Let me unpack that a bit.
First, my kids have reached an age where they are both increasingly independent. No longer do they need me to regulate every aspect of their lives. Yet at the same time, neither are they completely independent. They’re trying to work out how to be fully functioning, autonomous adults, which means I’m trying to work out how to still be a parent but in a different way from the past nineteen years or so. It’s not easy, I can tell you.
Second, I’m at a time in my life where I can no longer really claim to be young. Though I remember the days of my youth as though they were yesterday, in reality they were a long time ago, and much has changed in me, my life and the world around me. Yet at the same time, I’m not old enough to be anywhere near old (in spite of anything my son might say to the contrary). I’m pretty much exactly half way between graduation and official retirement age. One thing I’ve wrestled with in recent years is how to let go of the past, and particularly its regrets, and embrace a future that sometimes feels intimidating and bleak.
Third, though I’m part of a good church, I feel as though I’m somewhat in between on the church front too. For reasons I won’t bore you with – none of which are remotely controversial – we recently left the church we’d been part of for a number of years and moved to a different community of faith. Everything is fine, but this is a big change. A particular challenge for me (and, I realise, a necessary one) is that I’ve never been part of a church without being deeply involved in musical worship and other areas of ministry besides. I have a sense that I need to take some time to just be part of the body without needing to validate myself by doing anything. This sounds great, but it’s not easy because I’ve never done it before. There has to be a space somewhere between massive commitment and on-the-margins disengagement, but I’m not finding it easy to work out where that space is or what it looks like.
In all these areas of life, then, the spaces in between are beginning to feel quite familiar to me. And I can’t say I like it.
Being in between is unsettling because it feels like there’s little that’s certain or comfortable. It can even be hard to feel hopeful at times, because so often we anchor our hopes in some concrete project of the type that is disturbingly absent from the featureless in-between landscape.
And yet, I’m increasingly realising that all of life is, in essence, lived in the in between. As soon as we become attached to any one location, situation, job, friendship group, church or project, it seems something happens to upset the delicate balance and tip us forward along the implacable path towards the great unknown that is our common future.
When you think about it, you might say that the spaces in between are the places most conducive to living by faith. The more we feel we’ve arrived at some particular destination, the more we can afford to pat ourselves on the back and feel some degree of satisfaction and control, and the less we need to trust in God in any meaningful sense. God beckons us into the unknown; meanwhile, we often prefer to hold onto the known, or at least not to let go of it until we’re reasonably certain of the next destination we’re exchanging it for.
The big problem with living by faith, as I first found out a few years ago, is that it sounds great but it’s immensely uncomfortable by any ordinary standard. Given a clear and unambiguous choice between a life of great dependence on God but with great risk (which, fundamentally, is what uncertainty means) or a life of relatively little dependence on God but with great security, most of us, if we’re honest, would probably jump at the latter.
And so there is a huge part of me that yearns for the security of a known world and a known future that I can control and in which I can, at least to some extent, feel comfortable. This is the part of me that wants to jump into the next project, create the next phase of the future and bring certainty where there is uncertainty.
But there is also a quieter, more timid and much less confident part of me that senses, somewhere deep down, that grasping for security and certainty is exactly the wrong thing to do. This is perhaps the part of me that knows that real security and confidence lies not in any scheme of my own, but in letting go and falling completely into the arms of God, scary as that is. Maybe this part of me has been there all along, buried beneath the hubbub and the whirlwind of constant plans, ambitions and striving. Maybe only now that I’ve found myself in the places in between can this part of me truly begin to be emerge and bloom.
When all is said and done, we are not masters of our own destiny, however much we might work to convince ourselves otherwise. Perhaps part of what the Bible calls “dying to yourself” is letting go of your hold on the future and saying, just as Jesus did on the cross, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit”.
[ Image: Jim Bauer ]