life shifts: finding our way forward when everything changes

kathyescobar healing, identity, spiritual formation 0 Comments

When I wrote Faith Shift over 4 years ago my husband, Jose, read the draft manuscript. After he finished, he was really excited and said “The entire time I was reading it I kept thinking how much of this applies to life transitions, not just faith or church ones.”

I was busy focusing on faith shift conversations and didn’t think too much about it until this past year when I noticed countless moments with people who were sharing other transitions—divorce, job changes, deaths, all-things-children, mental or physical health diagnoses, learning to live sober, financial ruin, failed relationships or businesses, lost dreams, and a host of other hard life-changing things.

In these conversations I began to share some of the significant parts of Unraveling and Rebuilding and the ideas seemed to resonate, too. Since then, I’ve been integrating these ideas into advocacy and spiritual direction moments, and I like that it gives language and possibility when we feel stuck.

Life shifts are about grief and finding our way forward when everything changes.

And grief isn’t always because of a crisis or death.

 It’s often just a loss of what was.

A lot of us have lost what was in a myriad of ways.

Last month at our Wednesday night House of Refuge I finally tried to put this together in a halfway coherent way for one of our conversations. I thought I’d share it here, too. Similar to Faith Shift, you might want to use different language, draw it another way, say it more eloquently. Please do! I’m sure you could also add a lot of things that are missing from this one short blog post. For me, it’s just an attempt to offer language to less popular transitions (death and divorce always get the most attention) and offer tools to practice that could possibly help.

Here’s a draft diagram centered on Life Shifts:

Living

There’s no perfect comparison to Fusing when it comes to life shifts, but I think Living is life before everything changes.

Shifting

For certain life shifts, there’s a season of shifting, where things begin to slowly crumble; however, some are sudden and we skip Shifting entirely and go directly to Unraveling, see below). Shifting is about more gradual changes, like when our health or our partner’s health begins to go downhill, a relationship starts to slowly crumble, a kid begins to make terrifying choices beyond your control, a company begins to tank and you know your job is on the line, or we can feel the ground slowly sinking beneath us. Shifting looks different for everyone but it definitely includes “things are becoming more and more unstable, unclear, scary, bumpy.”

Returning

Similar in Faith Shift, many of us want things to get back to the way they were–before a diagnosis, when the relationship was flourishing, when the kids were younger, when our bodies and minds worked properly. To me, Returning is a normal part of any transition and happens during Shifting and Unraveling, too. But sometimes we try to go back physically, desperately try to get the old feelings back, work to salvage a relationship that’s dead, and a other attempts to “go back” instead of accept that season is actually over.

Unraveling

This is one of the biggest parts of any transition—losing it all. When there’s a sudden death or a tragic diagnosis, there’s no time for Shifting; we go straight from Living to Unraveling. For others, over time the shift transitions into Unraveling. Our partner files for divorce, our boss serves us notice and we know what that means for our future, our kid leaves home, a ministry we loved to serve with dissolves, or so many other losses. It looks different for each of us, but Unraveling is the brutal season of everything coming apart.

When we lose all we once knew, we usually lose the structures that contained us (groups, communities, family systems, etc.). When we lose our containers, we lose relationships and friendships. Then we often lose the thing that’s the hardest to lose–our identity. We begin to ask: Who am I as a person (or partner of someone) with a chronic physical or mental illness? Who am I as a single person? Who am I without the kids or a mother or father? Who am I without a leadership position? Who am I without the security of a house and steady income?

A few of the primary feelings associated with Unraveling are anger, fear, shame, confusion, anxiety, depression, stuckness/paralysis, self-doubt, but there are many more sprinkled in there for sure.

Wallowing

In Faith Shift this stage was called Severing, but that doesn’t work with life shifts. However, a lot of us can get lost in the Unraveling and end up in a painfully stuck place that I would call Wallowing (I’m sure there’s a better word for it but that’s all I’ve got so far). This is where we stuck, paralyzed, spinning in circles far beyond just feeling feelings of grief or momentary wallowing. Not everyone wallows, but it can happen to any of us when we lose what once was.

Rebuilding

Somewhere along the line, either in Unraveling or Wallowing, we begin to find what it takes to move toward something new, even though we have no idea what that might look like. Rebuilding is one of my favorite sections in Faith Shift and the same ideas work here, too. There are things we can try to help us move forward to new life. They include:

  • Honoring the losses
  • Discovering what remains
  • Celebrating what was
  • Finding what works,
  • Igniting passions
  • Exploring possibilities.

(That’s what we’ll flesh out in my next post).

Meanwhile, I’d love to hear some of your thoughts, what resonates, how this could be part of your current story, and how you’re navigating a life shift.