6 min. to read.
Are you feeling the discomfort of living in between?
Something is coming to an end or may already be done. What’s next isn’t clear. Before now the path was apparent, but now? Not so much. Options multiply. It’s hard to know which road is best.
In this landscape, goal-making isn’t easy; sometimes, it doesn’t even make sense. Even our spiritual life can seem foggy. Am I being led? Maybe. It can be hard to sense the Divine affirmation and accompaniment that so easily comes with certainty.
For some of us, the in-between is a place of anxiety and uncertainty. Are you with me?
I’m in between. I’ve been feeling a turbulence inside of me.
Summer is transitioning to fall, and family routines are shifting again. That requires me to lay down my expectations, which is hard. My wife, who has worked for most of our marriage, is staying home this year to homeschool our son. It seems like the right thing for him, but it requires restructuring our lives, our time, our routine, even our finances. I don’t know how it’s going to work, and I don’t like that feeling!
I’ve also come to the end of a creative cycle. The Wisdom of Your Heart started as a creative project in 2010. I pitched the book in 2012, signed a publishing contract in 2015, and completed the manuscript eighteen months later. The book hit store shelves in September of 2017—almost exactly two years ago. (That doesn’t even include the audiobook that took a year to complete or the workshop I developed to teach the skills from the book, and the accompanying workbook I published this past May.)
From start to finish that’s nine years. That’s a long time. (Quick note to creatives: Keep plugging away at your project! One step at a time. Big things can eventually happen when you don’t give up.)
For those nine years, The Wisdom of Your Heart has been the main focus of my creative energy. Now, that project is finished. It will live whatever life it lives out there in the world, but it no longer will be my primary focus.
What then? What comes next? The uncertainty is awkward. It’s exciting, but it’s also scary.
Lost in the Liminal
You’ve probably experienced this in-between space I’m talking about.
Maybe when you graduated or moved your last kid out of the house, or after a divorce, or when you stepped away from a long-term job. The project that had occupied your attention ended. With that, you also lost the focus and momentum that comes from simply having a project.
And now? You’re in between. What comes next?
There’s a great word that describes this space between. Liminal. It comes from a Latin word meaning “threshold.” When you pass over a threshold, you are in between. You used to be in one room. In a moment, you’ll be in a different room. For now, for this moment, you are neither in the old room nor in the new one.
We pass through a hundred liminal moments every day. Most are momentary—like crossing the threshold. But sometimes, we find ourselves in an extended liminal space.
Grief is one of those. You lost what or who you lost. You’re still in pain. All the people, obligations, and schedules want you to move on, but you’re not there yet. You’re no longer the person you were before the loss. You’re also not yet the person you will be when the grief is processed, and you are ready to move on. You’re standing on the beach. This ocean of sorrow is washing in and out, and you can’t turn away from it.
Spiritual deconstruction is another liminal space. You used to see the world one way, maybe buoyed up by a set of religious certainties that you don’t accept anymore. But belief isn’t just a decoration; This isn’t as easy as taking off a worn-out hoodie.
You are no longer who you were when those ideas made sense. But you’re not yet who you are becoming. That in-between space can be disorienting.
But you are not alone
The ancient scriptures formational for both Judaism and Christianity contain story after story of people caught in liminal places. Most often, this is captured with the imagery of wilderness.
Abraham was called from his homeland to an unknown destination, with the only path through the wilderness. Joseph was abandoned in a wilderness pit then sold into slavery. Moses escaped Egyptian justice into the Sinai wilderness. The Hebrew Slaves spent forty years walking through the wilderness.
The prophet Elijah survived the purge of an evil king by hiding in the wilderness. David also hid from King Saul in the wilderness. Later Judah and Israel experienced the wilderness of exile.
John the Baptist lived and preached in the wilderness. Jesus spent forty days in the wilderness after his baptism. Paul disappeared into the wilderness shortly after his conversion.
Even the prophecy in Revelation talks about “the woman,” a symbol for God’s people, hiding in the wilderness to escape danger.
You and I so prefer the comfort of certainty. We chafe in these in-between wilderness spaces. And yet, if scripture is any measure, it seems that lives led with ongoing certainty, easy routine, and little discomfort are in the minority.
In the next post, I’m going to talk about the unexpected blessing of the wilderness, but for today I want you to know this:
In the wilderness, you are not alone. We picture the wilderness as an isolated, abandoned kind of place. It can often feel that way! But the truth is that the wilderness has its own kind of community. You aren’t the only one walking through the liminal space of loss, or uncertainty, or deconstruction. It may feel like no one could possibly understand the uncertainty you feel, but that’s not true.
Even more important, the wilderness is not an alien landscape for God. The record of human spirituality, both in scripture and in the journals of faithful people for generations, shows us that the wilderness is one of the places where we meet God most predictably.
Perhaps we don’t meet God there in the ways we wish we would — that satisfying epiphany of comfort, provision, and prayers answered according to our timeline and specification. Instead, we meet God in different, perhaps more intimate ways.
Jesus walked in the wilderness in Palestine, and he still walks in the wilderness with us now. He knows grief and unmet expectations and the bite of painful circumstances. He knows what it means to be misunderstood and to have your motives judged unfairly. He knows.
So, if you find yourself in the uncertain in-between today, I offer you this. You are not alone. You are loved. And though you cannot see to the other side of this wilderness, you are seen by One who can.