Beginnings and Endings
By twenty-nine years of age, I thought I would have had a better grasp on how to transition well. Finish one year of school, start another. Move out of one home, make another. Lose touch with one friend, meet another. Leave one job, find another. Leave one church, join another. Some transitions are quick, some take time. Some are seamless, some leave a lasting void in our lives.
Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher from the 5th century BC, said, “Change is the only constant in life.” As a native to the city of Ephesus, the early church would have been familiar with his teaching. The writer of Ecclesiastes puts it this way: “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven” (3:1). Change and transition, beginnings and endings are normal parts of the human experience, but how do we make sense of them?
The writer of Ecclesiastes unapologetically tears down any worldly thing that we might be tempted to trust in: wisdom, knowledge, self-indulgence, hard work, outward appearance, wealth, honor. The word used to describe these things in Hebrew is “hevel.” Often translated as “meaningless” or “vanity,” the word evokes the imagery of smoke or vapor.
The implication of using this word is that as we try to grasp for things like wisdom or wealth, they will always slip through our fingers. There will always be more to be gained; it can always be lost. The stability, security, and familiarity we try to cling to in the midst of transition are a cloud of smoke. Whether by choice or by force, some things just slip away from us. So what can we do?
The book of Ecclesiastes concludes with this command and warning:
“The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13–14)
In the face of a world full of change and a life of endless transition, the writer fixates on the unchanging God of the universe and looks ahead to the final judgement. When change comes, don’t try harder to grasp the unattainable, look to God and look forward to Christ’s return.
Don’t Worry About It!
Has anyone ever told you to not worry about something?
“What are you doing in there?” “Don’t worry about it!”
“Who was that on the phone?” “Don’t worry about it!”
“There are going to be layoffs soon, but don’t worry about it, it won’t affect you.”
I wasn’t worried, but now I am!
The more someone says “don’t worry,” the more we worry. It’s the same concept of saying, “don’t think of a pink elephant.” But if I say, “think of a sailboat on a lake,” what are you thinking of? Not a pink elephant! This is why the command to “be anxious for nothing” (Philippians 4:6a) is only the first part of a sentence. The apostle Paul goes on to give a solution to our anxious thoughts: pray to God and express gratitude (Philippians 4:6b).
Moreover, he instructs us to fix our minds on what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise (Philippians 4:8). This is more than just things like watermelon, exposed brick, or unlikely animal friend pairings, even though these things might make you happy. In 2 Corinthians, Paul advocates to “look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (4:18). Fix your minds on the eternal, unchanging promises of God.
Anxiety is a war in and for our minds. In the midst of transition, directing our minds to the right place is the hardest thing to do. When anxiety hits and we are unprepared, we can either spring into action with our to-do list or we crumble under the pressure and do nothing at all.
When it comes to change and transition, fixing our eyes on the eternal means to look beyond our circumstances. Remember what God has promised. Remember who God is. Remember what God has done before. Imagine what he could do next!
Unchanging God and the Last Change
Though the world around us changes constantly, we can rest in the fact that God never changes, for “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). Since God is unchanging, we know his knowledge, wisdom, purposes, and promises are unchanging. God’s unchanging plan is active behind every transition, so we do not need to fear it.
Beyond the change we experience now, there is one last change to come, a change to be excited for: when Jesus will return and we will receive our resurrection bodies.
“Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed” (1 Corinthians 15:51–52).
When change comes and transition is happening, “do not be surprised…as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12). To avoid being caught off guard, make a list of promises from Scripture and examples of times that God provided for you. When those stressful times come, first make your requests known to God and then pull out that list and turn your focus to God.