There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens (Ecclesiastes 3:1). But don’t we often wish that the happier times like birth, laughter and dancing would last longer than the painful times like death, weeping and mourning? If only we never had to experience suffering and sorrow, that would be paradise! However, we know that suffering and sorrow are part and parcel of the human journey back to God ever since the expulsion of our ancestors from the Garden of Eden.
Someone once told me that there are only three things which are certain in our human journey – life, death and change. I found this to be very true, especially when it came to change. We may have heard the famous quote from Heraclitus, the Greek philosopher, that “Change is the only constant in life”. Like it or not, change has happened, is happening and will happen within and all around us.
But the greatest struggle in every change is not so much the change itself, but what it means for us. Every change whether pleasant or unpleasant brings about stress. And our instinctive reaction to stress is that of resistance, either “fight”, “flight” or “freeze”. William Bridges, a guru on managing transitions wrote that “It isn’t the changes themselves that people resist. It’s the losses and endings that they have experienced and the transition that they are resisting”. That is why facing what the changes entail is so difficult. It certainly seems more convenient for us to confront, avoid, or even ignore what is happening within us in every change.
I have always felt a deep sense of connection with the marginalised in society, especially for children and youth-at-risk. So, it was not a surprise that my first job was with a residential home for youth who had committed criminal offences and had been sentenced for probation. I was a greenhorn in the social service and helping profession, but I was all ready to be there to make a great difference to the lives of these youth. Just two weeks into the job, I felt burnout and wanted to resign. Mentoring one probationer was still alright but being surrounded by over eighty of them every single day really took a toll on me. Uncouth and heavily tattooed, their backgrounds were completely different from mine and I could not understand why they would even choose to commit such crimes in the first place. I naively thought that by giving some good advice about being a good person and inspiring them towards a good education, it would change their outlook in life.
Of course, that was when my supervisor sat me down and listened to my lamentation. I just remembered that he kept very silent and listened very attentively until I had finished what I needed to say. Then with one sentence, he completely shifted my entire perspective about the plight I was in: You cannot choose what will eventually happen to them (the youth), but you can choose to be present with them.
On hindsight, it was obvious that I was struggling with managing transitions in my own life vocation. In fact, I found myself just like the Israelites who were angry with God for even bringing them out of slavery from Egypt in the first place because they had to wander in the desert for what seemed like eternity before they could finally reach the Promise Land. Just like Jonah who fled for Tarshish instead of heeding God’s call to go to Nineveh, I too wanted to flee from His invitation be present with the youth because I had to let go of my belief that I could be a superhero who would save the youth from their distress. It was a blow to my ego and in a spiritual sense, a crush and melting of the old Adam in me, so that the new one who is Jesus Christ can be truly and freely moulded.
Transition is a paradox as William Bridges would call it. It starts with an ending and finishes with a beginning. Change is certain and new beginnings will happen, but not without having first made our transitions through our spiritual desert. The constant invitation from God is to not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of our minds. Then we will be able to test and approve what God's will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will (Romans 12: 2).
About the author:
Zerah currently serves as the President of the Montfortian Associates Movement (Singapore) and is the pastoral programmes coordinator at Montfort Centre. He obtained his Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work from the Singapore University of Social Sciences and holds a Certificate in Theology from the Catholic Theological Institute of Singapore. A pastoral worker, Zerah has over 5 years of experience working with children and youth from the Montfortian-Gabrielite Institutions in Singapore. Interested in the accompaniment and spiritual direction of groups and individuals, Zerah has also completed the Soul Companioning course with CenterQuest.