Glenda Simpkins Hoffman
This is the first week without Pastor Pete at the helm. I’ve been missing him, and he’s only been gone three days. But by now, I would have been in a number of meetings where he was usually leading or at least present. And I’m getting ready to preach this first Sunday without him. It’s not going to be the same. While I am so full of gratitude for the joy of serving with him for so many years, I feel sad. I’m grieving a loss, and there is no getting around that.
Pete made the decision years ago that when he turned 70 it would be time for him to retire. It was time for a change, and he chose the time for that to happen. So for months we have been honoring him through our words, listening to him preach on what matters most, and getting ready for letting go. While we still hope to gather once more with Pete and Chris and their family for an in-person celebration, the change has happened. Done. Or is it?
The decision may have been made and implemented, but the truth is there is still a lot of transition ahead. Kim Snyder, our Community Engagement Director, forwarded a podcast to me this week by Patrick Lencioni (Episode 80). The title speaks a deep truth: change is easy; transition is hard.
It’s often said that people resist change, but that’s not always true. In fact, there are many changes we want like getting married, having a baby, and moving to a new house. Why do we want these changes? Because they fulfill a desire of our hearts or bring some kind of improvement to our lives.
Yet even in the early stages of marriage, parenting, or packing and unpacking boxes, we can begin to have second thoughts. What have I gotten myself into? Maybe this wasn’t a good idea. Did I make a wrong decision?
Lencioni makes clear it is not the change or the decision but the messy, emotional process of transition that people resist and often dislike. Why? Every change involves loss, even good change. Getting married and getting divorced both involve significant loss. Losing a job and getting a new one both involve loss. Grief and having a baby both involve loss.
The podcast shared the insight of a man named Bill Bridges who identified seven kinds of loss that are a part of transition. I’ve added some of my own experience and insights below.
- Loss of identity. When women get married, they often change their name, and so experience this kind of loss. When my youngest son completed sixth grade, I cried; we were losing the sense of identity that we had had for ten years as part of the Louise Archer Elementary School community.
- Loss of turf. When your job changes, so does your place of work and your job description. When you move, you lose your sense of belonging to that neighborhood. When there is a worldwide pandemic and you can’t go to work, out to dinner, to the movies, or to church, there is a loss of turf or place where you used to live your life.
- A loss of structure. When parents stay home to be with their kids or people retire, there is a loss of structure to their day. When there is a worldwide pandemic and you have to learn or work or study from home and many of your routine activities are curtailed, you also lose a sense of structure.
- Loss of control. When you get married, you no longer make every decision yourself. When you have a newborn, you no longer have the same control over your time and schedule. When there is a reorganization at work, you no longer have the same sense of control as you felt before. When your senior pastor has left and you don’t know when the next one is coming, there may be an awareness of loss of control. When there is a worldwide pandemic . . . need I say more?
- Loss of the future. When our kids had to go online for learning, there was a deep sense of what they lost in the process that may never be regained. My son’s senior year in high school is not what we imagined it would be. When there are massive layoffs at work, a friend takes another position in a new company, or someone significant in your life dies, you have lost the future you had envisioned for your life with them.
- Loss of attachments to people. This loss is certainly felt when a loved one dies, but even a change of jobs or a move can leave you feeling detached from people you care about. A few years ago two sets of my friends moved out of the area for very good reasons, but there was a loss of their presence and regular time I enjoyed with them. The retirement of a pastor is a loss of attachment to a person who has been a significant presence and part of our lives.
- Loss of meaning and purpose. Again, retirement, loss of a job, becoming an empty-nester are transitions that involve relinquishing responsibilities. We have given our time and energy to these all-important callings in life, and now that they are over, we may be left feeling we have lost our meaning or purpose in life.
Some changes we choose, but many we don’t. Either way, change involves transition, and transition involves loss. So what? So what difference does this make to me in the midst of a year-long worldwide pandemic, the retirement of our senior pastor, or whatever other transition we experiencing?
Lencioni recommends we catalogue what we are losing. In the midst of whatever transition we are going through, it’s helpful to name our place in this journey. It may be only one of the above, or it may be all of them. I am certainly feeling many if not most of the above in relationship to Pete’s departure. But I’m also feeling loss due to my mother’s declining health and my oldest child’s imminent graduation. I truly believe God has a good and hopeful future for Pete and Chris and for us as a church, and I accept these all that is happening as part of his plan. But I still have to deal with losses related to transition, and so do you.
Facing and naming the reality of loss helps us process our pain so that we don’t transmit it to others and so that we can move on to the hopeful future God has for us individually and together as a church.