October 20, 2017

Another Look: Living in the In-Between

NOTE: Advent started Sunday, and the sky has been falling here ever since. Rain, rain, and more rain; followed by falling temperatures and snow. It has been all haze and fog and spray coming up off the road on my windshield. Perpetual gray. Gloom. Each day has been a “I want to crawl under the covers and spend the whole day there” kind of day. Reading through the archives, I noticed that exactly one year ago today, I had a similarly sour outlook. So today, let me do what writers do — foist my gloom upon you again!

• • •

We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, so that what you hope for may be fully realized. We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.

• Hebrews 6:11-12 (NIV)

I am going to confess something here that I normally would not say in general conversation. I’m not always a happy person. I’m just not. I struggle with discontent, anger, regret, bitterness, impatience, discouragement, and wanting to give up. I whine a lot. There are moments when oaths and curses explode through my lips. Some days I just want to go back to bed. There are many times, I’m sure, when people avoid me. They see the sour look on my face and cross the street to walk on the other side. I’ve been known to throw or kick things occasionally. In quieter moments, I may just let out a series of sighs, clench my jaw till my teeth hurt, pace the floor, flip relentlessly through the TV channels, or putter around the house without purpose.

Why? Because I hate to wait.

I’m not just talking about waiting for something imminent to happen, like for water for my tea to boil or the mail to arrive. Someone coined the word “honkosecond” to describe the amount of time it takes from when the light changes until the driver behind you honks his horn for you to go. People who are just too dang rushed do that. They are hassled and harried and need anger management class to deal with habitual snappiness. It’s not that kind of waiting.

No, I’m talking about something deeper, something that derives from the nature of life itself. Because, you see, the life we live is perpetually in an “in-between” state. We are always between where we were and where we want to be.

Some mysterious discontent moves us to forsake the comfort of the womb and wriggle painfully through our mother’s birth canal to what we must perceive as freedom, only to find that we are held up by our feet and slapped on the bottom the moment we arrive. Content for awhile at our mother’s breast, we soon break away and toddle toward independence, throwing tantrums because we can’t reach it, blocked by all the boundaries mom and dad set up around us. Before long, we can’t wait to go to school, and then we can’t wait to go to the next grade, and then we can’t wait to go to high school, and then we can’t wait to graduate. Girls and boys hate each other, then can’t get enough of each other, and soon learn to hate each other again, and we long for true love. We can’t wait to get our first job and it isn’t long before we can’t wait to move up, and ultimately to retire. We can’t wait to get married, and then we can’t wait for children, and then we can’t wait for them to get out of the house and get established on their own.

On and on it goes. We live forever in-between. We reach one goal and can’t wait to accomplish the next one. We endure one failure, and can’t wait until we find relief and restoration. We are restored and we live our days in the anxiety of falling again.

The Bible is realistic about this. Abraham and Sarah waited for children and wandered for decades without a settled home. Their descendants lived for four centuries under the Egyptians. Moses himself had to wait eighty years before God used him to bring the Hebrews freedom. Then, together, he and the people wandered around the wilderness, first between Egypt and Sinai, and then in the desert around Sinai, for a generation until they reached home.

Under Joshua they were promised a settled “rest.” No more in-between, but a satisfying, concluding chapter to their temporary instability. Didn’t happen. Things got worse, living under local rulers (judges) didn’t cut it, so they cried out for a king. The kings didn’t cut it, so the prophets said, “No rest for the wicked.” Goodbye Promised Land! The Babyonians shuffled them off, back into exile. And there they were resettled. Israel entered a new period of waiting. There they sat, “by the rivers of Babylon,” forced to rely upon God’s promise of another exodus in the future.

So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God.

• Hebrews 4:9 (NASB)

The main cry of one who practices the form of prayer called “lament” is, “How long?” That’s how people who live perpetually in-between think and pray. We know we can’t go back to some golden age in the past. We know we have not yet arrived at the new creation promised to us. We live in-between. We long for in-between to end. Like children in the back seat, we must be a continual annoyance to our Father — “Are we there yet?”

It can be frustrating living in-between. Any blessing, sustenance, attainment, contentment, or security we latch on to now is imperfect, incomplete, and temporary. That’s not to say we can’t enjoy the crumbs we taste now, it’s just to look at them honestly and identify them for the crumbs they are. And when we or others around us don’t even get to enjoy many crumbs at times, it casts a shadow on the whole enterprise.

So, I’m not always what you would call “happy.” Are you? I’ve got a heart full of “how long?” and the longer I live, the “how-longer?” I get.

Advent is about living in the in-between. It’s about learning “to inherit what was promised through faith and patience” (Heb 6:12). I’ve always focused on the “faith” part. I’ve always underestimated the “patience” part.

Are we there yet?

Comments

  1. Stuart Townend has an album called ‘Say the Word’ with a song on it called ‘How Long’, sung by Mal Pope. It expresses this tension well, I think.

  2. Several years ago my husband and I were going through a transition time in our lives and didn’t know where we might “end up”. It was an uncomfortable time in our lives with many unknowns. During that time I walked a labyrinth for the first time which was just what I needed to help me learn to be in the present. Each time I got close to the center, or even when I wasn’t and could just see the center (the goal) I wanted to be there. But as I walked each block of the labyrinth and focused on being at that place, God helped me to see my life like that. I needed to stop focusing on and looking at that center and just be where I was for the moment. And BTW, we ended up moving from America to S. Korea.

  3. Someone shared this with me recently. It is a poem apparently written by a 14 year old boy, included in the book “Calm my Anxious Heart”. It is a cautionary tale!
    “It was spring but it was summer I wanted; the warm days and the great outdoors.
    It was summer but it was fall I wanted; the colorful leaves and the cool dry air.
    It was fall but it was winter I wanted; the beautiful snow and the joy of the holiday season.
    It was now winter but it was spring I wanted; the warmth and the blossoming of nature.
    I was a child but it was adulthood I wanted; the freedom and the respect.
    I was twenty but it was thirty I wanted; to be mature and sophisticated.
    I was middle-aged but it was twenty I wanted; the youth and the free spirit.
    I was retired but it was middle-age that I wanted; the presence of mind without limitations.
    My life was over but I never got what I wanted.”

  4. Chaplain Mike, this “sweet grandmother” swears like the soldier she used to be in traffic, gets royally ticked off if someone sits in “my seat” at church, and is capable of frequent elaborate and lon-lasting pity parties…….and that is on a GOOD day.

    I have a theory that those of us who deal with other people for a living….salesmen/women, teachers, clergy, nurses, receptionists, and similar “out in front” jobs get SO burned out being polite, cheerful, supportive and calm (even with rude IDIOTS!) that by the time we are off the clock or out of uniform, we simply can’t muster the energy to be as kind and patient with those we live with and love.

    For me, at least, in an older profession where I worked alone behind a closed door, I had a lot more of me to give at the end of the day to others (I was bored to tears, but that is another subject.) Even with the Spirit being with us, many of us mere humans, especially the introverts by nature, have a limited amount of sweet rapport within us!

  5. The Pastor said on Sunday he had just read a statistic which stated that, by the time we reach his age (60 something) we have spent 3 years waiting. I have read that we live in a constant “holy tension” pulled between two worlds.

    Isn’t it good though to understand that we are not nice people? I seem less able to tolerate “nice people” as I get older. Especially when they think that they have to “prove” their Christianity by being “nice.” Too much sugar.

  6. We are both saints and sinners.

    I guess it’s true.

    Hang in there, Chaplain Mike.

  7. We do have our own dreams and plans and misplaced priorities, don’t we? We mentally set our stage for the drama that we believe our lives are intended to be, and we have this idea that there is an audience waiting to watch it unfold. We struggle and strive to get there, expending all our energies, time, and money. We can’t wait for it!

    I believe that we all will reach a point in life where we realize all the stage dressings are gone, that life just hasn’t turned out the way we thought it would, and we may even be forgotten by folk that we believed would be on the front row to see our show, or perhaps even on stage with us. At these times, it’s difficult to find God…He’s like that Flannery O’Connor Jesus, darting back and forth behind trees out in the wilderness, beckoning us to follow. It is in this place, though, where we truly meet God…when all expectation is stripped away, and there’s nothing we can do except chase after Him, and in the words of Brennan Manning, ask Him often, “What’s next, Papa?” This, to me, sums up the idea of the in-between.

    Love, love this post, CM. It really speaks to where I am right now, and I believe, to where a lot of us iMonks are.

  8. An odd thing happened as I read your blog about waiting and your personal struggle with being a happy person, suddenly I became filled with joy. That’s right. Not that I found your unhappiness something to celebrate but you brought home an important quality – Hope. I am by nature a hopeful person and because of that the “wait” is the best part of the journey. As I work toward my goals, it is the process that gives the most joy, not the finished product. I have the next goal in place by the time I reach the one I am working on. I also remember the blessed hope of Advent, the return of Christ. It is what I do now that matters most. Once He returns – as wonderful as that will be – it is over, a new thing will begin that our little minds can not even come close to realizing. So that you my friend for awaking in me something that I tend to forget from time to time.

  9. This is a great post. For me your writing captured the texture of the life I experience here and now.

    There are some blessed crumbs for now but I do long for a full meal.

  10. Mike, Your post reminded me of Michael Card’s song. Probably for similar reasons that Jack outlined above.

    There is a joy in the journey
    There’s a light we can love on the way
    There is a wonder and wildness to life
    And freedom for those who obey

    And all those who seek it shall find it
    A pardon for all who believe
    Hope for the hopeless and sight for the blind

    To all who’ve been born in the Spirit
    And who share incarnation with Him
    Who belong to eternity stranded in time
    And weary of struggling with sin

    Forget not the hope that’s before you
    And never stop counting the cost
    Remember the hopelessness when you were lost

    There is a joy in the journey
    There’s a light we can love on the way
    There is a wonder and wildness to life
    And freedom for those who obey

    And freedom for those who obey…

  11. This calls to mind the ebb and flow. The ocean is waves. Mountains and clouds (seen from above) are waved. Sound is waved. Light is waved (sorta). Life is enmeshed in the wave so it’s no surprise that that we are ups and downs. A season for everything. In fact, aren’t we always a little suspicious of the person who is always UPP!!!!!

  12. The older I get the more content I become with the waiting. After all, I think eternity will be an eternal now, with no past to regret and no future to dwell on in the linear sense of time we now inhabit.
    We live and move and have our being very much in the present. We live there.

    I think a longing for God’s kingdom as it will ultimately play out is natural for the Christian. But I also think that in American Christianity we confuse that true and pure kind of longing with mere anticipation for the Next Big Thing, and/or for something that is born merely of our own desiers and passions. It’s something much deeper than that. Something that both longs for a future and is capable of contentment in the waiting moments. Becaue our Lord is there in both.

  13. Being chronically ill since a young age and then progressively disabled is a great school of patience. Like a real school it starts when you’re still being formed and best capable of learning, and the lessons are just as educational. It’s pretty much either become patient or go crazy. This brings us to an interesting statistic: quadriplegics on average are 10% happier than able bodied’s according to psych studies on the matter.

    I think it’s because the able bodied life allows one to always DO something rather than really wrestle with their inner difficulties. There’s always a chore to do, entertainment to partake in, or someplace to go. Disabled life has lots of things to do, but you can’t just do them when you want to necessarily, and there is a lot of forced downtime. Even just that first paralyzed time in the hospital, or upon becoming more disabled than you have tools for, or left somewhere for “just a little while” seems like forever. You’re stuck with your thoughts and feelings, just them and you in the little room that is your mind.

    After it all, I can honestly say I’m happy most of the time, but that doesn’t mean I’d recommend this path to others. 😉