During the research I did for The Calling Journey (a book for life coaches on coaching transitions and the stages of Christian life purpose), one of the most interesting findings was how prevalent difficult late-life transitions were for mature leaders. Here are some common characteristics I observed:
- Being ejected from a long-time role.
- Loss of favor and influence and/or financial reverses.
- Asking fundamental identity questions.
- Wondering if this is all there is. Will I ever find the right place to fulfill my call?
How do you coach a person facing late-life transitions? The key is understanding what God is doing in the transitions. This Valley of Identity is about our final release of our call. I often heard leaders who had passed through it say things like, “I finally said, ‘Jesus, if this never happens, you are enough for me.'”
If we need for our calling to happen to be fulfilled in life, we still aren’t ready for it. That desire for fulfillment and significance will become a mistress that diverts our attention from Jesus. God is saving us from divided loyalties and the pain that will bring to us and those around us.
So the key in coaching late-life transitions is helping people believe God is in it and embrace it. For instance if the coachee feels that in transition his or her sphere of influence has been taken away and all the doors are closing, a great question might be. ‘Let’s assume this is from God. If so, what might he be trying to do in you?” or “What would it look like to embrace the season God has given you and meet him in it?”
Intimacy in these valley times is far more important than outward progress. What does my response to these circumstances say about what I really believe? What could I do to let go gracefully and embrace God? If it seems he is removing outward activity in my life, why would he be doing that? And if the season is one of inward renovation instead of outward accomplishment, what would it look like to be proactive about making space in my life for that to happen?
Again, the keys for the coach are believing God is in the season of transitions–believing in the work of God in this person’s life–and encouragement to lean into it instead of fighting it.
Tony Stoltzfus is a coach, author, master coach trainer and director of the Leadership Metaformation Institute.