The God of the Middle

Description

The "middle" can be a wearisome place in everyday life. This is unfortunate, since we spend most of our time here.

In just about any context, the middle typically isn't prime real estate. Who likes the dreaded middle seat on an airplane? If someone tells you you're "middle of the road," it isn't exactly meant as a compliment. We tend to think of the middle as a place we're stuck … the middle of a traffic jam, the middle of nowhere.

The middle can be a wearisome place in everyday life, too, which is unfortunate, since we spend most of our time there. In the middle, you don't have the freshness—the hope and adrenaline—that comes with new beginnings. And you don't have the sense of completion or the relief of closure that accompanies the end. In the middle, it's often a matter of trudging ahead, one foot in front of the other—too far from the start to turn back, and too far from the finish line to even know how much further you have to go, let alone to see the light at the end.

The first time I sensed the agony of the middle was in my early 20s, in the midst of an emotionally taxing job. When I was first hired, I dove in headfirst, inspired by visions (admittedly idealistic) of making a difference in my corner of the world. As a rookie, I lived and breathed and dreamed about my job—and I loved it. And four years later, when I decided to change careers, I loved that part, too. Sure, it was tough to say good-bye, but there was something invigorating about seeing the finish line ahead, about wrapping things up, about moving on to the next challenge.

It was some of those years in the middle of that first job that were the toughest. I couldn't keep up the frantic pace or the idealism of the beginning, and I didn't yet have the perspective that came when the end was in sight. So on some of those in-between days, it was a challenge to intentionally serve God with what I was doing, not just make it through the day.

I'm guessing Moses could relate to the angst of the middle. He started his career about as gung-ho as you can get. Imprudent, perhaps, since even righteous anger and zeal don't justify murder (Exodus 2:11-12). Even so, God gave him an initial vision and a passion for helping his people. And on the other side of the wilderness, when he returned to Egypt and started witnessing miracle after miracle, he no doubt saw glimpses of the end—that God would set the Israelites free from their captivity (Exodus 4–12). But there was that huge gap in the middle when he spent 40 years—half a lifetime!—stuck in the wilderness, waiting for God to give him the green light (or the burning bush, as the case might be). Surely he must have gotten weary at times, wondering what purpose those in-between years served.

I confess I've wondered about this middle ground when it comes to singleness, too. I have no way of knowing if this is true, but it feels like I'm somewhere in the middle of this journey right now. When I was first out of college, the single-girl life felt full of promise and adventure. True, these were uncharted territories, but the possibilities were endless—I could find my own apartment and decorate it however I wanted to! I could travel the world! (Scratch that, I could dream about traveling while I'm saving up some money.) I could sign up for an evening class, meet new people, join a small group, learn to cook, go on road trips. But now, almost a decade after my launch into the world of single adulthood, that shiny newness has rubbed off a bit. Don't get me wrong—I have a great life and much to be thankful for. But as I attend wedding after wedding of friends who ventured out on this journey with me all those years ago, it can feel tiring to keep pressing on, to try to maintain a firm grip on things like contentment and patience and hope.

I imagine the ending of my single status would be easier than this middle segment too. Not because marriage is easier somehow, but because of the perspective that comes when a chapter is closing. And maybe even more than that, because of the relief in knowing that there is, after all, an ending point to this season. Sometimes I think that's what gnaws at me most about this stage: that it might not be a stage, after all—that this is going to be it, indefinitely, till death do I part. Because, of all the good and gracious things God has promised me, marriage isn't one of those guarantees.

But even so—even if I never register at Macy's or wear a flowy white dress or "upgrade" to Mrs.—my single status will have an ending point. Regardless of how things end up from an earthly perspective, I will be a bride someday. After all this time stuck in the middle of awkward, limited human relationships, each one of us—married or not—will experience true, unconditional love. After all this time of waiting, the time will finally come when we will be the bride of Christ. We will hear the crowds of heaven shout, "The time has come for the wedding feast of the Lamb, and his bride has prepared herself" (Revelation 19:7). And we won't just be guests or even attendants at this wedding. We'll be the guest of honor, the Groom's beloved.

And when that day comes, it will be an ending that gives this middle part meaning. In the meantime, I don't want these years to be wasted, wilderness or no. I want this time in the middle to shape me for what's next—whether that involves marriage or something else. I have often clung to God's promise that he is the "Alpha and the Omega—the Beginning and the End" (Revelation 21:6). But during these middle-ish days, I'm feeling grateful that he doesn't just bookend history; he's also the God of everything in between. And with that assurance to ground myself in, I can live a full and abundant life right here, right now. In the middle.

Written by Stephanie Voiland


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