Life is one big rollercoaster ride of change. Milestones, graduations, and transitions, more often than “staying put,” are the norms that follow us through our lives. And despite the frequency of change we encounter, we find ourselves ill-prepared for these inevitable occurrences. So, how can we better ready ourselves for the moments of change that we are sure to encounter?
This is the central question that D. Michael Lindsay deals with in his recent book, Hinge Moments: Making the Most of Life’s Transitions. Lindsay, no stranger to change himself, is the eighth president of Gordon College and a former member of the sociology faculty at Rice University. He’s also the author of two highly-acclaimed books, Faith in the Halls of Power: How Evangelicals Joined the American Elite and View from the Top: An Inside Look at How People in Power See and Shape the World. Lindsay’s pedigree makes him precisely the right person to write a book such as this.
Though change can be abrupt, interrupting our lives and confusing everything that we were once certain of, Hinge Moments puts language to this confusion and articulates a path forward for those undergoing the challenges that come with life’s transitions.
Navigating the seven stages of a healthy transition
Sometimes we can see change coming a mile away. Sometimes it sneaks up on us and uproots nearly everything. From the coronavirus pandemic that has changed all our lives, in one way or another, to being fired from a job you love, hinge moments, whether we choose them or not, are “opportunities to open (or to close) doors to various pathways of our lives” (3). And, whether we have chosen them or not, Lindsay is intent on preparing his reader for handling these moments well.
The narrative of Hinge Moments revolves around a seven-stage model of transition that walks readers through a step-by-step analysis of its various stages: discernment, anticipation, intersection, landing, integration, inspiration, and realization. Lindsay reimagines each of these stages, rearticulating the model’s terms and ideas in such a way that, for me, puts language to much of what I’ve personally experienced in my own hinge moments, helping to make sense of some of the more disorienting seasons of my life. Moreover, Lindsay does a masterful job of coaching readers forward, laying the groundwork for a healthier response to change and preparing them to navigate each of these stages successfully and in a healthy way.
No matter the origin of your “hinge moment,” nor the stage of transition that you currently find yourself in, Lindsay offers you a sort of pastoral matter-of-factness to shepherd you on your way through the process.
Virtue as the hinge that all hinge moments hang on
Navigating change and transition well really boils down to what Lindsay calls “hinge virtues.” These virtues, historically called cardinal virtues, are “the constants that keep you steady and stable when you have to make changes” (102). More than serving as a strategy or philosophy to be implemented, these virtues are “the necessary hinges on which we should hang our lives.” In other words, navigating change, and doing it well, requires you to be a certain kind of person.
So, the primary question is not, “What should I do to prepare myself for change?” The central question is, “What kind of person should I be/become so that I can endure, and even thrive, no matter what changes and transitions are thrust upon me in the future?” Virtue is the “robust, reliable hinge” that gives answer to the latter.
Therefore, Lindsay argues that life’s hinge moments will either be wasted “or, worse, will waste us” without the exercise of these virtues: prudence (applied wisdom), fortitude (courage), temperance (self-restraint), and justice. It is these virtues, this way of being, that forms us into the kind of persons that are prepared for changes and transitions, that can endure these changes and transitions successfully, and can look back on them and recognize God’s providential care in walking us through them.
Hinge moments and the providence of God
“The challenge with life is that we have to live it moving forward, but we really only understand it looking back” (7). Though change and transition are normal, they are rarely easy. Whether you’re a high school graduate heading to college or that graduate’s parent experiencing your first night in an empty nest, life’s transitions are confusing and disorienting. Because we are creatures, a life lived “moving forward” exposes our relative lack of competence and our utter dependence on God to lay a path straight before us. So, Hinge Moments, in a very practical way, is an acknowledgment of the providence of God and a helping hand encouraging us to put one foot in front of the other on that God-laid path.
Hinge moments are coming. Change is coming. To be undone by change is our way of reckoning with our ultimate lack of control — with the providence of God. And though change is hard, and even painful, the providence of God is God’s fatherly care of his creation, as Michael Reeves describes it. Though we may not understand it until we “look back,” we can be sure that the transitions we must navigate are being worked together for our good (Rom. 8:28). As creatures, then, we can respond in one of two ways to these moments in our lives, however hard and painful they may be: we can either “make the most of them or we can waste them” (100).
“The wonderful thing about God is that he chooses to accomplish most of what he wants in the world through ordinary people like you and me” (144). Lindsay, in Hinge Moments, is calling readers to “make friends” with God’s providence. And in our life’s oncoming hinge moments, he calls us to set our face to accomplishing the tasks God has placed before us. The first task might just be reading this book.