What Home Remodels Teach Us About Transitions


My husband, Craig, and I love watching home-remodel shows. We grieved the Fixer-Upper farewell with the rest of the HGTV-watching world, and we’ll continue to tune in to some of our other favorites. The son of a contractor, Craig comes by this interest honestly. While I have no talent for repairs, seeing an old home restored inspires me. There is something beautiful—even biblical—that happens when someone uses their skill to take a broken-down building and restore it to a gorgeous home. It’s fun to view these shows, but if you’ve ever lived in a home with a construction project or worked on one, living in it is often not as pleasant as seeing the transformation on TV.

When you’re in the messy middle of a remodel, the final outcome can seem far off. We were watching an episode of Property Brothers in which a newly-wed couple stood in the living room of their “new” home with the walls gutted, wires exposed, and sheetrock in pieces all over the floor. The wife exclaimed, “I think this was a mistake. We never should have done this.”

Often, the same is true for the transition out of college. Over the years, I’ve talked with alumni who—while in the middle of it—have seriously questioned if they’re on the right track. They want to know, “Did I make a mistake in moving here? Should have taken that other job offer? Maybe I should have moved back home? Maybe I shouldn’t have moved back home…” These questions are normal when we’re in transition! Just because something feels difficult or messy, it doesn’t mean we need to go somewhere else. Most likely, we are “in-process” and we need to be okay with that.

In his book Transitions, William Bridges discusses the cycle we go through during times of transition. The process has three parts:

  1. Ending
  2. Neutral Zone (or middle)
  3. New Beginning

At one point, he compares transitions to a house remodel, saying “It starts by making an ending and destroying what used to be. Then there is a time when it isn’t the old way anymore, but not yet the new way either… It’s a very confusing time.”  As we go through the “ending” part of the transition, there’s a process of “dismantling” that takes place. There may be a physical dismantling as we take pictures off our walls and pack up our belongings. But, let’s not miss the internal process. We may have to “take down” old ways of doing things or certain expectations. Whether we need to let go of our financial dependence on our parents or adjust our expectations when it comes to finding friends right away after college, let’s be faithful to go through the “ending” part of the transition.

Let’s also embrace the neutral zone or middle. It’s hard to be in an in-between time. Often, we want to run back to what’s familiar or rush ahead to the new thing. But, this fallow time is crucial for processing the past and preparing us for the future. In the same way a tree drop its leaves in the fall and goes through the fallow winter time in order to make way for new growth in the spring, we too need to give ourselves permission to be in the neutral zone.  We need to make time to reflect, mourn the ending, and to be okay with the questions that rise up in this time.

As we’re perhaps literally unpacking our belongings in a new location or at new job, let’s also be mindful to “unpack” our time at our old context and even parts of the identity we formed while there. In a transitional time, we dismantle, but we also rebuild. The new thing will come. Though the future picture or new beginning may feel far off, let’s trust the process. Most importantly, let’s trust our God who is sovereign over all it. As Christians, we have the promise of newness more abounding than anyone.

Contractors and their clients have to set their sights on the final outcome—the dream home—in order stay hopeful and focused in the process. We should do the same. Let’s dream big for our future as we fix our eyes on the One who holds it all.

Citation: Bridges, William. Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo, 2004, p. 115