God!) If you really need to drop it, drop it slowly and responsibly, handing it over to someone and not just leave and creating problems for other people. All of this advice may seem contrary to my advice on top, which is to take as much time as you need and go at your own pace, but actually it is the same piece of advice. Unlike other people, we have a God who is sovereign and able to do all things. As we do the bare minimum required, we will grow in our capacity to adapt and also to adapt to the lifestation. Why am I so sure? Because God Himself sees our heart and He loves us. He knows what we need and He will give it to us in His own timing. Feeling like bursting at the seams? Just hang on, and God will make all things beautiful in His timing. If you don't believe this, then it is a good time to build your trust in God.
Additional details: I also want to elaborate on what are the future complications of rushing transition. Firstly, it is that you will keep feeling like you've missed out something while transiting and that you have never "fully" transited in. The honest truth is that probably you did since you were rushing, you didn't resolve all that should have been resolved. Can you imagine like at Y4Sem2 of university, just before graduation you feel like you chose to enter the wrong university because you filled the application form wrongly? That sort of "I've screwed my life up" sentiments may follow you into your career, marriage and future. A second possible complication is that you won't be sure what your anchor in this lifestation is. If you end up rushing, it probably means that you're following some kind of "guide" or "example". This can be your peers, your own expectations, what your seniors tell you, results or anything. And there will come a time when you can no longer keep up with the "guide" and then you will feel like you have failed or messed up. Another situation is that the "guide" disappears and then you won't know how to proceed for your remaining time in that lifestation, eventually missing out what God wants to give you and let your experience there. Our guide must be God and our walk with Him. The third complication is that you won't know how to lead and help people (including yourself in the future in the next transition) who struggle with transitions, because you yourself have not really gotten over it or figured out what are your struggles with transition. You're only hanging on/functioning because the circumstances at the moment aren't harsh enough to reveal your flimsy foundations in this lifestation. But the moment it comes, you might be paralyzed all over again. And the struggles of transitioning will again show itself.
I guess for most of us having trouble with transitions, the most difficult battle to fight is always the emotional aspects. After all, the "doing" is more often than not pretty mechanical - learn a new concept, apply in a project, do tutorials, write essays, practice a new skill, be able to read new things etc. Of course, learning these things cause us distress, but essentially distress is an emotion right? :D On top of that we also have to face new people, travel etc. We simply don't have enough emotional energy at the start of the day, much less to last throughout the week/month/year. So how do you not give up when all your emotions are doing is dragging you down? I myself discovered it by accident in the story above on some rainy day, but on hindsight I realized it's the grace of God at work as I never gave up! You there, just hang on. It was never promised to be easy. In the same way Christ suffered at the hands of the world, we too need to suffer, so that God’s glory will be revealed. Don’t ever give up, for many of your friends and spiritual buddies haven’t gave up yet and part of their reason for hanging on is you. And above all, don’t give up, for God never gave up.
How exactly do we not give up? The bare minimum is prayer, the best is prayer and being rooted to the local church. Let me explain. While transitioning to NUS, somewhere in late June of 2013 I decided to take a 1-month long trip overseas to be alone on my own. Away from church, away from church people and responsibilities and expectations. And it was there that I continually sought God and prayed. Of course, I still kept in touch with my friends through Whatsapp but essentially I was living life on my own. I didn't regret my decision at all. I think having that time alone with God and not be stressed out about transitioning issues but being able to sort them out peacefully with God turned out for my deliverance. About halfway into the trip, God spoke to me during my prayer and quiet time, and that broke one massive stronghold in my life. So you see, prayer is a must. Real, difficult and unabashed prayers before God. Of course, if you ask me if there is a better way to do it, then yes, I will probably think so. In early July, my congregation has a camp for all the university students in my church (called UniCamp - themed "Defining Chapters"). So far in my walk with God, every single church camp has been really dear to me and has been really significant in elevating my walk with God to the next level. And it's where I find people who will continue to support me and enhance my relationship with God. To be frank, part of the reason I wanted to go overseas was so that I don't have to go for the camp because I just didn't want to be near people then. But I guess, things could have been different if I have went for the camp - my transition phase could have been shorter if I went for the camp and trusted God to guide me through my pains. Again, I'm not saying that I made a wrong choice by going overseas (God eventually confirmed that it wasn't a wrong choice), but just that well I can also pray in Singapore right? And also have a loving community to help me through the struggles. So for you, it is my encouragement that as much as possible, don't isolate yourself. But if you can't help it, then just make sure that you continually prayer and seek God!
UPDATE (Thanks Joanne): I do encourage people to journal down some of their learnings/discoveries/prayers. This would really help you in the few months/years of transition. I say this because even throughout this period, God will speak and communicate and also exhibhit acts of love to you. When you journal these down, it'll help you when you read them again, whether 3 weeks later or 3 months later, to remind you that God is still with you, and that you're going somewhere. In your better/more convicted times, you can even write a letter to yourself to encourage the future you :)
My last words and encouragement for you
In the end, transiting is something that ALL humans have to go through. But my encouragement is that, as a Christian, as you go through transitions, (hopefully following the above steps :P), you never go through it alone. At times when you're having a tough time following and trusting God, follow and trust God's people. At times when you just don't have access to a community of God's people or don't think they will understand your struggles, trust God and follow His leading. It is of course ideal to transit holding God's hand in one hand and God's people in the other, but I understand that it is a time of trials and challenges for you, and at times you need the one hand to put in front of you as you grope your way around blinded. (it's just reflex, after all!) Don't worry, in the end our Father in Heaven has gotten you covered! No matter how you walk, as long as you keep walking, you'll reach where He wants you to be :)