Sociologist and incoming Taylor University president D. Michael Lindsay has spent much of his career researching leaders at the highest levels of American society, producing landmark studies like Faith in the Halls of Power: How Evangelicals Joined the American Elite. In his latest book, Hinge Moments: Making the Most of Life’s Transitions, Lindsay turns his attention toward a subject affecting people of all ages and stations: the crucial decisions and turning points that shape who we are and what we’ll become. Leadership author and teacher Angie Ward spoke with Lindsay (a member of CT’s board of directors) about preparing for, responding to, and allowing God to work through the various hinge moments in our lives.
Why did you write this book, and who is it for?
I originally wrote the book for high school and college students, to help them prepare for big decisions in life: finding a mate, figuring out your vocational calling, maybe deciding where to go for college or graduate school. But as I got into it, I realized that all of us experience hinge moments throughout our lives. And when the coronavirus pandemic hit, I recognized that our entire society has been facing a kind of existential hinge moment, with ripple effects that are going to be with us for a while. As a result, I realized there is a lot this book can say to a broader audience.
Define what you mean by a “hinge moment.”
Just like hinges on a door allow the door to open or close, so also there are a few hundred moments of our lives that have a disproportionate impact.
These are moments when big decisions are made: You ask someone to marry you, or you get a big job, or your spouse is diagnosed with cancer. They are pregnant with promise and peril. You could say that much of the rest of your life hinges on what happens in them. The more thoughtful we can be going into these moments and the more prayerful we can be as we process them, the better off we’ll be as we pass from one hinge moment to another over the course of a life.
In the book, you differentiate between change and transition. How would you describe the difference?
Change is something that happens to us at a specific moment in time. You get a job. You move to a new city. Your child dies of terminal cancer. Transition is a much longer process. It’s the internal way that we process these significant changes. There are aspects of this process that begin to work in our souls in the weeks, months, even years before a hinge moment occurs. And of course there are ripple effects that work outward in the weeks, months, and years after that.
You describe seven stages of transition: discernment, anticipation, intersection, landing, integration, inspiration, and realization. Which of these trips people up the most?
Without a doubt, the intersection phase is the hardest one. It’s the state of being betwixt and between, what is known as “liminal space.” It’s this very precarious moment when you are most vulnerable, where you have the fewest sources of support and encouragement. It’s the moment between being fired from a job and being hired at another. Or it’s the space between when a loved one is given a serious medical diagnosis and is either cured of the illness or ends up dying from it.
Sometimes that intersection phase can last days or weeks, but often enough it lasts months or even years. It is those crucible seasons that have the most profound impact in shaping who we are, largely through how we respond to the dilemma or the uncertainty at hand. We have to rely upon our close friends and immediate family members, and maybe a few trusted advisers or mentors. The people who walk alongside us in those periods of intersection—those liminal phases—end up making the difference in how we thrive in days ahead.
You’ve mentioned how spouses, family members, and close friends are involved in these stages. What role does the Holy Spirit play?
I really believe that the Holy Spirit is guiding us through all the phases of transition I describe. I’ve found in my own journey that there was a sense of restlessness as I began anticipating or thinking about a possible change. It was happening at sort of a visceral, preconscious level. I wasn’t actually thinking about a change, but my spirit was anticipating something.
Each of us is already in the preparation phase for the next hinge moment; we just don’t realize it yet. Part of the process is building into our lives practices and disciplines that allow us to be attentive to the Holy Spirit’s leading. One thing I’ve learned while writing this book is the value of listening and being attentive to the voice of God. And that requires regular disciplines of prayer and Sabbath-keeping, of solitude and accountability. It means having friendships with people who can remind you of the big picture and what you’re trying to do.
In the book, you talk about prediction and preparation. What’s the difference, and how do they relate to one another?
So much of the American lifestyle is about prediction. Certainly, if we think about our professional lives, we’re all about trying to maximize the possible benefits. We go to grad school to get a degree because we think that will make us more employable and set us up for more and better opportunities.
But we have to remind ourselves that God does not call us to a life of success; he calls us to a life of faithfulness. So our approach should be, “God, I want to be prepared for what you’re calling me to do next,” whether or not that means I get a big raise or the loudest applause. Life does not consist of the bullet points we build on a résumé. We have to be open, vulnerable, and willing to entertain the possibility that God’s calling might be different than we supposed.
We often wish we could know God’s whole plan for our lives right now. But what do you think would happen if we did?
I can say, from my own journey, that if I had known ahead of time all of the challenges, obstacles, and disappointments I would experience in my adult life, there’s no way I would have made the same choices. I would have been far more risk-averse. But of course that would have meant missing out on the upside of all of those setbacks: the many moments of extraordinary redemption and blessing. God in his providence doesn’t reveal the fullness of our lives. Instead, he gives it to us moment by moment, in small doses that we can metabolize and handle. He walks alongside us in those moments of great sadness and disappointment, but he also prepares our hearts and our minds to embrace the redemptive mercies he has in store.
I have a special-needs daughter, Elizabeth. Virtually every day for the last seven years I’ve prayed for a supernatural healing, and it has yet to come. And yet I can see extraordinary ways that the Lord has blessed my life because she is part of our family. Had I seen the full picture beforehand, I’m not sure I would have been willing to take the risk or embrace all that comes with it. Yet the Lord has used it to refine me: to make me a better person, and to shape me into a better follower of Jesus.
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