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When Your World Is Suddenly Upside-Down

I will openly admit that I have not read this book or know much about the author, but I love the title, “When Your World Turns Upside Down: How to handle life transitions without going nuts.” I love everything written on transitions, as I believe it is where we spend some of our greatest moments formed in our faith, Life, leadership, and love. I think it was the subtitle that grabbed my attention, “How to Handle Life Transitions Without Going Nuts.” So much truth in such a small statement. How do we handle transitions without going nuts?  

Have you ever had your world turned upside down?

Slash, the Guns and Roses legendary guitarist, sums it up well when he says, “No one expects the rug to be yanked out from underneath them; life-changing events usually don’t announce themselves. While instinct and intuition can help provide some warning signs, they can do little to prepare you for the feeling of rootlessness that follows when fate flips your world upside down. Anger, confusion, sadness, and frustration are shaken up together inside you like a snow globe. It takes years for the emotional dust to settle as you do your best to see through the storm.” Not bad for a rock star!

Probably the simplest way to define a world turning upside down event is the following: a complete overturn or assumed change of our understanding of something or someone that may impact our current way of Life. 

Now we know that the idea of upside down comes in various forms and is relative to each person. And it doesn’t always have to be used in the context of being negative, like when we first fall in love. But it often refers to the other Life changing events connected to loss. 

And what might be an upside-down moment for some is not for others, but we all go through them at some level at some point. 

So, how do we navigate those moments? I love what theologian Walter Brueggemann says regarding our Life of faith in that it consists in moving with God in terms of (a) being securely oriented; (b) being painfully dis­oriented; and (c) being surprisingly reoriented. (Praying the Psalms, W. Brueggemann)

I think that is true of when our world is turned upside down that we move from being securely oriented and then painfully dis-oriented. And this dis-orientation may be what Esosa Cyra is talking about in navigating the not going ‘nuts’ in transitions. Because being disorientated is an unsettling experience. 

So how do we navigate the disorientation? The nuttiness? Here are a few suggestions that have helped me in my many moments there. 

1. Acknowledge Change:

C.S Lewis once said, “We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.”

Change is inevitable, and sometimes our upside-down events are the catalyst that helps us acknowledge it. However, not every upside-down event is, as CS Lewis describes our catalyst out of ordinariness. 

I appreciate the following insight on change connected to catalytic events shared by Leslie Santos in her post, The Mindset for Dealing with Life’s Difficulties:

She shares that there are three types of catalytic events. 

1) Shock. 2) Growth. 3) Opportunity.

Shock is when something terrible happens — our mother gets cancer, we lose our job, we lose our health, and our hopes of having a baby are swept away. Something unpredictable happens, which is shocking to our routine, our nervous system, and our way of viewing and operating in Life. This shock is a type of trauma. Sometimes the shock represents a big T trauma — when we lose a loved one. Other times, repetitive shocks become a series of little T traumas — each time we pass by our daughter’s room and remember she now lives with her grandparents.

Growth is marked by a feeling that we’ve outgrown something in our Life — we’ve outgrown our profession; we’ve outgrown a relationship with our partner; we’ve outgrown a relationship with a family member; we’ve outgrown our ways of thinking, or we’ve outgrown our social circle. With growth, even if we try to go back to how we were or how life was, it’s like attempting to dress in our adolescent clothes — they will never fit again. Eventually, we must leave behind our job, relationships, or old ways of thinking to progress. The longer we cling to or grasp at our old Life, the longer we suffer.

Opportunity is marked by an offer –the opportunity to travel arises; we’re offered our dream job, our beloved proposes, or we have an idea for a business. There’s an opportunity, but to take advantage of it, we’ll need to change, and accommodate a new mindset, skillset, or location.

And all these three plus a few others I have found (pain, betrayal, sadness, loss, grief) must be acknowledged when our world is turned upside down. And don’t be surprised if they are often interwoven. And each, as you know, is handled differently. Trauma is not treated the same as opportunity or growth, although both may come as a result.  

If you are in an upside-down moment, ask yourself what catalyst might be involved. How will you acknowledge it? I suggest writing it out, talking to God through lament and petition, a trusted spiritual director or therapist (or both), and sitting with a trusted friend who is right side up now.

2. Recognize the Normalcy

Now, I do not want to diminish your pain or circumstance by flippantly throwing around the word normal. Still, suppose we accept Brueggeman’s suggestion of orientation – disorientation – surprising re-orientation. In that case, it is possible that we won’t hide from this moment by thinking we are the only one in the world who has faced this particular version of the world upside down or that we live without hope if we admit in this world we get flipped, and we are not alone. 

We live in a fallen world, so with that premise, everything that was supposed to be expected has been thrown upside down. It’s God’s grace that gets us to live more fully in a right-side-up posture, and God’s grace re-orientates us when our world throws us another flip.  

Pause for a moment and think about what Jesus did. He became death so we could have Life. Nothing seems more upside down than that. He saw the upside-down world and us trying to navigate it in our own ‘rightness.’ And gratefully, Jesus gave us some answers to this dilemma. Instead of our standard of ‘rightness,’ He gave us a gift of ‘righteousness’ so that we might be in the right relationship/standing with Him and each other. What He gives us is what is supposed to be expected, which is why it feels so upside down when our world flips. The world attempts to position us in thinking God is not present in these real moments. 

“God, Who is everywhere, never leaves us. Yet He seems sometimes to be present, sometimes to be absent. If we do not know Him well, we do not realize that He may be more present to us when He is absent than when He is present.”

Thomas Merton

When I recognize the normalcy of the world upside down, I am reminded that without Him, my world was never right side up. 

3. Don’t Rush the Process of Turning Right Side Up Again

Max De Pree states, “We cannot become what we want by remaining what we are.” I agree, and at the same time, our becoming should never be fast. 

In Passion and Purity, Elisabeth Elliot reminds us in the following excerpt from her book that growth is a process. A process of surrender, and that takes time.

The growth of all living green things wonderfully represents the process of receiving and relinquishing, gaining and losing, living and dying. The seed falls into the ground and dies as the new shoot springs up. There must be a splitting and a breaking in order for a bud to form. The bud “lets go” when the flower forms. The calyx lets go of the flower. The petals must curl up and die in order for the fruit to form. The fruit falls, splits, relinquishes the seed. The seed falls into the ground. . . .

There is no ongoing spiritual life without this process of letting go. At the precise point where we refuse, growth stops. If we hold tightly to anything given to us, unwilling to let it go when the time comes to let it go, or unwilling to allow it to be used as the Giver means it to be used, we stunt the growth of the soul.

It is easy to make a mistake here. “If God gave it to me,” we say, “it’s mine. I can do what I want with it.” No. The truth is that it is ours to thank Him for and ours to offer back to Him, ours to relinquish, ours to lose, ours to let go of–– if we want to find our true selves, if we want real Life, if our hearts are set on glory.

Wow! Sometimes in our upside-down moments, we want to rush past the part of what is being surrendered and be reminded about who we put our ultimate trust in. I don’t think we can speed this up. Whether grief, reflection, forgiveness, or change, they all serve as a catalyst to reflect before responding and responding before reacting. 

4. Find Right Side Up People

“The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.” — William Arthur Ward

We need real people willing to help us adjust the sails and flip our boat back over. They are eager to be with us in our upside-down state and avoid the statements of “move on already,” “get over it,” or worse, ignore you and share their recent upside-down story. Right-side-up people are not easily found, but they are often characterized by people who can navigate both their upside-down and others with grace, empathy, compassion, clarity, and truth. And they have scars on their heads to prove they know the feeling of being upside down for short or long periods. 

They should be the first people you call, and I would suggest the first people that help you navigate your way back to connecting with God and His promises. They are Galatians 5 people!… You know, Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, and Self-Control can talk in the Spirit and walk in the Spirit. 

Sometimes when your world seems upside down, it takes knowing that you are loved to turn your world right side up. The other day my daughter sent me this picture of my amazing grandson. Beyond the overwhelming cuteness, I was reminded that wherever you are and whatever you are going through, someone is willing to get upside down to see you right where you are. (even dump out all their goldfish for you). 

Those are the kind of friends we need and the friends we need to be!

And remember, we have a God willing to enter our upside-down space and not leave us there. 

And He never promised that all our upside downs would be turned right side up, but He did promise that in the midst of them, He would never leave or forsake us. 

I will end with this great reminder from Billy Graham, “Art and education may refine the taste, but they cannot purify the heart and regenerate the individual. His (Christ’s) words were simple yet profound. And they shook people, provoking either happy acceptance or violent reflection. People were never the same after listening to him….The people who followed Him were unique in their generation. They turned the world upside down because their hearts had been turned right side up. The world has never been the same.” ~ 

May we be such a people. 

You are loved!

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