Living in the Liminal, Part One

We do it in the cabin of an airplane. We do it in a car, in the lobby of a doctor’s office, in the line at the grocery store. We do it while engaged to be married, pregnant with a child, applying for that dream job, sitting by the phone in hopes of good news from the doctor. What is it? Waiting. We wait. We spend much of our lives waiting. Sometimes the wait is only as long as it takes for the nurse to call our name for our turn to see the doctor. Sometimes it’s a bit longer as we interview along with half a dozen other people for that job we’ve always wanted. Other times, the waiting can seem indefinite. This is what I call living in the liminal and where I’ve found myself for the past year or so.

Liminal space is that space in time hanging between where you were and where you want to be. It’s standing at the threshold of something bigger than where you’ve been. There’s no getting around it. Waiting is part of life. How we do it is what makes the difference.

…a unique spiritual position where human beings hate to be but where the biblical God is always leading them. It is when you have left the tried and true, but have not yet been able to replace it with anything else. It is when you are finally out of the way. It is when you are between your old comfort zone and any possible new answer. If you are not trained in how to hold anxiety, how to live with ambiguity, how to entrust and wait, you will run…anything to flee this terrible cloud of unknowing. 
– Richard Rohr

This quote by Richard Rohr brings to mind how I envision the way many of us wait for unanswered questions. When we’re little we are taught not to interrupt our parents while they are talking to someone else. If we want their attention, we are taught to gently tap them on the arm so that they know we have something to say and then wait patiently until they are ready to respond. Well, I know few kids, myself included, that get this right regularly. Usually it looks more like this: the parent is standing there having an in-depth conversation with her friend, we tap, tap, tap and get no response. So we resort to tugging on the sleeve of her shirt, ripping out the threads, standing on our heads, making weird faces, yelling, screaming, throwing ourselves on the ground. Anything to get her attention.

Is the mother deaf and blind? Has she not heard our plea for attention or seen the antics we were willing to go to in order to get her attention? No. She saw it all and heard it all. She just wasn’t done talking, and it wasn’t time to address our issue. I do that with God sometimes. I yammer on and on at Him about my pitiful state of discontent as if He’s never heard it before. It’s not that we can’t come to Him with our needs over and over again, but if the request isn’t being answered in our time, there’s a reason. Maybe what we should be asking for is the ability to wait gracefully. We must learn to wait correctly.

Recently my daughter came home from driver’s ed and declared with unbridled confidence that I am an aggressive driver. Well…it’s true. I can be in a perfectly good mood, and the moment I get behind that wheel it all goes out the window. Thankfully, salvation is secure because if it wasn’t I would lose mine every time I get behind the wheel of a vehicle! I just want to know, how green must a light be before the person in front of me deems it prudent to accelerate and move?!

This is how I wait, with aggression. It’s ugly and usually involves the over-talking of my issue, living my life with frustration and anger, snapping at those around me and just generally not being very pleasant to be around.

Another way we wait is to just lie down and die. Give up. What’s the point? This behavior falls into the self-pity arena. When I was a kid we lived up the street from this little grocery store called Frank’s. When I say little, I mean little. It was the  convenience store on the corner. I can still hear the squeak of the old screen door as it opened and shut behind his customers. It was a very big deal to take loose change and walk the few feet down the street and buy candy. Frank stood behind his old counter wearing his white apron and hat and patiently waiting for us to make our candy choices. One day he found out he had cancer. He closed his shop, sold everything and stayed in his house and waited to die. The sad thing was, he lived that way for years missing out on so much of life. He just gave up.

Finally, we wait by taking matters into our own hands. This is what I used to do with my credit card when I got tired of waiting for things I wanted or thought I needed. I figured if God wasn’t going to provide for me, I’d provide for myself, credit card in hand headed for wreckless spending. This often involves manipulating circumstances to get what we want or simply settling for something less than what God had in mind for us.

The one thing that God has been driving home to me is that I have a choice as to how I will wait. In my next post, I will share with you what He has been teaching me about waiting correctly. In the meantime, what are you waiting for? How are you waiting? What does your liminal space look like?

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