How To Make The Most of the In Between Times
“Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.” John 11:5-6
I’ve always found this part of the Lazarus story strange and unsettling. Jesus loved this family. He knew that his friend was gravely ill. He knew he was going to raise Lazarus from the dead. And yet he chose to stay put for two more days. Why? Why does he let Martha and her sister, Mary, suffer the grief of their brother’s death? Why does he not choose to fix the situation and assuage his own grief?
As I’ve wrestled with this story, I’ve come to believe that Jesus is not doing something strange, or unkind, but something holy and profound. By waiting for two days, he is creating space between what has just ended and what is yet to come.
Don’t we all know what it’s like to live in that space? It’s the school summer holidays, where one year is over but the next has not yet begun. Or that time you’re in-between jobs. Or when your kids are at university: they’ve left home but they keep coming back. Or maybe it's the season of coming to terms with a new shape of life after a loss.
In one sense, we live all our lives in that liminal space. We’re in the middle of the journey: we’ve set out but not arrived. Our story has not yet reached it's conclusion. We inhabit the already but not yet of God’s kingdom. We're always in transition between one thing and the next.
It can be disorienting and unsettling when you’re in that place and it brings with it a whole range of emotions. There is grief and loss at what is left behind; there is fear, anxiety and insecurity about what might lie ahead. There is often frustration over the pace at which things are moving forward. There are questions and doubts about things that are unknown.
We’re not always very good at dealing with those emotions. We tend to keep busy and entertained to avoid feeling uncomfortable. When others share their pain or struggles, we are often guilty of jumping in with a quick fix, or an “at least it’s not as bad as my life” comment because we don’t want to face the really hard stuff with people.
But by waiting two days to go to Lazarus, Jesus gave both himself and the sisters time to really feel, experience and process what was going on. He didn’t feel under pressure to provide a quick fix or an easy answer but was comfortable with fully living in that difficult moment. And even when he returned to Bethany and the family of Lazarus, Jesus still took the time to feel his feelings. He was grieving and was not afraid to express that with his tears.
In the hands of Jesus, liminal space becomes sacred space. He holds us and makes room for all our emotions, questions, insecurities and doubts. He demonstrates that it’s healthy to take time to experience and process our emotions. It’s okay if we’re not okay.
One of the most precious things we can do is to hold this space for each other, too. We do this by being present and listening carefully. We do it by resisting the temptation to offer solutions or competitive comments. We say things like “That must really hurt”; or “Tell me more about that”; or “How can I support you?” We do it by sending texts to check in with each other; by offering food; giving a hug.
This is how we can help nurture each other towards wholeness. It’s how we find safety in the struggle. It’s how the kingdom of God becomes a bit more “already” and a bit less “not yet.”