Over the past few months, we have reflected together on the challenges implicit in transition. Life is full of transitions, we have said. How do we find our way through?
We began our reflections with an emphasis on remembering. Successful transitions come from somewhere; they are based in something. It is important to remember our foundation in the promises and values that God has sown into our lives: we build our lives upon them.
Successful transitions are going somewhere, too: we called the concept horizoning. Our sense of horizon – our general sense of life purpose and direction – keeps us steady through the bumps and surprises of our journey day-by-day. One eye toward the horizon, you might say, helps us navigate the grit beneath our feet.
Last month we considered the issue of provisioning. There is only one Source that will “provision” our transitions through life, in any reliable way. And it is not, if you please, our own strength, insight, expertise, relationships, confidence, intelligence, health, or optimism. All of these things will fail us in the end. Yet there is One who will not fail us. There is One who cannot fail.
Let me share with you this month a final thought, based in a wonderful text from Isaiah. Successful transitions are restful, at some deep level. They may feel compelling and deliberate – or maybe sometimes disruptive and unwanted. Yet when they feel panicky, something has gone awry. Successful transitions must find a calm and trusting place at their center, or the chaos that blows around them will blow them away. They must trust as much as they strive, and rest as much as they struggle to find their way forward. This is the way that great transitions work.
“See, I am laying in Zion a foundation stone, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation,” the Lord God says. And the sure foundation has a name: “One who trusts will not panic” (Isaiah 28:16, NRSV).
This passage comes at a moment of great transition in the life of the Hebrew nation. The long reign of King Uzziah was now concluded (cf. 6:1). Assyria threatened from the north. Egypt loomed to the south. And then there were Moab, Edom – and even Babylon, rising on the distant horizon. How would the nation find its way in times of trouble and challenge?
Their strategy, in Isaiah’s estimation, was exactly mistaken. The Hebrew nation was too clever by half. Its leaders would pursue clever alliances, and clever accommodation to foreign gods. “We’ve hedged all our bets, covered all our bases,” they would come to say. “No disaster can touch us. We’ve thought of everything. We’re advised by the experts. We’re set!” (v.15, MSG).
What could possibly go wrong?
“Panic” could go wrong, Isaiah reminds them. And he means more than a rising pulse or a pit in your stomach. He means a spiritual condition that looks to the commotion around us, instead of God’s providence above. “He that believeth shall not make haste,” reads the old King James. “The one who trusts won’t tremble” (CEB). “A trusting life won’t topple” (MSG). “He who believes need never run away again” (TLB).
The word used here is יָחִֽישׁ׃ (“yahis”), connoting disturbance, anxiety, hastiness, and confusion. It is a picture of nervous ruckus or worried fuss. Its opposite is trust, quiet dependence, and unruffled surrender. Not passivity or inaction, mind you. But confidence. Transitions filled with “trembling,” on the other hand, may topple.
This passage finds its way into the New Testament as well. I think in particular of Romans 9:33 (cf. also, e.g., 1 Peter 2:6).
Israel “failed to reach the goal of righteousness,” St. Paul tells us. “And why?” he goes on. “Because their minds were fixed on what they achieved instead of on what they believed. They tripped over that very stone the scripture mentions: ‘Behold, I lay in Zion a stumbling stone and rock of offence, and whoever believes on him will not be put to shame'” (Romans 9:31-33, Phillips).
St. Paul has it perfectly. Our anchor through the transitions of life does not depend on what we may achieve. We are anchored through what we believe. Successful transitions are not secured by our impressive intelligence, our clever alliances, our statutes, treaties and structures, and the like. Spiritual anchors are not fabricated; they are received by grace through faith.
This may appear a counterintuitive anchor – in an achievement-oriented culture like ours, especially. In the words of St. Paul, it is “stone that will make people stumble, a rock that will make them fall.” It seems too simple, almost childish. Yet “whoever believes will not be put to shame” (Romans 9:33).
Don’t misunderstand me: I don’t mean to go all quietist or inward. Effective transitions cannot be fuzzy and impractical. Yet I do mean that we must trust in the One beyond the transitions before us. I mean (personally!) that we must rest in his unfailing grace. “We plan the way we want to live, but only God makes us able to live it” (Proverbs 16:9, MSG).
When we approach the transitions in life this way, the “haste” is diffused. The “panic” fades. Our horizons begin to clear, and we see what lies before us. Then the Faithful One takes us by the hand… and leads us on!
Other posts in this Transitions series: