“One thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me” (Philippians 3:13-14, NIV) Tuesday morning last week, I read this note in the margin of my Daily Bible: “December 11, 2007 - my last City Council meeting.”
I wrote that in my Bible so I wouldn’t forget; it was a big day in my life. I had served on the Midland City Council for twelve years.
I don’t remember much about that last meeting except that it felt right - like it was time to move on. I had no real regrets about leaving, yet I would’ve stayed and enjoyed it had I won the election.
The peace of that particular day surprised me, since I’d spent years wondering what I would do with myself after leaving government. I enjoyed serving on the Council, even the difficult and painful times. I loved making decisions that made Midland better, stronger, and safer for families. I was proud of the work I did to encourage park development, improve quality of life, and turn vacant run-down empty lots into living neighborhoods. I poured a great deal of intellectual and emotional energy into city government, and it occupied a huge portion of my mental capacity for the entire twelve years.
So my biggest questions on December 11, 2007 were, what will I do next, and who will care? Maybe the unspoken question was this: Who will I be after today?
For twelve years I’d wondered how it would end. I expected to be anxious and restless after leaving, until all those government wheels spinning in my head coasted to a stop.
But what really happened was this: nothing. The daily wear-and-tear and problem solving flew away quickly and completely. Instead of being haunted by my own absence, I was free. I forgot about government almost immediately. It faded quickly into something I used to do, long ago and far away, like going to college or being single.
The freedom was a gift from God. He was telling me be cool, it was time to go, press on to the future, and forget what lies behind.
Here’s what happened next.
I found time to write and publish two books. (My third will be out in January 2013.)
I dived deeper into the lives of the men God entrusted to me.
Cyndi and I built a new house - actually, we stood around and watched while Kahler Homes built it - and we love it. We filled it up with people almost immediately and have kept it full ever since.
I don’t know how I could have done any of those if still in government.
What I am trying to say is, while I enjoyed serving all those years, and I am certain I would enjoy it today if I were still there, I am happier in my new life. Happier than I was before, and happier than I expected to be. And the fact the transition was so easy makes it even better. As if God took my hand, led me across the street, and said, “Let’s try some different stuff over here for a while.”
Well - back to my Daily Bible - the next morning, December 12th, I read a story from Acts 24 that reminded me how transitions seldom work out as quickly or cleanly as we want. Most are harder, and most drag on longer that we hope.
The story in Acts was about a time when the Apostle Paul spent two years in prison because the governor was afraid to make a decision. Two years, gone, just like that.
Paul’s situation reminded me of another transition story. In 1994, like many other engineers, I was laid off by my employer of fifteen years. It took two years before I was working again. Two years, in the middle of my career, gone, just like that. Unemployment was frustrating and embarrassing; hard to comprehend God’s purpose.
However, during that time I developed the practice of writing one page every day. The topic wasn’t important as long as I filled the page. I also broke out of my corporate cocoon and dipped into the relational side of the independent oil and gas industry. I made a lot of new friends.
At the time, both of those activities seemed like busy work, stalling until something better came along. But looking back I realize they made my current life and work possible. Who knew?
And to be honest, the period of transition that began in 1994 has never really ended. Instability and uncertainty just became my way of life. I can’t say I am happy about that, but I’ve grown comfortable with it.
So sometimes, the transition doesn’t end right away. Maybe we need more training or conditioning; maybe the circumstances aren’t ready for us; maybe we just need to be grow up a little bit. It’s often hard to know the “why” of God’s timing.
The end of the calendar year means transitions for most of us. This is a great opportunity to move from the past, whether behaviors or beliefs or roadblocks, and into the next phase. It won’t be easy, but transitional moments should never be wasted. Ask God to show you what to leave behind and what to press toward.
And another thing about transitions. We seldom get a peek at what will come next. God doesn’t show the next thing to us until we are ready, and like ten-year-old boys, we are never ready as soon as we think we are.
So press on toward those transitions. They may happen quickly, or may take two years, but you can trust God to have your future in his plan.
Questions: Which big transition of your life happened quickly? Which took a long time? What do you see for 2013?
“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32