We all experience transitions in life, right? Maybe it's a job change or a move to a new place. A wedding, a divorce, a death, a break-up. A new baby, a new boss, a new pet. Every four years, we have the chance to elect a new president for our country and when that happens transition teams are set up to make the hand off from one leader to the next smooth and seamless.
Children of divorce experience lots of transition. One parent moving out, moving to a new house, a new school, a new stepparent, new stepsiblings, and the constant back and forth transition of visitation or shared custody. If the transition itself is handled well, the road forward is a whole lot smoother.
The Bible gives one of the greatest examples of transition at the end of Deuteronomy. After wandering the desert for forty years, the Israelites had finally arrived at the cusp of the Promised Land. Moses was going to stay behind, climb a mountain, watch his people enter their new home, and then transition from this life to the next. But his wasn't the only transition. The people, these thousands upon thousands of tired, excited, human people, were about to experience multiple transitions at once. They were leaving a life of nomadism and embarking on a life of settlement and all the war and hardship that come with settling in a land that others have already made a home in. On top of all that, their beloved leader who had been the only leader most of them had ever known was about to leave them while some other guy took his place. Handling that hand off badly could have spelled disaster for the people. But instead here's what happened.
First, Moses gave the people a pep talk. In Deuteronomy 31:1-6, he tells them that he's leaving them, but assures them that God is with them, that they have a great new leader, and that they'll be victorious in their new mission. Then, he calls Joshua to the platform and, in front of all the people, he tells Joshua that he is the new leader, that he will lead the people to success, and that God will be with him. It's a real "rah! rah!" moment.
But then something interesting happens. God calls Moses and Joshua aside and has a little chat with them, out of earshot of the people. In verses 16-21, God tells it like it is: Before Moses is cold in his grave, the people will be worshipping other gods, they will fall into chaos, and God will rain down punishment on them. Sounds rather harsh -- but then again, God wasn't being a naysayer; he simply knew the future.
Here's what I love about this story. Moses, the beloved leader, gives the motivational speeches out in public, for all the Israelites to hear. Then, in private, behind the closed doors of a pillar of cloud and a tabernacle, Joshua, the new leader, gets the real story. The people are left encouraged, Joshua is teed up to have a great start with them, and then he is given a reality check by the one person who could see the future.
Too often, transitions include one of these elements but not the other. Either we're all trombones and marching bands, or we're all gloom and doom and steel yourself for the worst. This story shows how to achieve a happy medium. Yes, let's have some encouragement and motivation to get everyone on board and ready to face the future. And yes, let's have some honest conversation about the challenges ahead. But let's do both in the right way, at the right time, and with the right people present. How we handle the transition can make all the difference.