Transition: Opportunity or Obstruction? - Part 2
As mentioned in my first article about transition, I experienced “it” long before I heard about it, as a formal, measurable, season of life.
If you are a leader I assume you are familiar with transition. I also assume your familiarity constitutes a love/hate relationship with transition.
Here's a quick recap of the first article: 1. We are always in times of transition. William Bridges once said, "Every transition begins with an ending. We have to let go of the old thing before we can pick up the new one—not just outwardly, but inwardly, where we keep our connections to people and places that act as definitions of who we are.” (1)
There are 3 stages to transition. Mr. Bridges describes them as, " an ending, followed by  a period of confusion and distress, leading to  a new beginning, for those who had come that far.” (2)
As a new pastor, I was emotionally distraught by our "ending." Therefore, I was not prepared for the already confusing and distressing season of "nothingness" that exists between stages 1 and 3.
I discovered 5 relationships that needed to be clarified and strengthened if I was going to manage the transition well and ultimately enter into seasons of resting, receiving, becoming and releasing. The first was my relationship with Jesus. The second relationship was the relationship with my family.
Relationship #2: FAMILY.
When I was a Sr. Associate Pastor at Church of the Hills in Texas my daily rhythm was pretty consistent. I would head home, almost every day at 5 pm. I had a lot of time with my kids and great times with my wife. We took walks, spent time at the neighborhood pool, had meals with friends, watched movies, etc. Our family had developed certain rhythms and practices that fostered healthy and strong relationships along with consistent moments of joy and laughter. I knew moving to a new part of America, with increased leadership responsibility was going to be stressful and emotional so losing time with my family would add stress to an already heavy and taxing load. With as much forethought and preparation as one could manage, I was still not prepared. My relationship with my family changed.....DRASTICALLY! This point is illustrated so well, when just a couple of weeks ago Darlene (my wife) and I was discussing how we were doing with our connection, the family, etc. and she says, "I am not used to sharing you with so many people." WOW! I was not ready for that, but it's true. My "ships" (relationSHIPS, friendSHIPS, leaderSHIP, stewardSHIP, sonSHIP) were taking on water. Moving across the country was painful. I was raised in the South and thought I would live my whole life in the South. Nope. I'm a transplanted Southerner living in New England....and I love it! But as difficult as moving across country can be, less than two months after I arrive I get a call late on a Sunday night. My dad had suddenly died. I entered into a season of depression, confusion and despair. However, the following ideas allowed me to not only "stay afloat" for many months, but I was able to traverse & overcome the stormy seas and set my life on a course of fulfilled purpose, contentment and adventure in God. How did I do it?
1. I SAVED MY BEST FOR MY FAMILY: This new leadership assignment was placing great demands on my time, my heart and my capacity to lead. I was rarely physically tired (except for the restless nights that hindered quality sleep). However, I had not experienced this much pressure before and emotionally it was very difficult. We knew that if we were going to be successful in leading Gateway through transition and lead her into her "new beginning" we must develop relationships, be accessible, be sensitive to others, etc. The development of relationships, creating partnerships, building a team, being accessible and available were all pulling at my time, my focus and my energy. I had days where I was home, but I was not really home. My therapist once told me the best gift I could give to anyone is the gift of "being present." Some days that gift was an empty box. I was not "present." I would give and give and give during the day at the office, only to come home emotionally empty and have nothing for my wife, son, and daughter. They were not intentionally being neglected but simply having to deal with a husband, a dad, a leader who did not know how to save the best for his family. Through Danny Silk's book "Keep Your Love On" and other helpful resources, I was able to set healthier boundaries, establish core priorities, communicate effectively with others and begin to save the best for my family. I do not want a "growing church" and a "declining family." I do not want to "win others to Christ" and "lose my own family." I was not willing to make that sacrifice because I knew it would be offensive to God and destructive for those that I love deeply. With the help of others and the implementation of practical tools developed in consult with wise leaders, my wife, God, and self-awareness, I was beginning to give my family my best.
2. I BECAME EMOTIONALLY AVAILABLE TO MY WIFE & KIDS: Ok, first, remove all the leadership responsibilities and being emotionally available is still difficult. We have heard story after story, haven't we, of men who were not able to connect with their wives at an emotional level? So, for me, add to what is already a unique and challenging opportunity and you have a husband who is not emotionally available. I had to confront the reasons for my isolation, disconnection and emotional barrenness. As stated in #1, I had to learn to set boundaries, communicate well and establish strong connections.
But more than that, I had to listen, open my heart and share with my family about my day. I had to learn to ask better questions, hold my tongue, grow up and blunt strong emotion so that my words were sharp enough to expression conviction, but not so sharp as to damage. I had to learn to rest well, take naps, and refill my tank. One of the things I learned early in my new life of leadership was that when I am empty emotionally (i.e. I have no words left, no emotion left, no ability to connect at a heart to heart level) how I spend my time was critical. My habit was to go home and watch TV (usually news or sports) and veg out. One day, while living this rhythm, the Spirit whispered to my soul, "Is this how you want to refill your tank? Is it with sports scores, athletic highlights, cynical news stories and partisan dishonor? Is that how you choose to refresh your soul and replenish your heart?" I learned the discipline to be more intentional about how I refill my tank. As an extrovert, I had to learn the beauty of quietness, soft, contemplative music, wrestling with my son on the floor, sitting next to my daughter and holding her hand, grabbing a simple meal with my wife and looking into her eyes with no pressure to speak...but to just be. That was not easy for me for many years. We have been married 20+ years and I have learned much. I've learned that being is a deeper, more romantic and enriching posture in my family relationships than always being busy. Busy, at times, was a form of self-medicating so I didn't have to feel the pain of being gone. I was active, but not present, and I can guarantee you that my family would rather have me "present" regardless of anything else.
These simple acts of discipline and intentionality have created a new pattern and a healthier life that enables me to be emotionally available. Remember, my therapist once said, "The greatest gift you give people is to be fully present." I am working on that.
3. I LISTENED. Jesus' brother James wrote, "Be slow to speak and quick to listen." Maybe you have heard it said that we have two ears and one mouth for a reason. I know that the "power of life and death is in the tongue" but I also know that people are generally frustrated when we try to solve their problems. If they need help, I trust they'll ask, otherwise, what most people are looking for is a "listening ear." One time my wife was telling me about her day and mentally I solved her problems before she had even shared them. As was my habit, I started brilliantly sharing with her how to solve her problems....I think you know what happened next. I'll spare you the unnecessary details, but it's sufficient to say my wife looked at me with the look that only wives can give and said, "You know Lance, sometimes I just need you to listen, not solve my problems." It was a rebuke, but at least someone pretty rebuked me.......so I had that going for me.
My advice to leaders who are leading through a transition? Take the time to listen. Your family is experiencing uncertainty, that period of confusion and distress. Your family is walking through transition just like you are. They may not be getting all the calls, sitting in all the meetings or looking at the declining numbers, but they are experiencing the husband and the dad that is. You can bet they are being impacted by what happens during "your day." Listening, both active and reflective listening, allows those you love to release the pressure they feel, experience value, feel cared for and heard and thus maintain their powerful, life-giving position in a relationship.
Listen to your family.
4. I ANSWERED QUESTIONS HONESTLY. Guess what? Leaders are insecure and as a result, often want to masquerade their insecurity by telling people what they want to hear instead of being honest. I can't describe the sweet and sour relationship I had with vulnerability. When having conversations with board members, pastoral staff or key influencers in the church I had to learn how to navigate honesty and full disclosure. I was tempted to tell people what they wanted to hear instead of having a conversation. Notice I said have a conversation. My temptation for monolog was to tell them what they want to hear or the other form of a monolog, to "dump everything I am feeling" onto them and just walk away. Any good leader knows that's not a recipe for effective leadership, but as people prone to insecurity and strong emotions, with high levels of responsibility, we sometimes lead without ration or thought.
I know you can't tell everyone, everything and that there is a measure of wisdom needed in our conversations. Could I encourage you to not let fear masquerade as wisdom? Often, that which strikes fear in our hearts is hidden behind our "wise" rhetoric. If a leader can't be honest, they aren't a leader. They can't reproduce without some form of intimacy and connection. What helped me with my family was answering questions honestly and processing the pain and beauty of the new adventure in which I found myself. Telling my family my day was "good" was not enough. They want to walk this path with me. I am not the only one "called" into ministry. My entire family is called and we live in a glass house together. Let's be honest about it, keeping honor and respect and the forefront of our conversations. Walking this path with my family means I share with them emotions I felt during the day. I share with them appropriate details. I let them "feel" my day without overwhelming them.
5. WE CELEBRATED GOD STORIES TOGETHER. If my family is pierced with my tears, my frustrations, my fears and worries they should also be given permission to experience the exhilaration of God "breaking in and doing the miraculous." I learned that what you celebrate, God propagates. When I don't celebrate with my family all they may be left with is a bitter taste of church and can't see her beauty, but only her underbelly. I don't want my family hating the "institution" that causes angst in our family, our marriage or our relationships. I want my family to love the church. So we don't only talk about what caused the scar, we celebrate the healing that a scar represents. We teach our family how to process past disappointment and into hope. Bottom line, WE RADICALLY CELEBRATE THE ACTIVITY OF GOD IN OUR LIVES AND THE LIVES OF OUR CHURCH FAMILY!!
As a sidebar, and I can't say this strongly enough, do not minimize any God story by comparing it to some "grand and glorious" invasion of the divine. All aspects of God's involvement and interaction within the community of humanity should be celebrated.
6. I DO THINGS THAT MY FAMILY ENJOYS. Yes, the church gets a large portion of my time, my energy, my love, my compassion, my empathy, my wisdom and my capacity to engage deep issues. Yes, my wife and kids often get leftovers. Leftovers once in a while is ok. Leftovers every day is not what my family signed up for. Therefore, I made a decision to do the things that my family enjoys. And here's an interesting thing that happened. When I made that decision the "rpm's of ministry" quit "redlining" and came way down. When that happened, the next domino to fall was my ability to see and hear. Suddenly I heard the contagious tone of my child's laughter. I saw the spark in my wife's eye when I was fully present. When I quit spending time with my family doing "fun things" as a task, but did them because they are my life-long pride and joy, my first and only eternal church I suddenly saw aspects of their life, heart, personality and desires that satisfied the places in my heart that were once covered up by the dirt of busyness. The church is not my wife. The church is not my child.
If you are leading a church in transition into her preferred future, you can do it. Establish healthy practices and rhythms in your relationship with Jesus and your family and you will not only survive, but you will discover some fantastic things about Jesus and your family.
- (1) Bridges, William (2004-08-10). Transitions: Making Sense of Life's Changes, Revised 25th Anniversary Edition (p. 11). DaCapo. Kindle Edition.
- (2) Bridges, William (2004-08-10). Transitions: Making Sense of Life's Changes, Revised 25th Anniversary Edition (p. 8). DaCapo. Kindle Edition.
Resources I recommend:
Book: Hiddenness and Manifestation by Graham Cooke Book: Keep Your Love On by Danny Silk Books: Contemplative books by Nouwen, Merton, Early Church Fathers Audio: Brave Communication by Dann Farrelly A Christian Therapist / Counselor A Best Friend who won't let you shrink back