Entering the In-Between
In his book, Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes, author William Bridges states, “Things end, there is a time of fertile emptiness, and then things begin anew.” It’s no question that we live a lifetime of transitions. We can all attest to the experience of discomfort that comes when we feel the fracture in the continuity of our lives. Endings are going to come, as are new beginnings, but first we must traverse the in-between.
Some transitions come by choice and are positive. Others are thrust upon us and inflict suffering and trauma. Examples: being newly married (ending of singleness), bereavement (ending of a relationship by death or separation), work promotion, major illness, going back to college, retirement… positive or negative, transitions compel us to navigate new spaces.
New growth requires new soil. Endings are the clearing process, producing fertile soil for the new planting.
Let’s look at four aspects of the ending experience.
Remember the ending of normal life for Jesus? He disengaged from his natural family and quickly launched into a forty day wilderness season. He entered the in-between. A new beginning emerged on the horizon. It was a glorious three and a half years, culminating in another ending. After a brief in-between season, the resurrection launched him into a new beginning.
Even the incarnation was an ending of sorts for Jesus. Although He existed in the form and unchanging essence of God… possessing the fullness of all the divine attributes – the entire nature of deity, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped or asserted as if He did not already possess it, or was afraid of losing it, but emptied Himself without renouncing or diminishing His deity, but only temporarily giving up the outward expression of divine equality and His rightful dignity by assuming the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Phil. 2:7 TPT
A temporary disengagement from his heavenly glory, to embrace human limitations. Heaven to earth is quite a massive transition. Of course not all transitions are so neat and clean, preplanned from eternity. Some in my life have more resembled the prophet Jonah. He was on the run from ministry (I can relate) and thought he was headed for the city of Tarshish. Even when our disengagements are not the wisest, God is the Master of redirecting.
It’s been described as the inner side of the disengagement process. Self definition, once clear and obvious becomes blurry and indistinct. Reminds me of a major transition at the twenty year mark of my pastoral journey. I hit an emotional wall, resigned from my church, and took a regular job. Nobody called me “Pastor Mike” anymore. My routines of life were massively altered.
Though painful, I discovered that who I am in Christ, a beloved son of God, is an identity that is rock solid in my life. I would never be who I was but was moving towards a new horizon. It was nearly four years before I entered into ministry again. When it comes to the season of the in-between, we cannot predict the precise timeline of entrance and exit.
The in-between seasons can be a bit wobbly. Logic doesn’t always win the day. Separated from the old and not yet attached to the new, I’m not totally sure what’s real at the moment. Disenchantments may be small and hardly impact us, or large and devastating. A lover who is unfaithful, leaders or organizations that betrayed your trust, idols that proved to be dull and unfulfilling, and worst of all – times when you yourself turned out to not exactly be the person you thought you were.
Transition also goes against the grain of our Western culture, which sees growth and spiritual formation as an additive process. For example, I didn’t have to unlearn sixth grade in order to go on into seven. It would be easier if life worked this way – the process being all about gain but never about loss. If you have a few transitions under your belt, you know what I’m saying.
Disenchantment has many layers, as we must look beneath the surface of what we thought was trustworthy and immovable. “I thought I knew my best friend. I relied upon him/her to protect me from the uncertainties of life.” William Bridges says, The disenchantment experience is the signal that the time has come to look below the surface of what has been thought to be so. Hopefully, we will always come home to the truth that God is our mighty fortress. Ps. 46:1
Deepening feelings of being disengaged, disidentified, and disenchanted, leads us down the path of feeling lost and confused. I’m not really sure where I am right now, aka disoriented. Old goals and plans seem “old.” The future looks tenuous. Bridges describes it like this:
Disorientation is meaningful, but it isn’t enjoyable. It is a time of confusion and emptiness when ordinary things have an unreal quality about them. Things that used to be important don’t seem to matter much now. We feel stuck, dead, lost in some great, dark non-world.
Am I Really As Dead As I Feel?
Okay, I can relate to Bridges’ words. I DO feel stuck, dead, and lost when I’m navigating major transitions. But am I really as dead as I feel? The man lame from birth who spent years begging at the temple gate (Acts, Ch.3) knew nothing but disability and humiliation for his entire life. He undoubtedly felt very lifeless. But one encounter changed everything.
The healed beggar was celebrating his new found ability to walk, embracing Peter and John with gratitude, when Peter spoke these words to the onlookers. But you killed the Prince (Author, Originator, Source) of life, whom God raised [bodily] from the dead. To this [fact] we are witnesses [for we have seen the risen Christ]. Acts 3:15 (AMP) They killed the sacrificial Lamb, according to God’s sovereign plan. But did they really take His life away?
There is a great mystery as to why God allows human beings to act out their wickedness. One thing I know for sure from nearly fifty years of following Jesus, is that He understands what I’m going through. For we do not have a High Priest who is unable to sympathize and understand our weaknesses and temptations, but One who has been tempted [knowing exactly how it feels to be human] in every respect as we are. Heb. 4:15
In the in-between seasons, when my focus is blurred, I must strive with every ounce of vision I possess, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. Heb. 12:2
The Author of Life was crucified and buried, his human life tasted death. But His storyline, the Father’s script for His life, continued on its course.
My life will never be without a story for the Author lives in me.