This is just too good not to re-post. I wish I’d written it. If you are struggling in waiting, wanting to be anywhere but where you are, grab a cup of coffee, curl up in a comfy chair and read on. It’s a long piece and you will be tempted to skim through it just to “get through it” and move on to something “more important.” Resist the temptation. There is something here for you, but you will have to stay with it, linger for a while, and let it settle into your soul. That is the point, after all.
Now that we have broached the subject of death, I want to talk about the time in between death and rebirth. The time between sleeping and waking. The time of expectation, hope, doubt, fear and faith. I think that this time in between is important to focus on because it is during this time that we can loose our nerve, when we doubt God’s love, when we wonder if we will in fact live.
This time in between is where grief resides as well as depression, loss of inspiration and exhaustion. We must grieve but we don’t know when it will end. We must reenter the world, but hopelessness rules. We must produce work, but we are empty and the wells of inspiration seem dry. Or perhaps we are sick or broken and waiting to heal. In whatever case, we are at the end, and we must wait to be filled back up.
We often think that there isn’t anything in the space in between. Everything is quiet, death has happened, the chapter has ended. Now what? You wait. This is that part. The horrible waiting. The grieving, the sadness, the overwhelming fear,the sickness that won’t end. You can’t conceive of the concept of abundant life. You wonder if it will ever end. You wonder and you wait. All you can do is wait.
We tend to only see this as a place to leave, not a place to be, to rest or explore. We are always in such a hurry to get to the “good part.” In our results oriented and happy ending culture we don’t want to move slowly, let alone stop. We just want to get there and for us to get on with life. There is an astonishing amount of life in this place however. Granted it is painful, it isn’t fun and it’s hard to keep your head above water. The desperation to know what happens next, the wondering if inspiration will ever return, is almost more than we can bear.
The temptation is to try to make something happen. We hold expectations of recovery over us like task masters. If we don’t feel movement or like something is happening we think we have to make it happen. To just stop and be in this place and wait on God is something almost foreign. It is easy to wonder if you need to do something to help ourselves, or God, along. Are we missing something? Are we being negligent, indulgent even, in simply waiting and being present? In our culture we do everything we can to not wait. Everything is fast. And now we have phones and iPods to help ease the waiting tension. We never have to be alone with our thoughts, we don’t have to exercise that horrible muscle of waiting, patience and hope.
I believe this place of waiting is where faith is built up and when we learn to listen and follow our intuition.
My own experience centers mostly around my chronic illness. I get sick for long periods, which means that this place in between health and vitality is all too familiar. I’m beginning to recognize and welcome the patterns and cycles and to stop fighting them. I don’t like being sick, but the process must be embraced. There really is so much richness in moving into the tension of waiting and sitting with all the questions that swirl and bubble up to the surface: “Why is this happening?” “Why do I feel this is my fault?” “Do I really feel that I deserve this?” “Is this how God shows love?” “What is the right question?” “How do I let go and trust?” “What if I never get better…?” “What if I die?” “Can I just be in this place and not fight it?” “Why do I feel I have to fight?” “What is fighting?” On and on they go.
I start to get panicky that they will never stop, that the questions will just take over and I will never rest or be at peace. But then they do and I stop demanding answers. My mind tends to go blank, I surrender to the moment and just let myself be. I watch T.V., read novels, sleep or some other form of activity that doesn’t require my brain. I wonder if I will ever feel like thinking again. I wonder if my body will move from listless to wanting to walk or run. And then one day I wake up and realize I need to write. Or I feel like reading my history books that I love so much. My brain begins to shake off its slumber and inspiration starts to stream back in. I know what I want in small increments and as I follow the trail of thoughts I find life and inspiration bursting forth. It’s an amazing feeling, one I look forward to now. I know I don’t have to force it because something I don’t even realize is happening: my soul and my brain are rejuvenating. They are allowing me the rest I so badly need. To think is not necessarily rest. To read stimulating books is not necessarily rest. One must be able to turn off and wait, just wait.
Anne Morrow Lindbergh, in her brilliant book, A Gift From the Sea, describes this process of waking up while on vacation at the beach:
And then some morning in the second week, the mind wakes, comes to life again. Not in a city sense–no–but beach-wise. It begins to drift, to play, to turn over in gentle careless rolls like those lazy waves on the beach. One never knows what treasure these easy unconscious rollers may toss up on the smooth white sand of the conscious mind; what perfectly rounded stone, what rare shell from the ocean floor. Perhaps a channeled welk, a moon shell, or even an argonaut.
But it must not be sought for or–heaven forbid! dug for. No, no dredging of the sea bottom here. That would defeat the purpose. The sea does not reward those who are too anxious, too greedy, or too impatient. To dig for treasures shows not only impatience and greed, but lack of faith. Patience, patience, patience, is what the sea teaches. Patience and faith. One should lie empty, open, choiceless as a beach–waiting for a gift from the sea.
Choiceless, empty and not striving to fill back up. Rest. True rest goes against our nature as taught by certain theology and by our culture. This period of waiting is beyond frustrating at times. I know this first hand. But this is where we learn trust. We learn to trust that our bodies knows what it needs and how to heal itself. We also learn trust in God that he knows what we need and how to heal us. Our expectations that are informed by a prosperity gospel, a gospel of results, saved souls, excitement for the good news, and the task master that evangelism can be are overwhelming when true rest, true emptiness, and no time limits are what is needed more than anything else. We have very specific ideas of what it means for God to come through for us and in these times of waiting those expectations are challenged to the very core. Because if we aren’t careful our expectations can blind us to recognizing life when it starts to stream back in. We can miss that gift from the sea.
In these times of waiting, impatience can reveal your deep fears about yourself, about God and about your place in it all. Deep fears that God may not be the provider you want Him to be, or the healer it speaks of in the Bible, rise to the surface. In the depths of the wait, when doubt reveals the very truth of your fear, you are able to wonder if God even cares because He feels more like a stumbling block than a loving comforter. Your faith is shaken. You wonder if God actually is love. But then when you are at the very end, when doubt feels as though it has taken hold, you surrender and say what will be will be. And you wait some more. Then gradually Job’s words echo back, “Though He slay me, yet I will trust Him.” This is a mystery indeed. But maybe not. That is the greatest pearl I have found in my own places of darkness and confusion, that though I feel slain, He can be trusted. But you can’t take my word for it. I can speak it to you, the Bible can speak it to you, all those stories can speak it to you, but you have to know it for yourself. You have to plumb the depths, move all the way through grief, loss, doubt, despondency, depression, anxiety, fear and find yourself on the other end facing a God you did not expect, outside of rational love. It is irrational, radical, bigger, better, more encompassing and, oddly enough, empowering.
There is that word again,” empowering.” What does God’s irrational, unconditional and radical love empower us to actually do or become? Supposedly it sets us free. But free from what, to do what and to be what?
Perhaps it sets us free from striving, from thinking we have to do something beyond being open to His life in us. In a culture that says that “God helps those who help themselves” (which is not in the Bible!), we find the act of waiting, doing “nothing” and simply trusting unnerving and possibly sinful.
Some of the things I have found absolutely necessary to surviving these places of uncertainty is the ability to ask all the questions I need to. Until we can ask the questions that are nagging at us we won’t be free, we won’t find rest. Saying how you really feel is also so important. Saying it out loud to someone who loves you, to God or to your journal is vital. We must be honest if are ever going to heal. We also must dignify the journey that has brought us to this place. We must tell our stories which will help us understand and validate where we are. Because if we just stay frustrated and refuse to move into this place because “you don’t want to be here,” then you won’t find any pearls, you won’t deal with what you need to, God’s love will stay conditional, rational and one dimensional.
You must also learn to rest. At first we squirm around and fight the fear, the pain, the grief, the writing on the wall that something must change. We ask lots of why questions like “why is this happening to me?” But when the answer doesn’t come back, when acceptance to this unknown place moves in, then we stop fighting and simply let go. And we wait. In many ways this place in between that I’m talking about is rest. It’s something we don’t understand. We go to sleep so we can wake up not realizing how much happens while we sleep and rest, and how vital to our health it is.
This place in between can be different for all of us. We all deal with different things and at various times. And I realize I have generalized in many ways saying “this is how it is.” But there are a lot of different examples of how people allowed the grief to shape them and to make them whole in new ways. The questions they were able to ask helped lead them in the directions they are moving now. Life comes back to us all in odd ways. For some, things go back to looking relatively the same on the outside, but inside they are forever changed. For others the change happens externally in major ways. New paths are revealed, passion is redefined, they lost the boy but gained their purpose. Or maybe they took the boy with them and they now they work together saving the world.
Each sickness, each death, each chapter we are in and leave is important. Its all important. There are so many stories, so many layers, so much that happens that we don’t see sometimes. We must value these places. We can’t get caught up in the trap of linear thinking that we should be somewhere we aren’t, that we are behind, that we should have known…. No, we must own all our mistakes, all our questions, all our doubts, all our failures and realize that they each have helped shape, for good or ill, who we are and who God is for each of us. There is God’s truth of unconditional love, of His promises that we are fearfully and wonderfully made, of freedom in Him, of no condemnation, and the journey is toward those things.
One last encouragement I want to touch on is that you must own this place. You must not be too hasty to leave it. If you get too anxious you will undo all the healing and progress that has been made. It’s like going to back to “normal activity” after a sickness or injury. If you go back too soon you risk undoing everything and having to endure an even longer period of recovery. Even when it comes to inspiration I encourage you to test it. For me when I have waited I have been wonderfully rewarded. I love when the urge to create begins to creep back in, ever so slightly, but I wait until it builds up into a flood of inspiration and I can’t help but be overtaken. That is me though, you must follow your own intuition, and what you are hearing from God. But allow yourself to rest and trust that you really will wake up.
I leave you for now with this excerpt from an interview with Oprah and Maya Angelou. I think it speaks hope, it speaks to us owning our journey, to asking what love is and what it allows us to do and become.
Oprah: The big question I have for you is this: Where did your confidence come from? I’ve never seen anybody who exudes more confidence than you, and I don’t mean false, modest bravado, but from the inside out, you’ve got the stuff.
Maya: There are so many gifts, so many blessings, so many sources that I can’t say any one thing—unless that one thing is love. By love I don’t mean indulgence. I do not mean sentimentality. And in this instance, I don’t even mean romance. I mean that condition that allowed humans to dream of God. To make it. To imagine golden roads. That condition that allowed the “dumb” to write spirituals and Russian songs and Irish lilts. That is love, and it’s so much larger than anything I can conceive. It may be the element that keeps the stars in the firmament. And that love, and its many ways of coming into my life, has given me a great deal of confidence about life.
Oprah: So when you walk into a room and heads turn, it’s not just confidence in yourself that we see?
Maya: Oh, no. That’s why, though I was never pretty, I did command something—because of my reliance on life.
Oprah: When we see you, we’re seeing all of your history.
Maya: That’s right—all of my history as an African-American woman, as a Jewish woman, as a Muslim woman. I’m bringing everything I ever knew [and all the stories I’ve read]—everything good, strong, kind and powerful. I bring it all with me into every situation, and I will not allow my life to be minimized by anybody’s racism or sexism or ageism. I will not. So I will take the Scandinavian story of the little princess, I will take the story of Heidi in the Alpine mountains, I will take the story of O-Lan in Pearl S. Buck’s book The Good Earth, I will take them all. I take them, and I know them, and I am them. So when I walk into a room, people know that somebody has come in—they just don’t know it’s 2,000 people!