As a child, I never really understood why scripture makes God’s people seem so discontented in the desert. They are freed from slavery in Egypt, provided with food and water by miraculous means, receive the ten commandments, and they get to see the active presence of God in the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night. I could never understand why they weren’t always in awe.
Now, I find myself relating to the Hebrew wanderers. Beginnings are always emotionally charged and have lots of action. In this story you have the burning bush, the plagues, Passover, freedom, and the escape through parted waters. That’s exciting! Even the walking is new and may have felt like a refreshing alternative to the forced labor their bodies were used to. Then they hit the in between time. When you can’t go back but your destination still seems out of reach. The time of deferred hopes and dreams. When walking becomes trudging. Where everything becomes ordinary. Even the extraordinary (manna from Heaven each morning) seems normal and feels like work (I have to go pick mana up again, ugh).
Have you hit that point yet this year? There have certainly been moments where I’ve wished that 2020 would just be over and the idea of having months left to go leaves me feeling defeated. Just like those in the story, I find myself grumbling at God. How long oh Lord? How long until justice is made manifest in the structures of our society? How long until there’s a vaccine? How long until the fires go out? How many people have to die? How long will people go hungry? How long until we can sing and hug and eat together again? The in between time is full of questions without answers and longings unfulfilled.
It’s hard to be in between. Yet much of the church calendar is designated as ordinary time. That space is held for us. Why? Perhaps these are actually the spaces, between the beginning and the end, where we find the most growth. The liberation from Egypt with all its dramatic flare showed that God is powerful. But it’s in the wandering that the Hebrew people learn that God is faithful. Day in and day out. It’s here that they learn that God provides. This is where they truly become God’s people. Where that relationship is nurtured. Where they receive the ten commandments and create a culture around their relationship with God. It is where they create their corporate faith.
This year has been hard. We have been forced to recon with our own frailty in new ways. Many of us feel raw and vulnerable. We may be disillusioned with ourselves, each other, or the world at large. We may be distressed by what we have done and what we have left undone. Living with this discomfort day in and day out is getting old. The in between isn’t known for being fun.
Yet the witness of scripture and of the church is that there is growth to be found even here. So take a moment. Breathe deeply…and remember. In the past six months, what have been the signs of God’s faithfulness? Have you experienced any new signs of life (relationships renewed, finding a new interest, enjoying one of the aspects of digital worship, etc.)? Take some time to name the growth that you have seen. Even if it seems small and fragile like a new plant sprouting from the soil, it has value. I invite you to use the comment section to recognize where you are finding God at work. Let us all rejoice together in God’s faithfulness, even in 2020. Let’s also be grateful that the story isn’t over yet. God is on the move. Thanks be to God.
For your work in the in between
And your presence in the ordinary
We give you thanks O Lord.