A few weeks back, I wrote about finding myself living in the ellipses– the “. . .” – a time in-between what was and what is to come. I struggle with the slowness of this time. I have a feeling that I am not alone.
Have you found yourself in an in-between time–that space between what was and no longer fits and what is to come? I am there right now and have been for a few years. Have you found your way out? Is there a map somewhere that I could get my hands on? How long is it supposed to last?
Oh never mind, I have a feeling that this in-between time is not resolved by maps or plans or 5 steps.
To live in the ellipses–the in-between time– is to wait, but it is neither wasted nor passive time. This in-between time offers a soul space, breath, and time to grow if we let it. Maybe it’s like the season between planting and harvesting. Given the right amount of time and nourishment, tremendous growth happens. In between the time that was and is yet to come, I’m finding myself being undone and remade from the inside out. It is both necessary and good. But it has been painfully slow.
In the middle of pondering these in-between times, I stumbled across these words:
“Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; Do not fret when men succeed in their ways.” Psalm 37:7
Oh, this has been an issue for a while? Maybe the tendency to skip through stillness and waiting is a human condition. Eying another’s success is nothing new.
I am convinced that the good-for-our-soul stuff happens in the stillness and in the waiting. (It may not be good for my career or popularity or for any sense of accomplishment, but what good is it to lose my soul in the process of gaining the whole world, right?[i])
At the beginning of my in-between time, before I even knew that I was in it, I had the opportunity to meet with a wise woman for a spiritual counseling session. I brought a truck-load of anxiety and overwhelming questions with me. I had just quit my job, but I had no idea what I was supposed to do next apart from spending my days being mom, which is a tremendous job in itself. I had been shedding church for about six months and was almost entirely free. But I wanted to know where I was supposed to go to church next. My questions about God and Jesus and the Bible were making a mess of my faith. I was hoping to find some answers and some direction.
“Do you need the answers to these questions right now?” she asked me gently.
Well, that took me by surprise.
I paused. I hadn’t thought about the possibility that maybe the answers weren’t necessary at this time. I hadn’t even considered leaning into the ambiguity.
“I guess not.” I hesitantly ventured back.
During that conversation I realized that what I needed was actually a different question. It was a question without a quick answer.
I had been consumed with figuring out what I was supposed to do. Words I had recently read sprang to my mind like a gift. These words changed my life:
“Often people devote their primary attention to the facts of their lives, to their situation, to their work, to their status. Most of their energy goes into doing. . . . many people wonder where they should be and what they should do, when in fact they should be more concerned about how to be.” [ii]
How to be. I need to learn how to be. The in-between time was an invitation to learn a different way of being. It was an invitation to a “Plan Be.” (I know, it is corny.)
Around that same time, another wise woman urged me not to hurry through this time of learning how to be. “Don’t rush through this time. If you move too quickly, it will be like clipping tulips before they bloom.”
So this time of learning how to be is a real thing? Other people have done it?
And it’s slow?
At least for me, it seems excruciatingly slow.
But I’m learning to lean into it.
“Those who wait on the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” Isaiah 40:31
I’ve always loved the images these words conjure. The eagle soaring. Moving. Strong. Tireless. But for some reason, the image of waiting never inspired me before.
As I ache for the tireless kind of energy celebrated by these ancient words, I realize that I have been missing the main point.
Isn’t the main point the waiting part?
I wonder if that is what the in-between time is about?
I think I’m learning to live in that waiting on the Lord part. I’m learning to listen for the ways that God speaks to me and around me. I am learning to not just charge ahead doing things because I think I should or because I think others think I should. Maybe that is why this ellipses time seems to be taking forever. Sometimes I am a slow learner. I have a hard time trusting my listening.
I’m not sure yet whether it is comforting to reflect on all of the stories of waiting that fill the Scriptures. There is a lot of waiting. Waiting for deliverance. Waiting for food. Waiting for children to inhabit barren wombs. Waiting for promises. Waiting for justice. Waiting for home. Waiting through silence. Waiting for years. Decades of waiting. More than a few lifetimes of waiting. Waiting still.
There are stories of waiting well. And there are stories of waiting not so well. I know that I am not the only person to grow impatient living in the in-between time. And my few years of waiting to figure out answers to my smallish big questions pales in comparison.
Is there any way for this process to be quick or abbreviated? It doesn’t seem likely. If we find ourselves here, we could skedaddle. It is hard and scary and uncomfortable, especially at first. But if we stay in it, if we allow God to use this time to undo us and to remake us, we will discover God, and we will discover who God made us to be. Life happens in the in-between time.
As far as you can, hold your confidence.
Do not allow your confusion to squander
This call which is loosening
Your roots in false ground,
That you might come free
From all you have outgrown.
What is being transfigured here is your mind,
And it is difficult and slow to become new.
The more faithfully you can endure here,
The more refined your heart will become
For your arrival in the new dawn.
~ John O’Donohue from For an Interim Time in To Bless the Space Between Us.
[i] See Luke 8:36
[ii] John O’Donohue, Anam Cara, p. 24 (emphasis added).