Most of us have had the “milkshake” experience—you know, the one where you put the ingredients in the blender, push the button, and then realize you forgot to put on the lid. The shake ends up all around the kitchen, the counter, the floor, and the walls, with little left to enjoy. Major life changes can sometimes feel like the lid was left off the blender. Major life changes shake up our world. They invite or pressure us to interact with life and people in new ways.
Major life changes can occur with those in your small group shaking up the dynamics of relationships within individuals, their families, or the group. What is at least one major life change you have experienced with your small group? Job loss? Birth of a new child? Adoption? Buying a house? Loss of a loved one? Illness? Career or job changes? Children leaving home for college? Depression? Divorce? Retirement? So, the big question is: How do you navigate major life changes within your small group?
When major life changes occur within a small group, here are a few tips to help you all get through the challenges.
- Remind the small group member that she is not alone. Even the joys of a new baby or retirement can bring feelings of isolation. Whatever your small group member is facing, thousands of other people have gone through a similar experience. Change happens and is part of life. Sadly, we cannot remove the difficulties and the losses that hinder someone’s comfort and peace. Look for ways to spend intentional time with her in person, through text, or a phone call. Share resources to guide her through the change she is facing, including books, Bible verses, or other resources. Find ways to remind her that you are thinking of her, praying for her, and that you care for her. The power of your presence and time spent with the group can make an enormous difference in the way she copes with the life changes before her.
- Validate her feelings, whatever they are. She may feel upset, angry, or confused—or she may not be able to verbalize how she is feeling at all. Emotions and feelings are a normal part of the grieving process that comes with any major life change. To not feel any emotion would be unhealthy. Instead, give her time to process her feelings. Help her to avoid suppressing her feelings. Remind her that any haze or confusion she is experiencing is a result of the huge change she is trying to process. Humans are enduring. We are built for survival. However, remind her that her feelings are safe within your small group and that the group will support her through those feelings as they change. The group wants to see her healthy and happy and will be there to support her.
- Learn ways to prepare for the next life change. We all have experiences where we can look back and remember the joys and sorrows that resulted due to that life change. Use the experiences of the small group members to help prepare others to navigate the inevitable upcoming changes. For example, it is no surprise when a child grows into a young adult and is preparing for college or when a couple in the group is preparing for retirement. Discover healthy ways to begin prepping others for these changes by talking about them, discussing the changes to come, and planning ways to address the feelings that come with the changes.
Changes, even major life changes, do not need to be all bad. Even the most horrible of changes through loss or death can eventually be used by God for something positive to help others. Look for the life lessons that can come through navigating major life changes and talk about them with your small group. The truth about major life changes is that you never really get over them. You simply do not get over the loss of a loved one. You may get used to the differences that occur with a job loss, a divorce, or a health problem, but you may not ever “get over it,” even if externally you are doing better. Internally, a major life change is just that, something we internalize and a change that we did not invite or expect. Like the milkshake that changes the landscape of the kitchen when the lid is left off the blender, we may be able to clean it up, but we will be starting over in many ways.
The only choice most of us have in the situation when we have a major life change is how we will choose to respond to the change. As believers, we are to trust God in all things. Psalm 112:7 reminds us, “He will not fear bad news; his heart is confident, trusting in the LORD.”
Whatever news you are facing today, remember that God is there for you. Thank Him for the small group of believers He has surrounded you with to help you navigate major life changes.
Michelle Hicks is the managing editor for Journey devotional magazine with Lifeway Women. Michelle served as a freelance writer, campus minister, and corporate chaplain before coming to Lifeway. She is a graduate of the University of North Texas and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Michelle has a deep hunger for God’s Word and wants others to discover the abundant life they can have with Jesus as their Lord and Savior.