THE MESSY MIDDLE
May 8, 2023
It was just last month we celebrated Easter. I had intended to post the excerpt below on Good Friday. But that Wednesday before, something shocking happened…my dad passed away unexpectedly from a heart attack. The next few days were a whirlwind- time spent with family remembering and mourning, and planning a funeral.
When I received the news, I had just wrapped up leading and participating in a communion service with our staff. It was such a sweet time. We walked our church’s prayer path in small groups, and then sang worship songs acapella in the sunshine. My calendar was clear for the remainder of the week, in anticipation and preparation for Easter. But one phone call changed my circumstances quickly and abruptly.
If you’ve lost someone, you know the funeral isn’t the culmination, but just one step in the grieving process. There are still decisions and details weighing on my family to settle and resolve.
I’m in a messy middle.
Here’s an excerpt from my book, To Be Concluded.
Four Gospel writers wrote about the crucifixion of Jesus, and three of them—Matthew, Mark, and Luke—each make a point to mention that the world went dark when Jesus gave up his spirit. They each documented, “At noon, darkness fell across the whole land until three o’clock” (Matt. 27:45; Mark 15:33; Luke 23:44 NLT).
The light of the world literally went out.
Imagine that next day for the disciples and all of those closest to Jesus, to wake up after the exhaustion of the trials, the confusion of the Last Supper, and the horror of the crucifixion. I imagine they were exhausted and stricken with grief, but not just that. Everything they thought would be a certain way . . . it just wasn’t. Everything they imagined— everything they hoped—is gone.
Sometimes we find ourselves stuck in the Saturday in between the crucifixion and the resurrection.
Everything that we thought would be a certain way . . . just isn’t. There is a lot to process in the messy middle, so much to mine out of the darkness. You’re used to what you can see, hear, feel, and touch—used to using all of your senses to make decisions. But when the lights go out, all the senses we are accustomed to are no longer useful. We have to rely on something else.
When you can’t see what is going to happen, you have to trust. This is what the Saturday feels like.
Darkness is the partial or total absence of light. It conceals things, and it prevents us from seeing. When the clarity we so desperately want becomes hidden from us, we become trapped in a mindset that repeats on a constant loop: “Get me out of here.”
What do we do in those seasons? How do you move through the dark, even with the inability to see what is ahead?
Our tendency is to work things out now, as quickly as possible. The harder we strain to see what is next, the greater the uncertainty we feel, and the more we want to get out from where we are. We tend to arrange our lives so that everything works together for our ease and comfort. When things get hard, we tend to think something is wrong. This creates the tension that keeps us from seeing what is hap- pening in the moment. It is here that the pull to go back is so strong.
We desperately want to see those finish lines, but they are veiled, concealed in darkness. When darkness is disorienting and uncertain, we want to get back to what we had before—even if that wasn’t a good or healthy situation either. We may have actually been miserable before, but we feel safer returning to familiar misery than stepping into an unknown future.
When the Israelites came into the wilderness with Moses, they wanted to turn back to Egypt. Back in Egypt everything was easier. Sure, we were slaves, they thought. But there was food!
We read that and think how silly it was for them to long for a lifestyle of enslavement, but we do that, too. We are willing to give up our freedom if captivity feels more familiar.
Familiar misery feels better than uncertain hope.
We love all the passages in the Bible that talk about God delivering us from things, getting us out of things. But a lot in the Scriptures is given to us about his meeting us in the middle of the hard things.
The tendency is to get out from under or to get around or to get over, but we actually have to go through them. The only way for us to embrace the process that is so important is to go through. And we go through one step at a time, as we depend on God to be gracious in this moment we are in.
In any season of darkness, our desire to “get back to normal” pulls us off track. If we cannot see what is coming next, we feel a distinct pressure that pulls us back to the familiarity of the past.
But “back to normal” is not the direction God is headed. He’s not going back to anything.
He is always doing something new.
If we rush back to what is familiar, we stand a strong chance of missing what God is doing in the present moment and the greatness he has in mind for the future.
Even in grief and uncertainty, God is at work. Perhaps, especially in grief and uncertainty. God is reminding me of a hope that isn’t threatened by despair, by life that isn’t threatened by death. So, as I find myself processing so many memories, my desire isn’t to go back, but rather to remain in the moment and cherish the legacy and the influence of my dad on my life.
As I remain in the moment, allowing myself to feel the weight of death, I also remain in the Presence of my God and the promise of His faithfulness.
There is no back to normal. Things won’t ever be the way they were.
While I can’t go back to what was, I can find hope in what will be. And that hope gives me strength and provides me with deep peace in this moment… in each moment.
Of course I am sad.
But I am also incredibly grateful. I have a deep peace. I have an even deeper hope.
This frees me to find joy in the messy middle, life in the face of death.
Messy middles aren’t just a means to an end. The weighty things are where we find the strength of the foundation that can withstand the weight we feel and hold us steady right in the middle.