I’m surrounded by extremes. My physical world is one where I can take one street to see desperate poverty and drive a bit further the other way to find luxurious homes. There are streets littered with trash and swarming with vendors, and then there are wide lanes immaculately landscaped with the occasional white (always white) Land Cruiser. Even the physical landscape around us is extreme: a mountain range to the northwest and an ocean to the east. We are in the middle. Halfway up the mountains from the sea.
Politically, we find ourselves in the middle. I am solidly of middle age now. For goodness sake, I am even a middle child.
Let’s just say this is a familiar place for me. At the same time, it can be a strange and unnerving place to be. It’s like taking a long road trip. At the beginning, there’s excitement to be setting out and beginning an adventure. But after several hours, when you find yourself between home and the place to which you’re heading, you would rather just be in one of those locations. Enjoying the journey is not easy to do for very long.
And yet, the longer I am in my thirties, or rather, as I grow older and (hopefully) wiser, I see that much life is lived in this middle space. Childhood is a foundation for the lives we will go on to lead, Lord-willing. By the time we grow into maturity enough to realize what our lives are about, we are already in the middle of them. And the end of life can look very scary and intimidating, even if we have confidence about what’s after death.
Even historically, from a biblical point of view, we may not be in the Middle Ages but we are most definitely still in the middle ages – between creation and complete restoration – we are living the middle redemption story, waiting patiently (most of the time) for when God will finally make all things right again. But it can seem a long way off, can’t it? There is too much brokenness, too much darkness, too much evil. When we will just arrive, Father? How much longer?
There’s this moment, whenever we travel from South Africa back to the States, when we have left our keys with our house sitter, and we’re suspended over the Atlantic ocean – this moment when I truly feel homeless, or if I’m in a better headspace, between homes. It’s disorienting, it’s frightening. And in that moment, every time, I feel held by God in the suspended middle. If this plane goes down, he’s got me. In my passport home which doesn’t feel like home, he’s got me. In my actual home which is not my childhood home, he’s got me. Any which way it can go, I can rest in him.
But I am also tired of this messy middle place. I am tired of the residual grief, the secondary guilt. I am weary of the in between – home there, home here, but really, home nowhere. Sharing the resources we can with our poor neighbors, but is it enough? Of grieving another loss, of praying for yet more mercy and peace to reign. Of making a fire in my home and feeling guilt that we have a warm home when others don’t.
And yet (again), isn’t this part of being awake to the world around us as Christians? Of being keenly aware of the kingdom breaking through the darkness, but of the darkness that has not yet left? Maybe this is why it is so vital to look for the light, maybe this is why we must turn our faces to look up, to focus our minds on Christ, because there is no peace in this messy middle without him.
There is no peace without him. Hasn’t he told his disciples (and now us), “And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age?”
It will, no doubt, be glorious to arrive at our final destination in Christ. And many of us have some time in this messy middle before we arrive there. In the meantime, I can either wallow in the discomfort of sitting in this middle-place, yet again; or I can let it lead me to the heart of Christ. I can let it lead me into seeking wisdom from the Spirit for how to live well, in the middle of my extremes. Perhaps this is a holy discontent – the world is not yet as it should be. It’s not what you’ve promised, God! So we will wait for you, to make it new in your time.
“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” Ephesians 5:15-16