October 18, 2017

Living In the In-Between

By Chaplain Mike

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.

Abraham & Sarah, Chagall

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. Rob Grayson says:

    Beautifully written, Mike. Thank you.

  2. Amen, Mike. Thank you for a stirring call to a biblical way of life in the already/not yet.

  3. Honest thoughts and feelings that most of us can identify with. Thanks for sharing them. I find that I fluctuate between living in between the past and the future, but at other times am able to embrace and enjoy the present. For me it’s about being intentional in stopping to “smell the roses”, to hug the grand children, to be totally present as I have lunch with a friend. Sometimes the being present only lasts for a few seconds until my mind is off remembering the good times of the past or anticipating a new adventure in the future. Right now my husband and I are definitely in that inbetween time of life. In about 10 weeks we are moving from rural Ohio to S. Korea (for 2 years) We are needing to prepare for the future, but also wanting to savor the moments left here with family and friends.

    • I wish you well in South Korea, Amy. My cousin’s son went there this summer to teach this year in a new school. He loves the school, the people, the area. Of course, things are feeling a bit tense now because of N Korea attacking S Korea recently. But Jared is coming home soon for Christmas and I know he will be full of stories. He shares a lot of them with family and friends on Facebook.

  4. Excellent word, CM. I was reading John Stott’s “Incomparable Christ” the other day, about Anthony Ashley Cooper, and his constant prayer for Jesus to return, so that poverty and sickness would be eradicated. As an “in-between”/”Advent” people, I wonder why we don’t all pray for that frequently, as impatient as we are in other areas of life?

  5. Nicely written. We are caught in the eschatological “now” and “now yet.” We have it all now by faith in Christ, but not yet fully in ourselves and not by sight. Sigh. This is why Advent is my favorite season and why I get personally frustrated when Christmas overwhelms it. We lose the sense of watchful, sober, prayerful waiting, waiting, waiting. A dominant image of the end times is that of pregnancy, “the whole creation groans in travail,” “these are but the birth pangs.” You have to wait the full term for the baby to appear. Until then, there is groaning and sighing. This is why I deeply mistrust an overly happy Christianity. Now suffering, then glory.

    • Christiane says:

      a nice way to ‘wait patiently’:

      the Sarum ‘O’ Antiphons which are prayed each night for a week leading up to Christmas Eve.
      The “O” Antiphons are the verses for the ancient hymn ‘ O Come, O Come Emmanuel’
      The first letter of the Messianic titles for Christ:
      Emmanuel, Rex, Oriens, Clavis, Radix, Adonai, Sapientia—
      when arranged in an acrostic, spells out the Latin words ERO CRAS

      which translates as ‘TOMORROW, I COME’

      I love Advent too. It makes a quiet place for us to long for His Coming.

  6. As I’ve gotten older I’ve grown to like the in-between. I am one of those people who always is doing something – something at work, something for the church – those never-ending projects on the honey-do list. Even projects with the kids can take on a whole new form if I let them. But I will confess – I went on a silent retreat one weekend at a monastary with the intent to just be. And I enjoyed it so thoroughly (I prepared myself by delving into St. John of the Cross and The Cloud of Unknowing before I left).

    Of course there are things that tend to shake me back to living in the moment when the world gets in the way… at the moment its the recent illness of friends and my own reflection on my mortality contrasted against my children, my wife, my family and what’s really important though the eyes of God. Bu then I guess that’s the way it will be for me – gain insight, lose focus, wander, get jolted back, gain insight…. cyclical – like the liturgical calendar…..

  7. Thanks for this, reading it felt like a cold slap of water to the face. A much-needed one.

  8. Clay Knick says:

    Just started Ben Patterson’s book “Waiting.” (Sigh). Very good book.

  9. I once asked our now sainted mother (of 10 – I was the baby) – ‘what do you remember about me as a kid?’ I was rather disappointed when she said – ‘you were always so impatient.’ I was a little disappointed – but now, years later – I know she nailed one of my worst faults. So I really understand not being able to wait…Advent for me is truly a time to learn the great beauty of waiting and hoping for the promise of salvation.

  10. I confess to having been a ‘can’t wait’ person. Each phase of my life has been just one step toward the next ‘big thing’. Until retirement. What comes after retirement? The next ‘big thing’ is death &, yes, I CAN wait for it, But there is a part of me that says ‘I can’t wait to see my Savior face to face’.

    Many times in scripture we read ‘in due time’, ‘at the appointed time’, etc., & usually the word is ‘kairos’ – God’s time. When we understand ‘kairos’ we can begin to enter into the Sabbath rest.

    Great post for advent.

  11. Well, as one author once said: No cross, no heaven.

  12. CM,

    I could not have said it better, and you could not have described me any better. I’ve learned in the last year that so many of us share identical issues.

    I always hold out hope there is a way to fix what is wrong with me, its the biggest struggle I deal with on a daily basis.

    Great article, very touching.

    -Paul-

  13. This makes me think of one of my favorite passages, from Hebrews 11, the “Faith Hall of Fame” chapter:

    All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own.

    Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

    Hebrews 11:13-14, 16 (NIV)

  14. I can’t express enough to you how timely this article was written. I have been in transition between two chapters in my own life for the past three years. Transitioning between a successful secular career and Christian ministry. You see, three years ago my family and I decided to become missionaries. Contrary to popular belief, when you become a missionary you don’t just get up and go. I’ve had to look for a missions organization, ease out of my career, go back to seminary, raise financial support, go through training, and pray… a lot. All of this has required patience. And, I am not a patient person by nature. I’m always the one saying, “Lest’s go, hurry up!”

    But, over the past few years God has been teaching me patience for more than one reason. Two reasons stand out: First, everything is in His timing, not mine. Three years ago, I knew where we were going to serve, when we were going to leave, and with what missions organization we were going with. Needless to say, none of this transpired the way I planned it.

    Secondly, being a missionary requires patience with people. The people with whom we will be serving amongst are a syncretistic people group. Syncretistic people are those who believe in or adhere to a combination of more that one religious belief systems. They are pluralistic in their religious beliefs. Patience is required when ministering to them because they may look in you in the face and say, “Yes, we believe in Jesus Christ!” and then go down to the local mosque and pray to Allah of the Koran. Needless to say, many a missionaries have come off the missionary field as a result of this.

    So, thanks again for this timely article. Glad to know I’m not the only impatient person. 😉

  15. One of the issues for evangelcals is an in-ability to live outside of a black and white world. Whether it be how teaching is done, morality, Bible, etc.. but I knew more than my share of people who thought that some of the New Testament periods in Acts happened quickly and back to back…becuase it was written there. At the same time many don’t know how to live in the tension of waiting. Or if they were taught something and if it doesn’t happen like they “expected” it to happen they can falsely conclude that it is the result of sin…

    I read so many good posts here, and in my mind it keeps bringing up the fallicies of evangelical Christianity.

    • Wow – I thought maybe it was possible to make it through a post on IM without someone jumping into the normal evangelical bashing… but, evidently not!

      Not sure how you got from CH Mike’s great post that applies to all Christians to bashing the evangelical. Yes, there are those in evangelical Christianity that struggle with the waiting, the uncertainty, and the already/not yet… but isn’t the point of the post that we all struggle with that?

      I doubt we evangelicals have cornered the market on black and white thinking and struggling to live with the tension of waiting. I would guess that similar criticisms could be applied to liturgical, or Catholic, or post-evangelical (you all see a lot of black and white regarding evangelicals), et al Christians.

      In my evangelical world, we just kicked off the Advent season (yes, church calendar stuff in a contemporary evangelical setting) with a service centered around the idea of embracing the waiting times, knowing that God is still at work. Hmmmm…

  16. Our lives are paradoxical in the “already, not yet” we find ourselves in every day!

    2 Cor 6:10: “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.”

    This really gets me:

    Paul in Phil. 3:12 said “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.”

    Yet in the next chapter he says “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.”

    I’m not where I need to be yet and so I must press on. In the mean time, I am in need of nothing!

    Maybe that’s the joy Lewis spoke of, the the inconsolable longing we all have. Groaning that cannot be uttered. Weird stuff. Come quickly Lord Jesus!

  17. Randy Thompson says:

    Waiting is that time when you start learning to use the word “trust” in relation to God more than the word “faith.” “Trust” is a verb; “faith” is a noun.

  18. Great article! Important topic and I appreciate the perspective and insights.

  19. This was great. Here’s the hip-hop counterpart to this message: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LUocKo8EgYs

  20. Thank you for writing this.