Check back periodically for blog posts related to pre-field, on field and re-entry seasons. 

What’s The Difference Between Change and Transition?

When you hear the word transition, what do you think of?

I suppose we started really being aware of transition when we were getting ready to face one of the biggest life changes our family would ever encounter: we were preparing to move our family of six overseas to Southeast Asia for a few years. Mark had resigned from a job he loved, we sold the first house we had ever owned, took our two oldest kids out of public school and started homeschooling them, sold most of our belongings, and said goodbye to a community of friends that were very dear to us. Just prior to our move, we attended a training designed to help prepare people to live and work abroad and it was there that we started learning about transition.

The information was fascinating to me because it helped us understand the phases we were going through, normalized our emotions and concerns, and prepared us for what would come next. But what really struck me was the profound truth that everyone goes through transitions, not just people who are moving overseas. Transition happens when life changes. And life changes come in different forms and at different seasons, and each person may not experience all of them, but transition as a process is universal.

You may have experienced some of these major life changes: 

  • adding a child to a family
  • experiencing the loss of a loved one
  • entering college
  • leaving college
  • changing jobs
  • changing cities
  • getting married
  • getting divorced
  • starting a job
  • losing your job
  • entering retirement


Maybe you are asking yourself, "How is moving from one city to another like having your first baby or entering retirement?” or "How is leaving college like getting divorced or moving overseas?” What do all these life experiences have in common? They are all changes that pack emotional, mental, and relational punches.

As humans, we have lots of changes and transitions in common. If you want to go back to the beginning, we are born. We abruptly emerge from one sort of dependent existence inside the security of the womb to another less-confining but still dependent life in the fresh air. Of course, we don’t usually remember that transition too clearly, but I know from a mother’s perspective, it is definitely painful. It is usually accompanied by some amount of relief and uncertainty and pride and self-doubt and excitement and apprehension. All natural, all normal.

We go from immobility to crawling, from crawling to walking, from walking to running. And if you’ve ever been a witness to those stages of development in a child, you will know they come with their share of frustration, bumps, and bruises. As children, we are caught up in the exploration of new boundaries and abilities and the thrill of locomotion coupled with the realities of the law of gravity, the danger of moving vehicles, and the potential to get lost from parents. And as parents, we realize this is the beginning of the long, slow reality of our children moving away from us in another direction. We may feel a mixture of pride and joy and fear and anxiety. All natural, all normal. 

When we turn five or six or seven, we shift from a contained, somewhat sheltered environment at home to exploring a world at school which has significant adults other than our parents. The players and the rules and the rule-makers change overnight. The confusion and homesickness and wonder and learning all mix together in this new reality. All natural, all normal.

Later, we might move from high school to college, exploring even wider boundaries and expectations and responsibilities and freedoms and choices. We wrestle with new thoughts and our parents’ beliefs and opposing worldviews. We feel the thrill and terror of moving from childhood to adulthood from dependency to autonomy.  We might embrace this new stage, experiment with new behaviors and personas, or feel overwhelmed and hopeless. As parents, we have excitement about the opportunities awaiting our adult child yet still feel waves of anxiety, nostalgia, and loss. All natural, all normal.

We may graduate from college and start a career. We move into the stage that it seems like we have been preparing for all of our lives. We may feel ready to take on the whole world and thrilled to see all of our education and preparation come to fruition, but we may also feel doubt that we are really prepared, or that we have made the wrong choice in our occupation, or that we would rather retreat to days when others determined our schedules and provided for us. All natural, all normal.

Many move from singleness to married life and then from being a couple to becoming parents. As a result of these changes, other people begin to have significant and non-negotiable input into our time, our routines, and our spending patterns. We are told to be excited about each of these changes, and we probably are, but this excitement and joy may also be tempered with the confusion of redefining relationships, unexpected grief over what used to be, and a lack of confidence in handling new roles. All natural, all normal.

Some may go from being married to divorced or move into the empty nest phase and find they have more independence and freedom mixed with loneliness and grief. All natural, all normal.

Maybe some lose parents, siblings, partners, or children. Those changes are tough and tragic and stir up the most raw, acute, and all-encompassing emotions ever experienced. All natural, all normal.

Do you see a pattern here? You see, change is the alteration of circumstances. (Anybody else hear David Bowie's song, "Ch- Ch- Changes" in their head right now?) We start college, a career, or a family. We move to a new location, a new company, or a new stage of life. We lose a job, a partner, a familiar way of life. It's the "WHAT." But transition is the psychological process [William Bridges, Managing Transitions] we all go through when change happens. It's how we handle the changes. Endings, goodbyes, grief. Uncharted territory, unfamiliar emotions, the unsettled unknown. Beginnings, excitement, apprehension. It's the "HOW."  Changes are usually external, while transition is internal. This process of transition has different stages and can manifest itself differently based on our personalities, our preparedness, and our perspective. It's all natural, all normal. And it's all navigable.

We have undergone many of these changes in our own lives. So far in my life, I have moved 23 times and lived in eight states and five countries on three different continents. I have lost all my grandparents, my father, and a baby. As a family, we’ve also experienced moving kids from public school to international school to online school to private school to homeschool; going from part-time work to full-time, from full-time job to unemployed to re-employed, from five kids at home to gradually heading to an empty nest, from the States to Ireland to the States to Southeast Asia and back to the States. We had an exciting beginning to our marriage, experienced some daily wear and tear on our relationship, undergone some relational crises, and now enjoy a developing mature love and commitment to one another. We’ve uprooted our family multiple times and encountered culture shock and re-entry shock every time. Throughout the years, we have seen many changes. And we’ve experienced a lot of transitions.

Together, we will explore this important and always timely topic of transitions. We're going to look at the types and stages of transitions, things we personally learned while going through transitions, things we wish we had done, and things we did well. We will look at stress during transitions, the unique opportunities that transition gives us, and skills we might need to develop. We’ll also look at good resources, Biblical examples, and helpful tips.

So there's good news and bad news about transitions. Which do you want first? The bad news? Okay, here it is: no matter where you are in life, there's another transition right around the corner and quite likely it will be difficult and painful. But the good news? Transition invites you to increase self-awareness, develop a deeper intimacy with God, and take advantage of invaluable learning opportunities. It's during transition that we have the opening to redefine ourselves, clarify our life's purpose, and shed unwanted baggage. It is often a difficult and confusing stage, but it has the potential to be one of the most powerful and pivotal times in our lives.



Change and transition…love 'em or hate 'em, they never stop. We hope that by sharing some of our experiences and the things that we learned along the way you'll be better equipped to navigate the transitions you're facing and will face in the future. And we hope that this can be the beginning of a dialogue about transitions, because we are not experts by any means, and we still have a lot to learn.

~Amy Miller, Co-Director of Re-Entry Debriefing

We would love to hear from you: What has been your most recent transition?

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