A couple of years ago, our Wednesday night adult group studied a book called Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes by William Bridges.
The book was first published almost forty years ago, and from what I can tell, has continued in print ever since, even coming out recently with an updated edition. This little book deserves all its acclaim, as it charts out the three parts of any transition: “the ending, the neutral zone, and the new beginning,” in ways that each of us can identify with, and gives the reader a much deeper understanding of transitions and how to navigate them well.
I love this book, and yet I also struggle with this book, because of one of its simple premises: that we are all, always, experiencing some sort of transition.
I might find this less objectionable if I liked transition and change, but to be honest, I really don’t.
I love a good routine. I like habits and well-worn rhythms, I like schedules and predictability.
I bet some of you do too.
Which has made this past year of pandemic living especially hard. First, there was the sudden dramatic upheaval of all of our routines, as everything shut down in a matter of days. No more school, work, gatherings; no more regular shopping or recreation or travel. Instead, lots of anxious watching of the news and wiping down packages with disinfectants. Figuring out how to sew masks. Learning what a six-foot distance looks like.
And then, ever since, we have been changing. Pivoting, as my friends and I like to say. Depending on what the positivity rates and case numbers are like in our area, or responding to the changing science around this virus. The availability of vaccines. The prevalence of new virus variants.
Are you tired too? Are you over this, yet?
Looking back at Bridges’ model of transitions, we all raced through the “ending” part of our old lives, and in some ways have been living in the “neutral zone” ever since. And the neutral zone, as he writes in his book, is rough. You might think of it like the wilderness that the Israelites wandered in, or a river you are crossing. The middle of it, between the old and the new, is frightening. Unfamiliar. Disorienting. And getting through it can’t be rushed – it takes as long as it takes.
I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately, as I am getting ever-wearier of the neutral zone in this pandemic. I have my vaccines, and my loved ones are getting theirs, and I want normal life again. I want to travel without fear, and to gather with friends; I want to stop taking temperatures at church and marking off spaces in the pews that are six feet apart.
I know many of you feel the same.
And yet…people are still dying by the dozens every day, here in Illinois, of COVID. New variants continue to appear. Science keeps changing on how long vaccine protection lasts, and against which strands of the virus. All of this tells me that it’s too soon to declare ourselves through the neutral zone and at the new beginning.
We have come far enough that we can take some good guesses at what the new beginning will look like – that we will still wear masks for a time, and need to take a few extra precautions about sharing food and indoor space. But so much is still unknown: whether we will need annual booster shots to the vaccine, whether COVID will endure throughout the years but become less lethal and more like a flu…we have to wait and see.
So what do you do, stuck in the neutral zone? How do you live through the uncertainty and the impatience and the weariness?
Perhaps you make like the Israelites who were stuck in that desert for forty years, and you look for manna. For God’s gift, delivered every day, just enough for a day at a time.
You look for little bits of beauty, and grace, and hope. A hug with a friend who you haven’t touched in months, but whom you can embrace now that you’re vaccinated. A meal outdoors in the sunshine, with someone bringing you food that you didn’t prepare and you won’t have to clean up (wonder of wonders!). A trip to the grocery store, free of fear and Lysol wipes.
It may not be much. But it just needs to be enough to keep going. A day at a time. One step further.
And as you look for this, may you find – as the Israelites did – that God is faithful to provide just enough for us to keep going. Amen.