Saturday, July 22, 2017

the liminal space between desire and fulfillment: how do we wait well?

Freshly-cut sunflowers are so happy.
We've been in Germany just about a month. It's been a crazy month, and I've finally adjusted to the rhythms of this season of transition: some days are filled to the brim with to-do lists and running around and exploring, while other days are quieter. During those quieter days I have been hunting for apartments online, reading everything I can get my hands on, and thinking.

Among the many things I've been thinking about, one keeps rising to the surface: waiting.

It's not something I've devoted a lot of thought to before, but since graduation waiting seems to be the overarching theme of my life. And not just mine. So many of my dear friends are waiting for something - tangible things like a job, an apartment, or community; but also intangible things - waiting upon the Lord's direction, waiting to see if treasured dreams will be fulfilled or taken away, waiting for healing and vision and hope.

If you, friend, are waiting for something - and I think we all are - then I'm writing this post for you. Not because I think I have new things to say on the subject, but because I have found encouragement as I read and think and wait, and because I once heard a pastor say that the things the Lord uses to encourage one person are often meant to be shared to encourage others.

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Emily Freeman wrote a post last week titled How to Wait Well. In it, she makes a helpful distinction between two kinds of waiting (actually, she talks about four, but there are two that really hit home for me).

The first kind of waiting is the one where we know that results will come with enough patience. Like waiting for Christmas or summer or housing. She says:

This waiting is a function of time and time will always pass.

But there's a second kind of waiting. The kind where you have no idea if what you are waiting for and desperately want will ever actually come to pass. How do we live well with that kind of wait? How do we find contentment as we long for something uncertain?

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Last month I was talking about this with my aunt.

She shared about a season of waiting - we're talking about years, here - that involved a lot of discouragement and questioning.

A mentor told her - "It's ok to remind God of His promises." And he pointed her to a specific verse:

The LORD God is a sun and shield;
    No good thing does He withhold from he that walks uprightly. ~Psalm 84:11

She began to pray: "Lord, if it is Your will to grant this good thing, then thank you. And if it is not, please remove this desire from my heart. I pray for Your will in Your timing."

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The beautiful thing about Psalm 84 is that this is a Psalm about dwelling in the presence of the LORD. 
How lovely is your dwelling place,
    Lord of hosts!
 My soul longs, yes, faints
    for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and flesh sing for joy
    to the living God.
 Even the sparrow finds a home,
    and the swallow a nest for herself,
    where she may lay her young,
at your altars, O Lord of hosts,
    my King and my God.
Blessed are those who dwell in your house,

    ever singing your praise! Selah
Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
    in whose heart are the highways to Zion.[b]
 As they go through the Valley of Baca
    they make it a place of springs;
    the early rain also covers it with pools.
 They go from strength to strength;
    each one appears before God in Zion.
 Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer;
    give ear, O God of Jacob! Selah
Behold our shield, O God;

    look on the face of your anointed! 
For a day in your courts is better
    than a thousand elsewhere.
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
    than dwell in the tents of wickedness.
For the Lord God is a sun and shield;

    the Lord bestows favor and honor.
No good thing does he withhold
    from those who walk uprightly.
 Lord of hosts,
    blessed is the one who trusts in you!
Whatever good thing I'm waiting for - whatever things God sees fit to grant or to refuse - He has already given the greatest good that surpasses everything else: the gift of walking through life in His presence. Whatever else we think we need, this is enough. 

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But what does it look like to wait well?

What does it look like to honestly, deeply long for something without becoming discontent or bitter when it doesn't come when we want it or how we want it or maybe at all?

How do we live in that tension?

In literature classes we talked a lot about liminal space, meaning an in-between space. Occupying a liminal space is like standing in a doorway (the word liminal is derived from the Latin word for threshold) - you have a foot in each room, but don't really belong in either of them.

Waiting is occupying the liminal space between desire and fulfillment.

How do we occupy that space without being in a discombobulated state of limbo? Especially when waiting could last for months or years on end, how do we not waste that time?

I have jotted in my journal something from a podcast:

The Lord offers Himself to us in the waiting. In the liminal spaces. In the silence before then answer.
Am I willing to receive Him?

Also in my journal:

She brings her waiting into the presence of the Lord. Is that true of me?

What does it look like to practice waiting well?

I have found my answer in Psalms 37:3-5.

Trust in the LORD and do good;
    dwell in the land, and befriend faithfulness.
Delight yourself in the LORD,
    and He will give you the desires of your heart.

Commit your way to the LORD;
    trust in Him, and He will act.

Waiting well means committing my way and my desires to the Lord and then trusting Him to act in, for, and through me. But this waiting doesn't mean inactivity. It means actively trusting the Lord's faithfulness, doing good, dwelling - truly being - where I am instead of wishing I were somewhere else.

It means choosing to delight myself in the Lord and center my life on Him rather than on the thing I'm waiting for.

It means trusting Him and taking the next step.

This applies to everything from waiting for Him to provide a job or an apartment to waiting for Him to allow the secret seed of a dream to grow into reality - or never see the light of day.

Easier said than done.

But learning to wait like this is the key distinction between joy and bitterness, between growth and withering, between trusting the Lord and crippling self-dependence.

Waiting like this lays the foundation for a healthy response when what we ask for is granted - or refused.

"Lord, Your will in Your timing."

Waiting is never really over. As soon as I finish waiting for one thing, another thing begins to loom on the horizon. Sure, some waiting may be more acute than others, but I'm always waiting for something.

Emily Freeman says, "to live is to wait."

Beneath all the specific things we may be waiting for, the life of faith is a life of waiting. The author of Hebrews writes "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for" - and to hope for something is to wait for it - "the conviction of things not seen" (Hebrews 11:1).

In faith we are waiting for the fulfillment of Christ's Kingdom. It is already here, but not yet fully realized. And although we are confident that it will be realized, we have no idea when or even how.

So we wait.

What sustains you in the waiting?

Monday, July 10, 2017

Poetry Corner: "Poetics of Faith"

I found this poem during a rainy-day perusal of a new volume of poetry - Denise Levertov's collection The Stream & the Sapphire: Selected Poems on Religious Themes. I love how she uses the form of the poem to make waves with her words. It's also a good one to read aloud. 

Poetics of Faith
by Denise Levertov

'Straight to the point'
             can ricochet,
Circumlocution, analogy,
             parable's ambiguities, provide
                       context, stepping-stones.

Most of the time. And then

the lightning power
             amidst these indirections,
                       of plain
unheralded miracle!
              For example,
                        as if forgetting
to prepare them, He simply
             walks on water
                       toward them, casually -
and impetuous Peter, empowered,
             jumps from the boat and rushes
                        on wave-tip to meet Him -
a few steps, anyway -
              (till it occurs to him,
                        'I can't, this is preposterous'
and Jesus has to grab him,
            tumble his weight
                        back over the gunwale).
Sustaining those light and swift
              steps was more than Peter
                         could manage. Still,
years later,
              his toes and insteps, just before sleep,
                         would remember their passage.