Living in the In-Between
By Rev. Dr. Rob Haynes
Our twenty-year-old son, Joshua recently secured his first apartment. He had been living in the university dormitories, but he was now excited to have a place of his own. My wife and I packed up his things with him and drove them 6 hours to his new place. When we (and all of his worldly possessions) got there, we hit a snag. Due to the ripple effects of the pandemic, we found out that his new place would not be ready for a few weeks. He had his lease agreement settled, his utilities secured, and his deposits paid. However, the place that was to be his new home was still out of his reach. Through the kindness of some of his friends, our son was able to stay in one place, while we unloaded his worldly possessions into a friend’s spare room. Everything he owned was in one place, while he lived out of a suitcase in another. Though his past was behind him, he could not reach all that was yet to be. Joshua was a young man stuck in the “in-between.”
While this was a minor, short-term inconvenience for our son, the story illustrates a much bigger point. Perhaps you are living in an unsettled place due to the change in a job, a relationship, or a life situation. Many of us feel like we are living in a “in-between” time due to a worldwide feeling of uncertainty. The impacts of the pandemic are raging in some parts of the world. In other parts, people are feeling hopeful as vaccinations increase and life returns to something that looks like “normal” again. However, we are not quite there yet. Precautions are still required, people are still at risk, and health experts warn us to not let down our guard. Many people continue to work from home, some schools are still meeting from a distance, and many of the activities we long for are still out of reach. We are all, to some degree, stuck in the “in-between.”
Sociologists remind us that the “in-between” is not always a bad place to be. Rather, during our times in this unsettled space, we have the greatest potential for growth. Though the “in-between” feels chaotic and we have trouble finding our equilibrium, it is here that we find new meanings and understandings as we regain our stability. This process brings about transformation that would not be possible without moving through that middle ground.
We can see evidence of this throughout Scripture. The most obvious example is in the story of the Exodus when the Israelites wondered through the desert for 40 years while God taught them how to be the people he wanted them to be. When Jesus calls for his disciples to “follow me,” he is asking them to leave behind all that is familiar and move into a space that is yet unknown to them (see Luke 9:57-62). Remember that Saul entered an “in-between” space after encountering the risen Jesus on the Road to Damascus. After an intense period of instruction, God used Ananias to move Saul into the greater call on his life.
In fact, all of the Christian life is, to some degree, living in the “in-between.” Christianity requires one to move from the old self to something new. From the view of the Israelites as pilgrims to Jesus’ instructions to leave all and “Follow Me” (e.g. Luke 18:21) to the command “Go into all the world” (Mark 16:15) to later New Testament references to Christians as “aliens and exiles” (1 Pet. 2:11), Christianity is a faith directly connected with living “in-between” what was and what will be.
In the case of our son, we knew where he was going, we could drive the streets of his new community, visit the apartment complex, and even see the exact place where he was going to live. But it was not yet his to occupy. So, it is in Christian discipleship. Jesus’ followers do not wander aimlessly as a people without hope or direction. Rather, his disciples know that he prepares a place for them, one that is secured by his death and resurrection (John 14). The Holy Spirit reminds us of this until we occupy it one day. Therefore, while many people may feel anxious and off-balance in the “in-between,” Christians can feel a sense of comfort knowing that we do not walk alone, and we do not go without direction. This is an excellent time and place to share that hope with others who are looking for a sense of peace in their own lives. A faithful Christian witness in the “in-between” embraces not merely the transition, but also that God does great things in us as he guides us through the middle ground.