Monday, January 10, 2022

Celebrating Transitions


As I began the first draft of my sermon on Celebrating Transitions on Tuesday afternoon, I was also anticipating with some degree of anxiety our called zoom meeting of the board that evening to determine whether we need to transition back to zoom only services.  How dare I write a sermon on Celebrating Transitions when it seems that all we do is transition.  Well, if that’s what life is like – we sure need to learn to celebrate it.  And indeed, I DO celebrate that we have gotten pretty good at our options for worshiping so that we CAN make these decisions and still do church!  I celebrate that we have the proper equipment, the upcoming increased WiFi support, and the technological expertise to do these things, maybe not perfectly – but pretty good for a church our size.  And that ability for us to make these transitions is why we are surviving.  We just need to honor and respond to these challenges in a way that we can survive, thrive, and celebrate!  So yes, I’m going to share a sermon on Celebrating Transitions!!

Now there are some transitions that many of us have no problem celebrating.  These are usually the transitions that we set as goals for ourselves and work to achieve that possibility.  Graduations, Promotions, New Jobs, Weddings, and more.  It’s easy to put on that party hat and blow your horn when you’ve made some achievement.  Of course, some of us may have celebrated on New Year’s Day – because we had simply achieved making it through another year!  In all of these situations, we are proud of ourselves or our loved ones.  And we look FORWARD to what awaits us or them in that transition and beyond. 

Sometimes our various cultures create celebrations around transitions that could be very difficult and through which we all must pass.  I’ll give you just one example – PUBERTY.  Some religions have special celebrations when children “come of age.”  The bar mitzvah and bat mitzvah that our Jewish friends celebrate is an example.  Our congregation isn’t large enough to gather a group of young folks together for the UU “coming of age” classes and the celebration that follows, but perhaps that’s something we can now do with other churches in our cluster via Zoom? 

The most difficult of transitions to celebrate are those that are unexpected or unwanted – or are a result of Not achieving some goal.  Losing a job, the end of a relationship, the death of a loved one, the loss of some ability – for example, being able to drive, and more.  And certainly, we should all allow space for the grief experienced with these.  But we also need to be ready to see opportunities for celebrating our ability to move through this and find new challenges and opportunities in the future. 

I asked my Facebook friends what kinds of transitions they were undergoing. 

Several shared job-related transitions – getting a new job or transitioning what they do at their current job – or the most popular, transitioning to retirement.

Several others listed transitions related to family – losing a loved one, moving from marriage to divorce, and four grown folks said they recently became orphans. 

Some shared changes in their family roles – especially finding themselves in the role of caregiver for another.

Some had changes in living situations, moving to a new home or a new community, or living alone for the first time – empty nesters, and others with family members moving in.

A couple of folks were making intentional transitions in how they lived their lives, for example, eating differently, and another said she was “increasing my ‘noticing’ (awareness) of my reactions to specific situations.  Trying to sit in that awareness and pay more attention to my thought/ emotions. “And still another trying to find her voice – transitioning to a place of speaking her truth and reality in hopes of finding better care for herself and others.

Some folks were transitioning from being fully abled to having more challenges physical limitations.

And one long-time friend said she was just trying to avoid “the great transition” until she could see her grandchildren again and check off a few more things on her bucket list. 

All of these present emotions of excitement and anxiety.  Because transitioning means changing.  And change is often hard. 

Those of us who appreciate the insight that Darwin and others have provided us regarding evolution know – that it isn’t necessary the biggest or strongest or even the smartest that survive – it’s the ones who can adapt, who can transition to living in a different environment or with different challenges. 

Adaptation to something new is difficult for most of us.  We get comfortable with things as they are.  And many folks spend a great deal of time and energy trying hard to avoid change.  Unitarian Universalists seem – as a whole – to be better than most and shifting and adapting – at least we proclaim to be.  But sometimes we really struggle as well. 

Psychologists have spent a lot of time studying folks who adapt well, and they describe them as being resilient.  What does it mean to be resilient?  And is it something you are born with or something you develop?  Like most characteristics – it’s some of both.  Let’s be honest, some folks are just born seeming to have the capabilities of being more resilient.  And it’s not that they necessarily try harder than their neighbors.  They just got lucky, just as some are born with rhythm and musical abilities and others must work for many years to be able to do some simple dance steps.  So, we shouldn’t be so quick to pat ourselves on the back if we can adapt and our neighbor has more difficulty.  And likewise, we need to be understanding if we are the one in that role of having the difficulty with transitions.  We are different, with different capabilities.  Fortunately, it’s not a characteristic like eye color – resiliency IS something that we can develop and strengthen in ourselves.  Yes, we can LEARN to cope with life Transitions.

Psychologist Anna Womack provides us with six Tips!

The first is to PREPARE (when you can).  You should have the batteries for the flashlights BEFORE the storms takes out the electricity.  There are SO many things in life that we CAN prepare for --- even if we don’t know exactly when these transitions will occur.  One transition that we all know is coming – for every single one of us – is that great transition that my long-time friend is trying to avoid for a while – and that is death.  And folks, we sure don’t know – for sure – when our time or the time of one of our loved ones will come.  So, if there are things, we need to do first – to make it easier for our loved ones, we need to do it.  This past Thursday, I had the honor of officiating at a graveside service in Statesboro.  This friend was prepared.  She had even written her own obituary.  And she had planned what kind of service she wanted and told them that only Jane Page could do it – and if they couldn’t get me, that she was fine just not to have any minister there.  Of course, I made sure that I could be there.  We’ve questioned ourselves and the experts on whether or not we were prepared for this pandemic.  Actually, they had been preparing for it for years.  And it’s a good thing.  Because even SO, - with that preparation, we’ve been unprepared for much of what has happened.  Do all the preparation you can for those transitions you know are coming.  Study for your exams, exercise your bodies, read for more information, - like a good scout – be prepared.

The second time is to SET REASONABLE EXPECTATIONS.  It’s good to be prepared and confident!  But if you go into a difficult transition imagining that it will “be a breeze,” you my find yourself with a lot of frustration and stress when you don’t meet those expectations.  Instead, go into it knowing that you will feel stressed and overwhelmed at times.  That’s normal.

The third tip is Establishing some routines during times of transitions.  Daily walks, going to bed and getting up at regular times (do people really do that?) and having regular times for intention settings can help.  During the pandemic and before, I’ve been trying my best to walk every day.  It’s become a life saver in many ways.  I think I need to add some other possibilities to this routine setting for myself.  Also, be aware that some routines may not be healthy.  Just because it’s a routine – doesn’t mean it’s a good thing. 

The fourth is “Check your self-talk.” – Oh, God.  Not only do I have to deal with my constant self-talk – now this psychologist said I should evaluate that.  Well, she did prescribe using some self-talk to share with myself how I had accomplished getting through previous transitions before.  I guess I can do that.

The fifth is to Set some SMALL GOALS.  I agree with that for when we are overwhelmed – I think it’s a reasonable tip.  But we need to keep our eyes on the big goals as well.  Don’t forget that we are trying to work toward that Beloved Community with peace, liberty and justice for all.

The sixth one is the one that I think can be the most important during challenging transitions.  And that is to STAY CONNECTED.  Even if we must use Zoom folks, find ways to stay connected to folks.  Most of us know how to use a telephone. Call somebody today you need to connect with.  Wish them a happy new year.

And the seventh is priceless! – Practice Self Compassion. Forgive yourself when you fall short.  Our loud if necessary. Say it. “I forgive me.” Give yourself some self-love and be proud that you are dealing with some tough shh—stuff.

Y’all it’s 2022 – and with all the mess many of us have had to deal with – we are still here!  We can still LOVE – even if we can’t HUG everybody.  Everyone of us is pretty dog-on resilient – and that’s worth celebrating.  We know how to adapt, and we are doing it.

Greg and I have been watching Grey’s Anatomy on Netflix. We are up to the 11th Season now.  In one of the episode’s, we watched this week, there is a shot of Dr. Amelia Shepherd preparing for a difficult surgery.  Her resident, Dr. Stephanie Edwards comes in and sees her standing like this. 

“What are you doing?”  Stephanie asks.

“I’m standing in my superhero pose,” explains Amelia.  Research shows that if you stand in this pose before proceeding, you will be better prepared to meet the challenge.  Come join me.”  And Stephanie strikes the pose. 

So here I am!  Ready to survive, thrive, and celebrate.  Now whether you are sitting or standing – put your shoulders back as far as you can and hold your head and chest up!  

Let us CELEBRATE this new year and KNOW that we are HERE for one another as we Meet every new challenge! 

(Sing) Celebrate good times, come on!

Happy New Year!