What NOT to Tell Yourself When Going Through Change {The Grove: Change}

An empty space existed in a corner of my living room. What better to fill an empty space with than a plant, of course! I told my husband that this lonely corner was crying out for a plant to fill it. He rolled his eyes at this, but knowing the joy plants bring his wife, he easily agreed to the purchase.

I had been eying the trendy but forever gorgeous fiddle leaf fig plants. A medium size plant was in our budget, but I had great dreams of growing it into a tall, luscious living room tree. So I did all the googling to learn how to take care of a fiddle leaf fig. I read it can be finicky and harder to grow than most plants. But I was not deterred.

So I headed to the greenhouse, made my choice (there was only one) and gently put my new fiddle leaf fig in the car. At home I placed it in its spot, and then proceeded to check it daily. At first all seemed well, and I was thrilled. But after about a week, I noticed one of it’s beautiful broad leafs turning yellow.

Quickly I googled “fiddle leaf fig leafs turn yellow.” I learned that the leafs may turn yellow if it is not getting enough water or if it is getting too much water. Or it may turn yellow if it is not getting enough sun or if it getting too much sun. In other words, Google, you were no help at all.

To my chagrin, the big leaf continued to turn yellow and then fell off. I waited, trying to make sure it was getting enough, but not too much water, enough sun, but not too much sun. I wondered if I should move it to a different space, but I had read that these plants don’t like to be moved around.

Despite my attentive care, one leaf after another would to turn yellow until it dropped to the floor. “It’s dying!” I mourned.

Then a friend said, “Oh, it’s probably transition stress.”

Yes! Suddenly I felt a deep understanding of my plant (it’s a weird plant lady thing). I know transition stress. I know it well.

When you move from one place to another, literally everything is different, the air, the water, the light, everything. My plant had lost its greenhouse home, and the stress of that took its toll.

When you go through any kind of major change, not just moving your home, there is nearly always a death or loss of something involved. You lose a relationship or a dream or familiarity or competence or assurance. And it hurts.

Even when it’s a positive change that you wanted or asked for, there is often still a flip side of loss. Transition stress still exists. But when it’s an unexpected, undesired change… then the loss can bowl you over.

My husband and I recently experienced an unexpected, undesired change. It’s nothing medical, so physically we’re fine. But suddenly the plan we thought we had, the future that we had been hoping for, simply doesn’t exist any more.

The messages that started playing in my head were default Christianese: “What is God trying to teach you in this?” “Trust that God has his purposes!” “He has a plan for you!”

Do you know what that felt like? It felt like God is the master puppeteer, yanking on the strings of change in order to teach me a lesson. And that feels cruel. I know my God is not cruel, but I could not reconcile that knowledge with the feelings of my heart. So all I could do is wonder, “Why? Why did you let this happen, Lord?”

One night as I lay awake in bed, unable to sleep, I sensed his gentle whisper to me…

“I am not causing this to teach you something. I know your pain and confusion, and I am hurting with you.”

That is my God. That is the voice of the Master Gardener who tends to my soul, understands my every need. He knows. He is present. And he cares so deeply.

Are there lessons for me to learn through this change? Absolutely. Does God have his purposes in store? I am sure he does. Can he redeem and bring good from this? Yes.

But all of those things I do not know or understand when the change hits.

At best, I’ll be able to make more sense of it in hindsight. Or perhaps I’ll know only when I get to the other side.

But either way, what I need to remember when change hits hard, is that my God is not a puppeteer. He is a tender gardener, a good shepherd. He is present with me. He is present with me not in some abstract “God is everywhere” kind of way, but in an intimate, palpable way.

So my fiddle leaf fig? After dropping one leaf after another, I waited, looking daily for more yellow. But days passed, and no yellow. Everything seemed to stay green. Maybe, just maybe, I thought, this fig is going to survive. Then one day, after a careful watering, as I gently wiped down its leaves with a wet cloth, I saw it. A new leaf emerging! Poking out of a dry brown bud that I had almost pulled off, thinking it dead, was the bright green of new life.

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So how about you? Anyone else going through change? What are the unhelpful Christianese that play in your head? What are his whispers of truth to you? How can we pray for you? We want to be part of his tender care for each other.

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This is The Grove and we want to hear from you! You can link up your blog post, or share your practices, ponderings, wisdom, questions, ideas, and creative expressions with us in the comments below.

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16 Comments

  1. Amanda Batterson March 15, 2018

    My goodness this is right where I’m at. Well, where I have been the past several months – on more than one level. Love the way God speaks to us through everyday things like plants 🙂 Also giving all the “Amens” to the part about the ‘consoling’ words of others – it’s something we’ve faced as well and often just have to smile and nod as we remind ourselves that God is indeed *not* a puppeteer, but mourns with us. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Danielle Wheeler March 15, 2018

      I’m so glad this resonated, Amanda. So thankful for a God who mourns with us, and for the comfort of knowing others walk the same path.

      1. Danielle Wheeler March 15, 2018

        I just went and read your blog post. It wouldn’t let me comment for some reason, so I’ll post my comment here:

        Oh my goodness, this is so beautifully written, so achingly beautiful. So much change for you… And wow, do I understand grieving a mattress topper and pillows! Yes, all you can do through the crazy is breathe, breathe through the weariness, breathe through the crazy and the lonely, and all the feelings, and all the random tears. Breathe and trust. Breathe and trust.

        So glad you linked up to share.

  2. TC March 15, 2018

    I am planning to return to the States permanently after 10 years abroad at the end of this semester. My mom is not in good health and I want to be more present in her life. Also, a new relationship is in the works and the possibility of a future is enticing and scary all at the same time. The thought of returning to the States is also daunting; I think life is harder there in so many ways. So, now, I’m wanting to be fully here and be present in the lives of my students, colleagues and friends but there is this subtle underlining worry about what’s next. I can’t imagine anything better than this life full of purposeful living abroad. I have a hard time seeing eternal purpose and meaning behind the kind of work I might possibly do in the States. I do not want to lose sight of the Father; I want my convictions of loving, serving and following Him to stay strong and to be even stronger. I don’t know how I will do this well in the States. I love the idea of Him being the gardener and that He is faithful to care for my needs and give me purpose even with a change in location and so forth. Thank you for the sweet reminder.

    1. Danielle Wheeler March 15, 2018

      So much change ahead of you! So much loss and grieving. Having made that hard transition, I know there will be times when you feel like all your leaves are falling off! But if the States is where God will have you, he will tend your soul there, and new life will come. First the loss, then new life. Prayers for the road ahead.

  3. A.W. March 15, 2018

    Ooh yes! I’m glad I read this today. I think the first thing that comes to mind whenever change/loss/rejection occurs is, “You need to pray and ask God for His peace and direction. Also, while you’re at it, don’t worry about anything.” Recently, and with the help of a friend, I’ve been hearing Him say, “My daughter, come sit with me for awhile.” When I realized He understands and listens when I’m overwhelmed, it’s like I’m experiencing His love for the first time again, with all the emotion and comfort!

    1. Danielle Wheeler March 15, 2018

      Oh, I love that. Isn’t that what every child needs when they are hurting? To come sit in the comfort of their parent’s presence. Such a beautiful picture. Thank you for sharing.

  4. Dorothy G. Lacy March 16, 2018

    Thank you for sharing, Danielle. I resonated with the message God spoke to you:
    “I am not causing this to teach you something. I know your pain and confusion, and I am hurting with you.”

    We just experienced a challenging relationship with someone visiting us on the field. He spoke inappropriately without even wanting to know the truth from our side and we felt betrayed, confused and hurt. We are processing, praying, and letting it go. But I felt the reassurance from God that He was not causing this to teach us something and that He understands and loves us. Already He is showing us the next steps. Already we see the bud ready to bring forth a bright new green leaf.

    1. Danielle Wheeler March 16, 2018

      Other’s inappropriate words truly sting, no matter how hard you try to brush them off. So glad that you felt God’s reassurance, his love and understanding. Praising him with you for next steps and new growth. Thank you for sharing, Dorothy.

  5. Rebekah March 16, 2018

    Thank you! This was perfect for me this morning. I’m preparing to return to my assignment in a few weeks after over a year in the UK. I am SO excited and looking forward to when I will be back, BUT I hate the actually going, the transition, the goodbyes, the upheaval, the travelling. Every time I know to expect the transition anxiety, but it still hits me like a ton of bricks.
    “He is a tender gardener, a good shepherd. He is present with me. He is present with me not in some abstract “God is everywhere” kind of way, but in an intimate, palpable way.”
    YES! Thank you.

    1. Danielle Wheeler March 16, 2018

      Yes, transition is full of paradox! The joy and excitement paired with the dread and the hard. And yep, no matter how much you go through transition, the hard still hits. So thankful that God spoke to your heart about his tender presence with you. Praying now for you for the paradox ahead, Rebekah.

  6. Rachel March 16, 2018

    We’ve been in a long re-transition back to the states after 2.5 years on the field. And it’s been so so hard.
    I can really relate with the questions of “what is God trying to teach me in this?”
    And I’m so *good* at trying to figure it all out. And of course we all know where that leads. Pretty much to nowhere. Or just frustration.
    I’ve started creating what I’m calling “my manifesto”. It just has a written list on notebook paper of things that I’ve sensed God telling me over the past few years. It’s very personal so I won’t share it because I think God speaks to each of us differently. But I think I need to read it every day so that I do not forget the truth. So easily I am trying to figure things out and what did I do wrong there or how am I supposed to do this or that, and so on and so on. Ugh!!
    When I focus on the words that I’ve sensed God telling me, there is a joy bursting forth from a very deep place within me.
    Thank you so much for sharing this post. It resonated deeply with me and brought me to tears.

  7. Megan March 17, 2018

    Oh, I so needed this today! I’m coming up on my one year anniversary of my return to the States, and I just started a new teaching job last Monday and spent most of Wed-Fri home sick with the flu! It was a week of turmoil to be sure, on top of a year of transitions. I was reminded by a good friend that these are the times that really make us lean in to Jesus, and it’s true. I’ve been praying all week for his peace and the feeling of his presence, because I’m tired of transition and I long to feel like I belong somewhere again!

  8. Rebecca March 18, 2018

    My husband and I have been going through a very hard season of change that seems to stretch on and on. First with getting married 2 years ago, and then God said to join a specific ministry here instead of doing our ministry independently. This in many ways has felt like several steps backwards and continually frustrates us because the “freedom” and momentum we once had is lost. Now another season of transition as we find a new building to have our ministry and at the same time, we are moving away from my husbands family, finally to live on our own closer to our office. So when I read about transitional stress in this article, it really clicked. That tree has been me in so many ways. I see so much loss with the transition, I feel parts of myself being lost too. It’s hard to believe in a joy-filled life after so much time dealing with transitional stress and loss.
    Thank you for sharing this. Seasons do not void the promises of God. Little green leafs will grow…joy will come…

  9. Casual Friday Resources | Paracletos March 23, 2018

    […] Wheeler shares what not the tell yourself during transition. Well stated, and sure to be of encouragement to those you know going through […]

  10. Phyllis May 4, 2018

    I know this is an older post, but I wanted the author to know that it’s really speaking to me these days. Thank you!

    I woke up in the night recently and I was almost overwhelmed with a whole list of circumstances that, when taken together, really seem like God was trying to attack me or something. And the words that I heard in my head were, “It felt like God is the master puppeteer, yanking on the strings of change in order to teach me a lesson.” I remembered the gist of the rest of what is here, and it comforted me back to sleep. When I got up the next morning, I had to reread all of this, and I’m still coming back to it daily now.

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