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  • Writer's pictureAdam O'Neill

Counsel for difficult transitions.

Updated: Aug 3, 2023

Counsel for difficult transitions.

This article was written months before our present COVID-19 crisis. I rediscovered it recently and felt it was especially timely. Many today are facing uncertainty, thousands have been dismissed from work due to mandatory “quarantine” orders. Others are unsure of the health and safety of loved ones, especially those who are older or have comorbidities. Daily press briefings from top government officials intend to bring comfort but instead produce fear or anxiety. Christians affirm that God is sovereign, that he is unsurprised by our current state and remains in complete control. No virus, no war, no famine can approach us without his explicit consent, and indeed, He has a plan to use it for our good. There remains, however, a need to remind ourselves of these truths especially in times of trial and transition. My prayer for you and for your family is that you remain healthy and safe, but more than that, that you see more deeply and clearly the love of your Heavenly Father and the good plan and purpose he has for your life.

Three things to trust in the transition.

There’s a reason you float a new goldfish in its little plastic water bag before opening it up to the harsh water of its forever home. Without the adjustment period, the temperature difference can be so great that it shocks the fish to death. Ideally, we would be afforded the same adjustment period in our major life transitions, but as is very clear, rarely does this happen. A loved one’s death, loss of a job, deployment in the military often come without warning and we are asked to adjust instantaneously. Similar to our fish friends, we may be left in a state of shock. Not just hardships necessitate this type of adjustment, a new promotion, college acceptance, a romantic relationship can require we make similar adjustments. Both blessings and tragedy can be difficult to handle. Below are three things you can absolutely trust and rely on during the difficult “in-between”.

Trust God’s choice is best.

I was working as a Medical Assistant at a large health system, though we had dozens of providers it seemed we were always behind schedule. I rushed from room to room seeing patients but something else was on my mind. I was awaiting acceptance or rejection letters from Physician Assistant Schools to which I had applied. Like most soon-to-be college students I had a list of my top choices. At the top, the number one, Duke University, the first PA program in the country and by far the most prestigious school, my most ambitious application. My resume was bloated with achievements: volunteer activities, committee memberships, board appointments, research experience, GPA, and numerous letters of reference. I spent my young adult life making sure it was perfect, to be honest, it had become an idol. The email came as I was about to walk into a patient's room and I froze. My heart skipped a beat and I knew right away every dream I had of living and studying at Duke would never be a reality. I knew this from the subject line alone. Students know acceptances come with exciting subject lines: “CONGRATULATIONS”, “WELCOME TO DUKE”, “SEE YOU IN DURHAM”. In writing this article I found the very email I received, my subject line… “Duke University PA Program Decision”, I read maybe the first couple words and never read the rest, “We had many qualified applicants…”.

The next couple emails were just as heartbreaking, Wayne State, University of Florida, Eastern Michigan University, all a no. I did get into PA school, at my last choice, a newer program in Philadelphia, Thomas Jefferson University. I didn’t understand why God would bring me back to the city I had only visited once as a teenager (and didn’t enjoy, by the way). Now, I am proud to say I’ve voluntarily made Philadelphia my home. I’ve fallen in love with the city and made lifelong friends. I’ve taken a job working in Christian Psychiatry, a rare sub-specialty within a specialty of medicine and counsel and pray with my patients daily. I couldn’t see what God had planned. While I was searching for prestige, he was preparing me for purpose. Trust God’s choice is best, even when it’s the last choice on your list.

Trust God’s timing is perfect.

I had called both my father and my mother on the phone to vent. I had just moved to Philadelphia to start school and was struggling to find a church home and the community I so desperately needed and with it the closeness only found among a body of believers. As I neared the famous Philadelphia Museum of Art, in frustration, I physically stomped my foot on the ground. I was sick of spending so much time by myself and wanted community. “You promised this,” I yelled to God in prayer, “You said I wouldn’t be alone!” I continued to wait. It seemed God wouldn’t answer my prayer and I braced for a long two and a half years spent with my nose in medical textbooks, alone. Then, one evening, I felt a nudging. I had seen an advertisement for a community barbeque earlier in the day and had posted asking if anyone had extra room in their car (I didn’t have a vehicle in the city). Something inside me knew I needed to check on my post. When I went to Facebook, someone had written a response, an offer of a seat for me in their car. I felt the familiar dread that every socially anxious person feels when they are asked to do something in public.

My hesitation lasted only a moment before God spoke directly to my heart, “You have a choice today.” I knew exactly what He meant. I could go and it would change my life, or I could stay and walk a different direction. I went. Time doesn’t permit me to tell of all the blessings that came as a result of that outdoor barbeque, but chief among the blessings were a new housing opportunity, a church home, and my current job. I wanted God to give me community and I wanted it right now. Instead He asked me to wait on his perfect timing and trust that he didn’t just have a community for me; he had community, opportunity, employment, and friendship. I recently spent the evening with the friend who was that stranger with an offer of an extra seat in their car those years ago. I am unsure if he and his wife know how much they’ve changed my life. Trust God’s timing is perfect, even when he asks you to wait.

Trust God’s plan is good.

I was lying in bed, unable to sleep. The pain was a dull, waxing and waning, incessant ache. I had seen so many specialists and no one could figure out its source. My greatest fear at the time was that I would have a kidney stone. I had only heard of the pain it could cause from friends and relatives and it was enough for me to never want that experience for myself. Yet, I couldn’t get out of my head that this pain could possibly be caused by my worst fear. I dealt with the pain, taking over the counter pain relievers and using a heating pad constantly for a month, even taking my undergraduate finals squirming in my seat. Finally, I could take it no more and asked for a CT scan, it confirmed what had only been a nightmare for me, I had two stones currently passing and a giant 1cm one left in the kidney that would require surgery to remove. I held my composure while the doctor was in the room (being an aspiring clinician I felt it was my job to remain stoic in the face of medical news) but when I got home I fell to my knees in the middle of my dorm in the dark. God said he had his best for me, that his plans were good, yet I suffered with this pain for a month and now my worst fears were confirmed. My mind swirled with what would come, the continued pain, the need to schedule surgery on my own in a city I had just moved to, during the most difficult academic semester I had yet experienced.

I was reminded of C.S. Lewis’ words when he said, “We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.” It was there in the darkness of my dorm room that a sense of God’s presence surrounded me with such great intensity I have not experienced it since. The pain did not dissipate immediately but I felt so much lighter, and there was something more, I knew that God would use that experience for my good. Today, I can identify tangible good that has come from that experience but still wait for the ways God will bring good out of that suffering. God doesn’t promise us a pain-free life, in fact, He tells us we will have trouble, but to “take heart” and trust that God’s plan is good, even when it brings you to your knees in the darkness of a dorm room.

In this article I’ve talked about many times God provided for me in amazing ways during a time of transition, in my acceptance to PA school, time in Philadelphia, and a period of walking through health-related trial; yet I don’t want to give the impression that my life has been a series of one amazing breakthrough and provision after the next. There are many things for which I still daily wait on God. The truth I want to convey in waiting is this: just because we don’t yet have what we ask for does not mean God is not faithful. I don’t know all the reasons God asks us to wait, especially during times of difficult transition, but what I know for sure is that we can trust God’s choices are perfect, his timing is best, and his plan is good.

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