Recently I arrived at one of the most significant transitions of my life: parenthood. The lead-up brought excitement to start a family, and the joy of seeing my parents receive the gift of grandchildren, but frankly I also carried selfish ambitions. I hoped it would make me a better person, more respectable and more fulfilled.
It’s not just parenthood. Almost every transition, major or minor, carries the weight of our hopes and expectations. Whether getting your driver’s license, starting a new job, moving across the country, beginning a marriage, or joining a new church, we often want these transitions to change us, satisfy our longings, and fix the broken parts of our current life. Things will be different now is our expectation for life’s transitions.
But life experience, as well as Scripture, reveals this assumption to be false. While transition won’t satisfy our longings or fix our failings, God often uses it to reveal these things in us.
From Novelty to Ordinary
Ecclesiastes is brutally honest about the naïveté and futility of humanity’s approach to life, especially in our search for fulfillment. As the Preacher repeats: “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun” (Eccles. 1:9).
The grass always seems greener on the other side, but Scripture reveals the folly of such thinking. Whether a new church, job, or relationship, the transformative allure of newness is so often a mirage. Indeed, for many of us, we don’t attach our hope so much to the new thing itself as to the feeling of novelty that accompanies it.
The grass always seems greener on the other side, but Scripture reveals the folly of such thinking.
What the Preacher clarifies in Ecclesiastes is that any sense of novelty that transition brings is fleeting. Most of us know this; we know that novelty fades. And yet before long, something else starts to beckon. We’re drawn to more novelty, and therefore the next transition. The cycle repeats.
Transitions Reveal More Than Change
So, should we never seek change or attach hope to any transition in our lives? The Bible doesn’t paint that picture either (Eccles. 3:1–8). Instead, God calls us to be sober-minded and self-aware before any significant transition.
I often see younger Christians longing to move to a bigger city like New York or L.A., confident that a bustling new environment will allow them to “find themselves.” What they fail to see is that while your environment and circumstances might change in a move, you still bring yourself. Sure, you can escape your friends, your mundane hometown, or your old job, but you can’t escape yourself. Rather than a downer, though, this reality check is an opportunity. Because when the variables of life around us change, it’s a chance to come to terms with the good, bad, and ugly of who we are, and how we need to grow.
You may be able to escape your friends, your mundane hometown, or your old job, but you can’t escape yourself.
Paul was undergoing a major life transition, one he probably didn’t desire, as he wrote Philippians: imprisonment. And yet, in this most undesirable of changes, he shows how we can approach any transition:
Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. (Phil. 4:11–12)
This precursor to one of the Bible’s most quoted verses (Phil. 4:13) gives us the right bearings before any transition. Rather than hope or despair in a circumstantial change, Paul sees it as a chance to learn more of his own need for Christ.
When you get a new job with a higher salary, it’s an opportunity to audit your priorities. How will you spend your new money? When you enter the covenant of marriage, it’s an opportunity to recognize and address sin—which is suddenly harder to hide. When you become a new parent (as I have recently), it’s an opportunity to consider how patient, or quick to anger, you really are.
Cherish the Present. Trust God for the Future.
Many of us have it backward. We ask God to change our present circumstances so that we can cherish the future. We pray to get out of a particular life stage (dating, marriage, job interview), and we give thanks only after we achieve this hoped-for future. Instead, we should give thanks for the life stage and circumstances God has us in now, praying for contentment in whatever comes. As Blaise Pascal said, “We almost never think of the present, and if we do think of it, it is only to see what light it throws on our plans for the future. . . . Thus we never actually live, but hope to live, and since we are always planning how to be happy, it is inevitable that we should never be so.”
When we overvalue the unknown excitement of the future, we sell short the known blessings of the present.
So yes, we should be wise about planning for the future. But let’s not burden the future with a weight of life-changing hope it cannot bear. And let’s not forget to cherish the present—the church, vocation, community, life stage, family, and circumstance God has given us now.