One of my favorite pastimes as a little girl was swinging, especially on the really tall swing sets that allowed me to soar to great heights. I craved the sensation of speed, of propelling to the top, to that sweet second where you just hang in space before falling into the momentum to do it again. Sometimes my hands would slip, or I would let go, and, losing my balance, fall flat to the ground. The impact would knock the breath out of my body. I would wallow on the ground struggling to breathe until I could finally relax enough to inhale. Then I’d reclaim my swing to do it all over again.
I’ve had the proverbial wind knocked out of me as an adult. One of the most profound instances came when I felt I was soaring into comfortable retirement only to hear that my job would be ending with the closing of a church publishing house. It was a devastating blow, and the relentless question at work was: “What do we do now?”
I was just catching my breath when I got a call from my parents. “We need you. Please come help us adjust to this new life stage.” Not only was I losing my job and my ministry, but a move leaving my home and my independence behind was required. The need to catch my breath was overwhelming.
There was so much loss happening all at once, it was difficult to process and still keep a semblance of control. The need to be strong was ever-present, and it felt wrong to grieve the losses. But grief is a natural and important process. We all experience loss in our lives, and how we manage it determines our physical, mental, and spiritual health.
Thoughts of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane came to me often. I realized that faced with His own inevitabilities, Jesus grieved deeply. This gave me permission to work through my own denial, anger, bargaining, and depression to final acceptance of the changes happening in my life. Please don’t mistake this for a fast process; even today that grief can be triggered, and I have to step away and be kind to myself.
Unexpected and/or unwanted change is challenging and brings circumstances and events that are out of our control. It even causes us to question God’s place in our world. Surviving tough circumstances is part of life, but thriving in them is something else. So how do we find a new reality when the old one is taken from us? How do we adjust to losing our “calling” to someone else’s bidding? How do we live under the fear of a life-threatening pandemic?
“You are stronger than you think you are. Honor the strength God gave you.”
These questions are legitimate, and it’s not bad that we think them. But just as the fall from the swing caused real fear when I had the wind knocked out of me, I knew that if I waited, the sensation would pass, and I would breathe and swing again.
Sometimes the loss is so devastating that we question God’s presence. “Why would God let this happen?” “Where is God in all of this?” This is when we go to what we know. God has given promises that He will never leave us, for He is steadfast. It’s changing feelings that are not to be trusted.
The day the publishing house closing was announced, I did what I always do. I sought out the most trusted people in my world: my husband, my children, and my parents. My family listened and asked a crucial question: “If you could do anything, what would you do?” They didn’t cluck with me in my discontent; they used their words to help me change my perspective.
For me, whatever new path was chosen, it had to include some sort of service to others. The decision was made to pursue a Master of Science degree in Marriage and Family Therapy. Knowing I had three years of school ahead of me, it was daunting, freeing, exhilarating, and scary all at the same time. I put my desires before the Lord, and He opened the doors. I was starting to get my breath back.
To say things were smooth sailing would be a flat-out lie. The immediate self-doubt fell on me like a ton of bricks, and I struggled to get out from under it. “I can’t do this! I’m 57 years old! The other, much younger students will laugh at me. I’m not smart enough.” The negative self-talk was never-ending, and with each statement said out loud, my husband would counter with the simple words “You are stronger than you think you are. Honor the strength God gave you.”
I have used these statements with my clients, reminding them that God has created all of us with strengths and gifts. Discovering those strengths and using them to follow God’s leading require replacing negative self-talk with positive, faith-filled statements of His gifts and presence.
Intrusive and negative thoughts have been a continual battle during my time as a student, and even now as a professional therapist. Some days the only solution is stepping away and realizing a short break is needed. The concept of perfection is replaced with the acknowledgment of doing the best we can with what we know. It’s during those times I remember the blessings that have come to my life.
I wasn’t too old for school. I wasn’t laughed at; in fact, quite the opposite. My classmates thanked me repeatedly for the perspective my age and experience brought to our classes. My brain survived the onslaught of learning a stringent curriculum—I was not only stronger than I thought, but smarter too.
I have been seeing clients for almost two years, and there is no doubt that this reinvention of my life was God-led. I still have some days of self-doubt, during which I grieve some of the losses that are ongoing with being a caretaker of aging parents. But there is always the knowledge that God has been with me all along, He is with me now, and He is going before me to show the way.
My husband and I now live with my aging parents. With all that we have been through with the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, I am reminded—and my clients are reminded—that it is absolutely OK to grieve; that what we know about God is far more powerful than what we may feel in any given situation; that seeking advice and fellowship from those who show wisdom and seek God is worth more than all the gold in the world.
God has given each person strengths that not only allow for survival but can lead us to thrive in the midst of the sometimes-unsolicited necessity for reinvention. So be kind to yourself. Be as compassionate as you know Jesus would be with you. Change and hardship may be inevitable during this time, but it never comes without a greater measure of God’s grace and presence.
Candy Graves DeVore is a marriage and family therapist serving as counseling coordinator on the pastoral staff at the Forest Lake Church in Apopka, Florida. She is thriving in her new career and is grateful for the twists and turns of life that necessitated this reinvention.