Women and Transitions: A New Year’s Reflection

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By Diane Marshall

Doorway2Every twelve months, as we pass from one year to the next, we are marking both an ending and a beginning.  Just being alive means we will go through many endings and beginnings of all kinds, and we use the word transition to describe the passage from one to the other.  Something old ends; something new begins.

Some transitions are short in duration, others seem to encompass a lifetime.  Some we navigate with the help of others (examples are a child’s learning to stand and walk, or, a few years later, beginning school).  Others we traverse alone, such as undergoing changes in our bodies as women (even though we may have support of family and friends—for example, entering puberty, beginning our menstrual cycle, experiencing pregnancy or infertility, going through menopause, aging).

Some transitions are traumatic, like living through a war zone, or being sexually assaulted as a child or adolescent, or being suddenly diagnosed with a terminal or disabling illness.  Others flow naturally, like moving through grades at school, or entering retirement years.  Some, like immigration, require immense changes, perhaps learning a new language, and adjusting to a whole new culture.

Some transitions may threaten our sense of dignity as a child of God.  We may be profoundly hurt or betrayed by someone we have loved and trusted, and the experience of being rejected may cause us to doubt our own worth.  Or we may make choices, like succumbing to an addiction, that in retrospect marks a transition point which we later come to understand as negating our own dignity as a person.

Some transitions are visible, others are invisible.  Some, such as I experienced at age 40 with growing deafness, run the risk of being isolating.  Others, like reentering the workforce after years at home raising children, may draw us in new and different ways into human community and a sense of vocation.

But one thing is certain in our lives: change and transition mark our passages throughout the life cycle, just as seasons change through winter to spring to summer and autumn.  Our challenge is to embrace the changes and transitions, and however painful, to allow God to work through them to enable us to grow into all we are able to be and to become.

Change often involves chaos, the abyss of not knowing, an emptiness, an awareness of loss —and can include intense emotional drama, grief, and fear.  But change can also (thankfully) involve release, a new way of experiencing ourselves and the world, and can open us to a new sense of hope and meaning.

What makes transformation possible in the midst of chaos and change?  I would suggest that faith allows us to proceed as if there is potential for new possibilities.  Thus, a transition can be a threshold:  a standing expectantly on the doorstep to something new which is to begin.  But new beginnings are hard to perceive.  Often therapists see clients at a place of pain and chaos, where they face the choice to either be destroyed or to allow the process of change to reveal to them a new order for things.

So as we begin this new year, let’s think a bit about the changes and transitions we have experienced so far in our lives.  Basically, changes can occur in one of two ways. They may be chosen freely.  Or they may be imposed—sometimes against our will—from outside ourselves. Here’s a reflective exercise that you might want to think about alone or discuss with a trusted friend:

First, think of a life transition you chose.
• How did it change you?
• How did you take care of yourself in the midst of it?
• Is there a wound which has not been healed?
• How do you feel about this transition? What do you long for? (Make a note to yourself or tell God about this.)

Second, think of a life transition you did not choose.
• How did it change you?
• How did you take care of yourself in the midst of it?
• Is there a wound which requires healing?
• Is there any residue of self-hate or self-rejection?
• Make a note, or tell God about this: how you feel, what you long for.

From a therapist’s perspective, it is so important that we learn to differentiate between the things that happen to us and the things we ourselves choose to bring about. So often women, who are socialized to assume that all relational problems are their fault, take on blame that is not theirs and carry heavy burdens of guilt and shame about things that happen to them.

I do consulting work for a refugee centre in Toronto, and I am thinking as I write this of a beautiful refugee woman who was violently raped in her attempt to flee with her children from a violent conflict zone.  She is not responsible for causing the rape, yet when she first came to see me she was burdened with the feeling of self-rejection and self-hatred because of feeling ”contaminated” (her word).  During the course of therapy, she began to see herself as a courageous woman and mother who rescued her children and brought them to a place of safety.  She began to be able to look in the mirror and no longer see a broken and “dirty” woman (her original self-description), but a person of dignity and worth. She grew in her ability to care well for herself and for her children, as the mantle of self-rejection was discarded. And she is moving forward at this time—aware now of being a survivor and not merely a victim—into a new life in a new country with a deepened sense of clarity, purpose, and freedom as a child of God.  Her hope is to go back to school and to support her children, and to someday work with other women who have been traumatized.

Now, as a new year dawns, think about a transition you would like to make. Is anything holding you back?  Determine how you might deal with it.

It may be a change of a job, or a change in a relationship, or moving to another location.  It may be simply accepting something you cannot change, and choosing to live with joy and gratitude for what you do have.  It may entail choosing to forgive and letting go of resentment or bitterness.  It may be welcoming something that was unexpected and so learning to create a hospitable space in your own heart (for example, a grandchild born out of marriage; a family member coming out as gay or lesbian, a loved one going through a divorce, a child with a disability).  It may be changing a secret habit, or facing an addiction, which will require you to enter into a healing process with someone—a friend, a 12-step group, or someone professionally trained, and thus to trust your secret, or your addiction or habit, to another person.  It may be beginning a journey with God.

Perhaps you could reflect on a passage of Scripture such as Hebrews 13:5b and 6: “For (God) has said: ‘I will never leave you or forsake you.’ So then we can say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid…’”

Try beginning a personal journal to keep track of your own inner process, if you do not already do so.  The biggest adventure may be before you as you open your heart to this new year, standing on the threshold, and telling God what you hope for, while listening—carefully—to what your heart may discern of the “still small voice of God” affirming that you are beloved.

Copyright © 2014 by Diane Marshall

 

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Diane Marshall
Diane Marshall has served as long-time director of the Institute of Family Living in Toronto, practicing in the field of family therapy and training therapists in the multicultural communities of refugees and immigrants that people Toronto. She also serves on various boards working on public justice issues, urban ministries, and with people with physical and intellectual disabilities, in addition to her work within the Anglican Church of Canada in eco-justice committees. Her book, Healing Families: Courage and Faith in Callenging Times, was published in 2005 by Path Books. She is the mother of three adult children and grandmother of four. Diane served as Canadian representative on EEWC’s first elected council after our incorporation as a nonprofit organization in 1978.

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