[This article also exists in podcast form, on Pondering Purple. Click HERE to listen or find it on your usual podcast app.]
This is the first in a series of three articles about transition. In this one, we’ll cover “Preparing to End Well.” The next one will be about Entering Well. And the third one will explore Adapting Well and ten mindsets that will be helpful for TCKs and MKs in any phase of life, but particularly when navigating the upheavals of transitions.
Bear in mind that the following five steps are just a starting point for the process of goodbye’ing.
When I lead sessions, it can take up to two hours to cover them all, so please understand that this is a skeleton outline and that you and your family can flesh it out with mindsets, activities and planning that are specific to your own situation.
One note before we get into it. Some of you will already have left your previous world by the time you read this. I want you to know that it’s not too late. A lot of what is involved in this transition plan can be done even in retrospect.
The acronym I’m going to use for this topic is P.E.A.C.E. It’s a word I love to associate with preparing for transition because—in my experience—peace seems to be the first thing I lose in the midst of packing boxes, working out logistics and saying goodbyes. Transition can be hard—even when it’s something we’re anticipating with joy! When I think of “peace,” I’m reminded of John 14:27. In the New Living Translation, it’s put this way:
“I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.”
That’s the promise I cling to in times of transition—God’s promise to every one of us that even in the midst of life’s most complex upheavals, he offers and embodies…peace.
P — Plan and Persevere
This is the first step in preparing for a transition. It’s also one of the scarier steps, because it can make us feel like it’s for real. Like the move is actually going to happen. Like the goodbyes are crystalizing into something inevitable. If you’re anything like me, you might keep putting off beginning the process because you don’t feel ready for it yet. And—if you’re anything like me—by the time the transition imposes its reality on you, you might find that it’s too late to do it right. To give it the bandwidth it needs. To enter into the leaving process in a conscious, intentional, no-regrets kind of way.
So I may need to preface step one of this transitional model with this bit of encouragement:
Force yourself to inch one foot forward and acknowledge the reality that this is necessary and that it will make things better.
This planning stage might feel tedious. It’s also a sanity-saver. This is when you’ll make practical to-do lists. Then you’ll take those lists to a calendar and figure out a timeline to get them accomplished well enough in advance of the departure to minimize your stress. You’d do well to also sit down with someone else (this is really important) and walk through it together to make sure you haven’t forgotten anything.
So by the time you’re finished with this “planning” phase, you’ll know when you’ll begin sorting through your belongings to figure out what you’re keeping, giving away or tossing. When you’ll pack up the seasonal wardrobe you won’t need until you’re in your new world. When you’ll start taking things off your wall. When you’ll get your suitcases out and start filling them.
With each of these practical things on a calendar, the jumble of “to-dos” in your mind will feel less overwhelming. And, taken one at a time and well ahead of your transition, each task will be that much more manageable.
The “persevere” part of “Plan and Persevere” has everything to do with weariness. Transition is exhausting on so many levels. But you will benefit greatly, by the time it’s over, if you’ve found the courage and endurance to stick to the plan you’ve made and, yes, persevere. Keep at it. Knock out those tasks one at a time as if your sanity depends on it—because in many ways, it does!
If you’re a parent, you’ll need to be a cheerleader for your children too, as persevering isn’t always an easy thing to do. You might want to design what I call a Family Adventure Calendar or FAC. A home-made, creative calendar might be fun! It needs to be big enough for all kinds of notes to be written into its days and should cover the amount of time remaining before the move. In an ideal world—for reasons we’re going to explore next—that calendar should cover a full 365-day year, if possible. That way you’ll be able to easily schedule in all the logistics, but also all the “lasts” that come with Step III, without feeling overwhelmed in the final days.
E — Eliminate Conflicts
I’ve worked with an awful lot of missionaries and adult MKs. Of all the regrets I’ve heard them express, none have been as common or as “burdensome” as unresolved conflict. In the craziness of a major move, we often don’t realize how crucial it is to invest intentionally in repairing broken or wounded friendships—whether they be between family members, acquaintances or colleagues. Even years later, I’ve seen people grieve their inability to go back and at least try to fix a relationship that used to be important to them.
I need to add a caveat here: reconciliation requires that all sides of the conflict desire the same kind of healing. So in saying “eliminate conflict,” what I actually mean to say is: if you have been a causative factor in conflict, do what you can in good faith and with right intentions to resolve it. Own your responsibility. Acknowledge the harm done. Ask for forgiveness. You cannot determine the outcome of your intervention. You cannot mandate that your effort be reciprocated. But if you’ve sincerely tried, you’ll be able to leave without the added guilt of having attempted nothing.
In order to be intentional about resolving conflicts, it’s essential that we carve some time and emotional energy out of the busyness of transition—and well before moving day arrives (are you catching the theme here?)—so we can evaluate our relationships with a clear, uncluttered mind. We need to understand that the “healthy leaving” we’re striving for will be damaged if we leave unresolved conflict untreated.
So find a time when you can honestly and thoroughly think back over the friendships that have meant something to you in the place you’re exiting and identify those that you might have neglected. Look back over the recent past and just check to see if you’ve said or done something that has caused harm to someone else. Or if what someone else has said and done has caused harm to you.
Then sincerely consider whether addressing it would be the right thing to do, not just so you can reduce some of the pain or guilt associated with it, but so you can leave with a healthy sense of closure.
You might think, “But I’m leaving anyway—what’s the use of dredging this up?” If it’s important, if it’s still affecting you or someone you know in a significant way, you don’t want to look back on this opportunity to make things right, years later, and regret that you didn’t do something. The wounds we receive and inflict don’t fade with time. They only anchor deeper.
A — Acknowledge People, Places, Foods, Customs…and everything else you’ve loved in the universe you’re leaving
This is my favorite step of transition! Of course it is—it gives me permission to indulge a little! That transitional calendar we talked about in point #1 is going to be essential to making everything involved in this step happen. If you can give yourself a few months and spread these activities out, it will be that much more achievable and enjoyable.
The first step is to sit down with a blank piece of paper (one per person, if you are a family) and write down a few headers—like people, places, foods, customs, activities—and anything else that’s pertinent to your experiences in the place you’re leaving. Then take the time, under each header, to write down everything you can think of that you’re going to miss when you’ve moved away.
All the foods you may not be able to get in your new place of residence, the festivals you won’t be able to participate in anymore, the place you went on vacation a few times that will no longer be accessible to you, the friends you will miss and the things you’ve done together.
Once you’ve finished with your list, take the time to prioritize the most important items on it. Those “lasts” you really need to make happen one more time before you leave. Then head back to your transitional calendar (or to the FAC, if you’re a family) and start planning. Make sure that you’ll be able to eat your favorite local foods at least one more time, that you’ll be able to revisit favorite places before you go, to spend time (intentionally) with people who are significant to you, and to participate again in cultural customs that won’t exist where you’re going next.
Make sure you document each of these “lasts” somehow. Take pictures, save items for a scrapbook, write a journal entry. And for those particularly significant moments, pause, savor and acknowledge how much this person/place/custom has meant to you and that this is your intentional goodbye. I call it “marking the moment”—and you can do it as a family. Just pause. Acknowledge. Cherish. Say goodbye. It is such an important practice for us as we loosen our grip on the world we’ve loved and seek to enter a new world with eyes and heart wide open.
C — Create Space for Emotions
Oh, we can be so good at being task-focused, can’t we? This is particularly true in the throes of a massive transition! We revert to a “get ‘er done!” mentality that certainly gets ‘er done, but neglects other important aspects of a significant departure. I’ve spoken with too many people who have looked back on their last months in a place they loved and realized that the busyness and chaos of their move deprived them from fully experiencing the emotions attached to departure. And those emotions are a critical part of acknowledging the importance of the people, places and engagements we’re leaving.
It’s okay to feel in the midst of transition. Scratch that—it is essential to feel in the midst of transition.
Unless we allow our emotions to breathe and be known (especially to ourselves), our goodbyes will be sterile or worse: trite. Not only will we regret that in the future, but it might also damage relationships with people who thought they were significant to us, but saw no evidence of that in the way we left.
Creating space for emotions requires three P’s: Permission, People and Processing time. Allow yourself to fully experience the joys and sorrows that are inevitable in a major transition. Showing emotions allows us to process in a healthy way, to be present, to remain connected to those we’re leaving behind, and to move on with fewer regrets. In ministry, I’ve often sensed that people avoid emotion because it might send the message that they’re moving on reluctantly into whatever God has for them next. But Jesus grieved. Jesus acknowledged the fear and sadness of His final transition. I think that gives us Permission to do the same.
It might be necessary for us to try to connect with People—that’s the 2nd P—who can relate to the emotions of leaving a cherished place. People who can help us to process what we’re losing and people who will know how deeply we’re feeling the loss. Solitary grieving has its place—if only for a time—but there’s something truly beautiful about being accompanied by others who understand what we’re going through.
And then there’s the third P: Processing Time. I’ve said it before. I’ll probably say it again before this is over.
Goodbyeing takes time.
It cannot be done—certainly not done well—in the final crazed week of packing and leaving. In order for it to be meaningful and even healing, it needs to unfold gradually. In the whirlwind of packing-and-departing-chaos, it’s easy to get caught up in the frenzy and forget the strategy. This is one more reason why I encourage those who are facing a major transition to start early, use a calendar, take time to evaluate and assess, and end consciously.
Think about His words and actions on that last evening in the upper room, surrounded by those he loved the most.
- He allowed himself to grieve—he knew what was coming, he knew it was for good, and still he grieved.
- He sought comfort from His father—an infinite source of compassion and presence.
- He planned a final time with those closest to him. (It’s safe to assume that they didn’t just happen to wander into that Upper Room.)
- He pointed them toward God and the future as he spoke with them.
- He expressed His affection for each of them.
- He continued to invest in others, though He knew His time on earth was ending, by washing their feet, preparing them for His death and inspiring them for the future.
As trite as it may seem, when approaching a significant ending, we might be wise to ask, “What would Jesus do?” And then follow the example he set as his life was nearing its end.
Transition is seldom easy—even for those of us who do it well. And it is unavoidable in any life, particularly one of cross-culture living. It’s the gateway to a different future and it must be negotiated well if it is to enhance our life experience and not mire it in negativity.
As transitory as our lives can feel, is it not a reassuring and soothing thing to know that the God who walks with us is not going to change? He is the same in Pisa, Santiago, Bangkok and Timbuktu—and no amount of moving can distance us from his love—or from his peace.
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