Some of the most breath-taking places in the world are places of transition – where boundaries we often think of as defined become blurred.
A beach is a place of transition, where the ocean meets the land. From the window of an airplane, the dividing line might look clear, but down on the beach it’s a different story, where spray and breakers churn the sand, surging forward, sucking back, endlessly eroding and depositing. I remember night-swimming on a beach in Taiwan, my body pelted by small fish leaping from the waves, and another in Palau, where turquoise waters, coral reef, and an underwater river current met, just feet from the sand.
Two winters ago I walked, wrapped in coat, scarves, and gloves through a snowstorm in the park. The dark lines of trunks were sinuous and stark in the swirling white billow of flakes, the pathways invisible and irrelevant.
Land and sky flow into each other in the cloud forests of Ecuador, beguiling the viewer. Just being in such places, the mind begins to float, its own boundaries softening and yielding to the spiritual.
Truthfully, every inch of the globe is in transition, and the same is true for all human beings. In church we might teach on ‘times and seasons’, identifying periods of life that can be grasped as a particular passage of time with specific characteristics, but those are not true boundaries. In the natural world, Winter does not suddenly become Spring. We witness the first blossoms, the gradual warming of the air, the increase in birdsong, and it is this transition that awakens hope. Spring might enter a fulsome manifestation for a few weeks, perhaps even months, but the blossoms fall and the foliage deepens to the dramatic greens of summer. The first flash of red or gold in the branches hint at the slow transition to Autumn, and as the leaves fall and temperatures drop, we know that Winter is slowly arriving. In truth, everyone and everything is in a permanent state of transition.
This is also true of our spirituality. The Bible never presents the life of faith as something inert or static, however much we might like it to be. In fact, we are urged to embrace transition. Romans 12:2b
…be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.
This is not a one off process but a continual calling. Not from a place of compulsion or obligation, but as an organic expression of a relationship with the Living God. Psalm 84: 5-7
Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.
As they pass through the Valley of Baka (suffering),
they make it a place of springs;
the autumn rains also cover it with pools.
They go from strength to strength,
till each appears before God in Zion.
I particularly love this psalm for its clear demonstration of the dynamics of hope and transformation. As the person who embraces a life of development and change (forms of positive transition) passes through the Valley of Suffering, they make it a place of springs. They don’t just pass through and enter a nicer valley – they make the Valley of Suffering a place of springs. This is transition too, and the thrust of what I want to communicate today. Certainly, I have been in my own valleys of suffering, but by dwelling there patiently with God and following the leading of the Spirit, the suffering was transformed to abundance.
I have a prophetic nature/gift, and my heart tells me there are people reading this who feel stuck in a dark place. A dear friend of mine visited last night and spoke of his loneliness when on his own, at home. He is the life and soul, a person of tremendous positivity and optimism, and everyone he works with at his school loves him and the sincere encouragement and care he brings, but when on his own, he feels incredibly alone and can’t enjoy his own company. It has been this way for years. Last night, he asked me:
‘How can someone who’s so well-loved feel so lonely?’
I didn’t have the answer to that question, but my heart told me then what I also feel now – that the process of transition starts with accepting the discomfort and patiently trusting God for transformation. It is not that he is slow to act, but there are obstacles and hindrances in our thinking, and in the place of discomfort we have the chance to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. If we hide from discomfort, using alcohol, drugs, entertainment, working too hard, or anything else that keeps us from stillness to distract, we might as well set up camp in the Valley of Suffering for the rest of our lives. Becoming aware of and accepting the discomfort of our current position, letting down our guard and choosing to lean into the Lord is the way forward – not out of the valley, but transforming it into a place of springs. As we embrace that dynamic, we go from strength to strength till each appears before his or her God in Zion. What a promise!
Transition then, and embracing transition, is not only natural and healthy, but also the heart of discipleship. It is not a duty or obligation – God does not place those burdens on our shoulders – it is an unfolding of a journey as fluid as the path of a river. What I want to share with you above all is that the transformation does happen. God is faithful, and leads all who call on him to freedom. I wish you every blessing as you transition from the Valley of Suffering to the place of springs.
I also want to share something that might result in ridicule, but hey ho. During the pandemic, I recorded and delivered dozens of talks on Facebook, which were watched by many. After the talks came to a natural end, I transferred them to Youtube as a resource. The quality is awful, as our internet connection was highly compromised at the time, and for reasons I can’t now explain I wore a ridiculous robe and had a very scruffy appearance, but all that aside, some of those talks contain ideas and moments that have helped people, and so I continue to make them available. I’m inviting you to watch Without Compulsion, in which I share my personal experience of the Valley of Suffering and its slow transition to a place of springs.
You can find it here: https://youtu.be/iLJgI6tOqMY