By Benjie Shaw
Transition stresses me out. For most people, navigating change produces great amounts of anxiety and fear. Change doesn’t really bother me. I kind of like change as long as it is within a framework of stability. Transition is something else.
I currently find myself in the midst of my third job search in three years. Each has been expected– the first was after graduating seminary, the second after completing a 1-yr. internship, and this one is after serving a 1-yr. interim period– but each has been challenging. I will tell you and my wife can confirm it that I haven’t always handled these periods of uncertainty well. I feel tremendous anxiety about not knowing where the paychecks will come from after a certain date. I sometimes doubt God’s call on my life when, during a job search, the rejection letters come in at 3-4 a day with very few positive responses. As a result, I get moody. I get depressed. I lash out when things don’t go my way.
Compounding that stress is the question of how to end well where I am. I desperately want to run the race to the finish in each season of my life, but I often struggle with what I should devote myself to in a present situation while not neglecting to look an appropriate distance ahead. The balance is tricky. Once I’ve done it well and once I’ve done it poorly.
Spiritually speaking, these periods are personally the most difficult periods of my life. In order to be faithful where I am I have to constantly navigate the landmines of spiritual doubt that can erupt when the rejection letters pile up. I have to navigate the frustration of plans that don’t pan out in my present situation and not let that frustration compound the anxiety of uncertainty that I deal with every day.
As a reluctant veteran of dealing with uncertainty, allow me to offer 4 pieces of advice about dealing with your own periods of uncertainty.
- Talk about it— with your wife, a friend, a trusted advisor, or a counselor if need be. The periods when I have struggled the most were characterized by my attempts to work through the anxiety, frustration, and uncertainty on my own. When I am dealing with things well I am letting my wife know that the frustration is getting to me, I’m calling trusted spiritual advisors and asking for prayer, and I’m sharing how I’m dealing with it day-to-day with people who know my situation.
- Sleep and rest— In the past I’ve allowed my stress level to keep me up at night. Not sleeping well isn’t the only result of this pattern. When unrested people make poor decisions, are generally grumpy, and at greater risk for experiencing anxious behavior and habits. Set a bedtime routine. Turn off the TV. Walk away from the computer. If you can’t sleep, pray.
- Maintain your devotional life— Maybe it’s just me, but when I’m feeling spiritual frustration and doubt I have tended to attempt to punish God by shirking my spiritual life. This is the epitome of foolishness and I know that, but in the moment it’s the only thing I feel I can do to show my frustration. The truth is, it’s not and it only makes things worse. If you don’t feel like reading chunks of Scripture find a website that does a “verse of the day” feature– these are usually optimistic verses about God fulfilling His promises or being trustworthy– and tell God why you’re having trouble believing it. Don’t let your situation change what you know to be true. You have to keep yourself anchored to the hope that is within you even when you don’t feel like there’s much reality to that hope.
- Persevere– I went through a Caedmon’s Call phase in college. One of my favorite Caedmon’s Call songs is “Lead of Love” because of the lyrics:
Had to walk the rocks to see the mountain view
Looking back, I see the lead of love
Following Christ into and through the unknown isn’t easy. The path is rocky and sometimes it’s not navigated unscathed. Despite how I feel God remains faithful. I can now look back on each period of transition and see God’s hand leading and preparing me for the next season. Don’t allow your inability to see across all time to diminish your faith in the One who can. Remain faithful, remind yourself of truth, and seek counsel to help you stay grounded.
Uncertainty is never easy but it is also a tremendous opportunity to walk into the unknown with Christ and come out the other end knowing Him more intimately, trusting Him more completely, and having a greater perspective on how He is at work in your life.
Benjie is the Interim Associate Campus Minister with Baptist Collegiate Ministries at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, TN. He is Jenna’s husband and Ava’s dad. He is a graduate of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary where he received his M.Div in Christian Thought (or, as he calls it, “Christian Nerdery”) and Georgia Southern University with a B.S. in Exercise Science (Hail Southern!). He loves superhero movies, good coffee, college students, catching up with friends, and the Atlanta Braves. Connect with Benjie on Twitter: @benjie_shaw.