I’ve known good times and bad. I’ve known what it’s like to be in poverty and to have plenty. I’ve known success and failure. I’ve known acceptance and rejection. I’ve known victory and loss.
None of these are new experiences for any of us (although, most would probably say they have known far more bad, poverty, failure, rejection, and loss than their alternatives). And most of us understand and are prepared that any of them might happen to us at any time. They are all “places” we arrive in in time which are, to some degree, taken for granted.
What is more difficult, though, are the places in-between. Those times of waiting. Waiting for a call-back. Waiting for someone to respond. Waiting for an offer. Waiting for things to get better (or worse). What I mean is—when you’ve done all you can do, and now all there is for it is to wait. The waiting never ends as soon as we’d like it to. Sometimes it hardly ends at all.
And, even worse, sometimes when you wait and wait, and when you’ve been in limbo it seems like an eternity, hoping and praying that something will happen, you finally get to that moment where you think you’ve got a chance and…you have wait some more. Sometimes you have to wait just to learn how much longer you might have to wait to learn if there is a chance that the waiting is over.
Sometimes it feels like rejection would be easier than this.
“The waiting is the hardest part…” says Tom Petty. And he’s right. Waiting involves not knowing. It begs anxiety. It tries patience. It tortures willpower. It mystifies hope. It shakes confidence. It tests faith. Funny thing is, so often waiting doesn’t have to be waiting. A single word from another could alleviate it. A call or a message could make it better. But consideration is not extended. A word of assurance does not come. Oh, the worst thing—you’ve waited and waited, thinking someone will come through, someone will answer you, someone will care. You finally reach them and find out they’d forgotten you were waiting. “Oh, that’s right. I’ll have to get back to you on that.”
So, you think, “I’ll keep praying.” But, as usual, God is silent.
These are the waiting times. The places in-between. They are desolate, deserted places. Thirsty and cold and lonely. They are distant and hopeless, full of questions without answers and doubts and the temptation to give up. They are places of mirages—momentary glimmers of hope which appear all-too-real until you just begin to believe it before they fade away, revealing they were never real.
But these are strange, torturous deserts where you can see people enjoying lush oases right next to you. You can be lost and alone as you sit and eat with someone who is not in the desert with you. You may watch with envy, trying hard to be happy for them, but desperately wishing for your own oasis.
I am reminded of the Lord’s disciples in Acts. After his ascension, prior to Pentecost. Their ridiculous question, his cryptic answer. And the command to “wait.” “Wait for the gift my father has promised.”
So much has happened. Jesus had died and they were hopeless. They had to wait. He rose again and things were better! Hopes were restored! But then he was leaving and they were confused again. Now…the waiting again. What to do?
One could say, “Well, they set about preparing themselves. They chose someone to replace Judas. They stayed busy.” One might be wise to note that. It’s hard to prepare yourself when you don’t know what is coming, but they did the best they could.
You could say, “They spent time in prayer.” This would also be true.
Another might say, “They waited together” because the text says that they spent much time together. Also a wise observation.
None of these ease my waiting, though.
To my mind, what it seems they did was…wait. They sat in the in-between place and kept their minds as active as they could be. But, they waited. They did the thing that kills me the most. They waited and trusted and acted where they could.
Waiting and trusting are co-essential. One can’t do one without the other. And, I suppose, one of the greatest things one can do in the in-between times is remember how God always comes through. Remember how, in the very next chapter, what they were waiting on arrived and things began happening.
And, so, we tell ourselves stories in the waiting places. We try to remind ourselves of where we’ve come from and where we’ve been and that the whole world isn’t in-between, just this place. We try to remind ourselves that we are here, though we’ve been here before, and will probably be here again but at least will have to be somewhere else before we get here. We try to remind ourselves that there may even be worse places than in-between places and so we don’t want to rush things which shouldn’t be rushed, even though it feels like there is no worse place than this.
And we try to remind ourselves that when we are finally free of this place, it will look smaller and less hopeless than we thought it was when we were in it.
Maybe we even try to quote ourselves the words which have been spoken before by people who have been in this place before us who have given it many different names: Sheol. Limbo. Purgatory. Hades. The “Pit.” The Valley of the Shadow of Death.
1 The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
3 he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk
through the darkest valley, a
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
6 Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
For the psalmist, the in-between place was a place of reflection because for him, it was the place where God’s presence was felt and needed the most. This psalm reminds me of a song I used to listen to by a band called The Call.
I been in a cave / For forty days / Only a spark / To light my way / I wanna give out / I wanna give in / This is our crime / This is our sin
But I still believe / I still believe / Through the pain / And through the grief / Through the lives / Through the storms / Through the cries / And through the wars
Oh, I still believe
Flat on my back / Out at sea / Hopin’ these waves / Don’t cover me / I’m turned and tossed / Upon the waves / When the darkness comes / I feel the grave
But I still believe / I still believe / Through the cold / And through the heat / Through the rain / And through the tears / Through the crowds / And through the cheers
Oh, I still believe
I’ll march this road / I’ll climb this hill / Upon on my knees / If I have to / I’ll take my place / Up on this stage / I’ll wait ’til the end of time / For you like everybody else
I’m out on my own / Walkin’ the streets / Look at the faces / That I meet / I feel like I / Like I want to go home / What do I feel / What do I know
But I still believe / I still believe / Through the shame / And through the grief / Through the heartache / Through the tears / Through the waiting / Through the years
For people like us / In places like this / We need all the hope / That we can get
Oh, I still believe
Stay busy. Keep working. Nose to the grindstone. Don’t give up. Don’t give in. Keep trying. Keep believing. Keep hoping. Remind yourself that you’re not alone in the in-between places; that God exists in those places, he even thrives in those places.
Remember that the in-between places are always here and all around us. Remember that enduring them is a part of the human condition. Remember that people stronger than you have been shaken deeper than you and this means that this is not new and not different and not specific to you. You are not alone. Don’t lose faith.
 The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), Ps 23:1–6.