ENDING TO BEGINNING
While it may sound strange, if we want a new beginning, we must first have an ending. “Because transition is a process by which people unplug from an old world and plug into a new world,” says author William Bridges in Managing Transitions, “we can say that transition starts with an ending and finishes with a beginning.” It makes sense, doesn’t it? If a wall of our house has become permeated with mildew, we must tear out the gyprock and replace it with new wall sheet before a fresh coat of paint will have any real lasting significance.
Our lives are no different. Being content with the status quo makes us want to hold onto our old lifestyle, even if it is harmful to us. But if we become aware that there is a gap between our present reality and a future we desire more, we will become willing to leave the past behind. We finally want to make an end of the old life.
“What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of?” asks the apostle Paul. He’s trying to help us see the gap, to have a sense of urgency in leaving an old way of life that is killing us by degrees.
He’s presenting an early version of Bridges’ change management theory. He uses a different term for that first stage Bridges calls endings. Paul uses the word death, which paints a much bolder picture than the term ending, but it’s apt. The transition Paul describes is not insignificant.
“We died to sin;” he explains. He’s talking about the choice we each make to either stay as we are, living under our own set of rules that tell us we’re good enough as we are as long as we do such-and-such, or to accept the ending of that self-satisfied way of living. Paul specifically uses the terms died and death as literary devices to communicate a complete severing from an old way of life.
Paul’s advice to “count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 6:11) may be the single most concise guideline for the change that is happening in the mind of a person while God is working in the spirit of that same person. It is the deliberate choice to turn away from a lifestyle established apart from God. Regardless of the ‘freedom’ that lifestyle touts, Paul’s synopsis is that it is nothing less than “slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness.”
‘Slavery, indeed!’ we gasp. How can a self-determined lifestyle be slavery?
We are all slaves to something, he says. We all submit ourselves to one ideology or another whether we put a label on it or not. The point is not that we are, in effect, slaves, but rather determining to what we are bound. Are we slaves to something that will eventually destroy us, or to God who promises infinite benefit to us?
Bridges’ Transition Theory adds one piece of clarifying information. Between the ending and the new beginning there is a neutral zone, a place where we gradually, by increments, fully release the old way, explore what the new way will entail, and learn how to embody the new way of thinking and acting. This, I believe, is the zone of Christian living. It’s where we are in the process of learning to live out our God-centred beliefs. It’s where we make mistakes and need to remind ourselves we made an end of the old way, and focus again on the new way. Critics are quick to shout ‘hypocrite!’ but rather than hiding our weakness, we can simply agree. We fail – we address our inconsistencies – we get up off the ground and turn our eyes again to Jesus – and we move on. That is part of this crossroads that following Jesus entails. It’s humbling, yes. But it is the only way to real, lasting, transformational change.
(Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Derek Harper)