It’s been a while, I know.
In September, I had rotator cuff surgery as well as some other painful, but necessary cleanup in my right shoulder joint.
It’s hard to write when your dominant arm is confined to a sling for six weeks.
And unfortunately, getting out of the sling only marked the end of Phase One of this journey.
So now I’m in Phase Two of a three or four phase journey.
I’ve been here for weeks.
And the length of Phase Two seems to be unknown to all.
Phase Two is hard.
It’s that in-between space that holds everything that’s in process. Nothing is done. In fact, we don’t really have a sense of how it’s all going to work out. We have to do #allthethings and feel #allthethings and be #allthethings without any sort of guarantee that #allthethings are going to be alright.
Actually, it’s the space that often redefines what it means to be “alright.” Because often, when the journey is complex and full of undesirable events and experiences, the end result isn’t actually where you had intended to land. Part of the end (Phase Three?), then, involves some sort of acceptance of the new normal.
I’ve sometimes heard this referred to as liminal space – the space between what was and what will be. Often it’s used to describe a place of expectancy and is compared to the process of conceiving a child, carrying the child through its development in the womb, and then delivering the child into the world. It’s an appropriate comparison, I think. The problem with the use of this metaphor for me, though, is its emphasis on the end result, and its tendency to forget what those nine months of pregnancy are like for most women. In my case, at least, those nine months were quite miserable.
Just a few weeks into my pregnancy with our first child, I was given a book called Supernatural Childbirth. The book is a testimony to how faith in God’s love for us and and in His power to heal us can make pregnancy a blissful experience – with no morning sickness, no pain as your body adjusts to the growing little one inside you, and little to no pain during childbirth. For the author of this book, this had been her experience, and I think she genuinely wanted every other woman to have a similar one.
I devoured that book.
I embraced the ideals she put forth as if they were promises given to me by God.
I really expected to have a pain free pregnancy and delivery.
I didn’t, though.
Instead, I ended up on bed rest at 16 weeks because I couldn’t stop vomiting and was at risk of being hospitalized. Once I got the vomiting under control – meaning I threw up once or twice a day instead of all freaking day long – I continued to fight overwhelming fatigue throughout the pregnancy, along with the typical aches and pains most everyone experiences as a HUMAN BEING grows within your body and forces it to make more and more space for it and less and less space for your internal organs. Still, I hung on to the hope that my delivery would be a breeze. I believed this was something God wanted for me. Truthfully, I embraced the idea that, as a Christian who was following Jesus, I should have access to rescue from pain and suffering in my life.
In retrospect, I’m surprised I felt this way. My life had been full of a sizeable share of suffering and disappointment – even as I tried to live as I had been taught by the church and even as I loved Jesus from an early age. I didn’t actually have any experiences that justified this expectation I had.
I think I just wanted it, so I believed I should have it.
I didn’t get it, though.
And I’m SO grateful to the labor and delivery coach who, while embracing the teachings of Jesus and intertwining Christian values in her coaching, made it clear to those of us in her class that it didn’t make sense to her to believe that the resurrection of Christ eradicated the consequence of pain in childbirth placed upon women when Eve sinned against God in the garden, when it was clear that it hadn’t eradicated the hardships that were promised to man. So when I asked her about the pain-free experience of the author Supernatural Childbirth, my coach replied with, “Kaysie, 10% of all women have pain-free or very low-pain childbirths. It’s NOT a guarantee. It’s a statistic.”
At hour 24 of a 27 hour labor, my labor coach’s teaching on this matter was very comforting to me and helped me lean in to Jesus instead of causing me to feel abandoned by Him when the waves of pain engulfed me before our beautiful baby girl was born.
And it helped me when pregnant with my other three babies, dealing with the same or worse along the way. I mean, I carried the last (and very much a surprise) baby as an almost 40-year old WITH A BROKEN BACK. That did not feel good.
I guess I say all this to say I have rarely been rescued from the pain and suffering of life in my world.
I have. But not often. And with little-to-no rhyme or reason as to why God steps in to rescue me or He doesn’t.
But of course it’s one thing to struggle and suffer while waiting in anticipation of something you’re pretty sure will be wonderful (i.e. a beautiful baby girl). It’s an entirely different other thing to wait in that same kind of space when it’s also full of uncertainty about what will come in the end.
We struggle with this, don’t we?
In a culture accustomed to solving problems quickly, satisfying needs the moment they come up, and soothing whatever lack we are experiencing by filling the void with something else we deem equally satisfactory, we are uncomfortable with holding patterns of pain and suffering.
At least I am.
The last eight to nine months have felt like liminal space to me. As a culture, Covid-19 seems to be effectively smashing our ideas around what we are entitled to, frustrating our expectations of how long something hard should last, and stretching thin our tolerance for a lack of whatever makes us comfortable.
Especially when our line of sight doesn’t extend past the end of our noses. And, let’s be honest, we all struggle to see further than that.
The season of Advent begins today. For followers of Christ, this is a time when the church collectively begins to prepare for the arrival of the Messiah. It’s a season of expectation. We spend time reflecting on the promises of God laid out during the thousands upon thousands of years that His people had to wait – in the midst of great suffering – for His rescue. Advent helps us to sit in and pay attention to the experiences we have that often mimic the pain seen over and over again throughout the history of man. And it helps us remember that rescue is coming…Jesus.
But rescue doesn’t look like we expect it to.
I can’t imagine that it looked like Mary expected it to either. Or like the disciples expected it to when they chose to follow Jesus during His ministry years.
So why does it surprise us when rescue doesn’t look the way we thought it would…or should?
It seems to me that living in liminal space – waiting in the tension between what was and what will be – is more similar to the experiences of those early followers of Jesus we so often say we want to emulate.
And it seems to me we are living in this kind of space now.
As we move into the Christmas season, I hope we can settle into the interminable Phase Two of the pandemic – not knowing how long it will last, who is going to get sick, who will experience it like a bad cold and who will lose his life from it, whether or not the things we are asked to do for the sake of our communities will work, and how much all of this will cost us in the end – with grace for one another and with a sense of hope and faith in the One who actually did come to rescue us.
In the One who knows that the rescue we really need is the rescue of His presence.
Emmanuel, God with us.