Perhaps you remember, as I do, being a young child and having such a strong desire for some toy or trinket that in my young mind it quite easily passed over from a want to a more immediate and dire need. As a birthday or Christmas drew close, my anticipation grew for what I would hopefully find beneath layers of wrapping paper, other gifts for sure, but there would always be one or two things I really wanted (needed).
Then something very profound would happen: I would get what I had asked for. It was a moment of pure bliss as I recognized that I had been given what I had longed for, indeed I was holding it in my own two hands! I would spend some hours in delight with this object, the acquirement of which had been my sole focus up until this point.
Then something else profound would happen. I would forget about it. I might find it dusty, under my bed, and find some small amount of nostalgic joy in its discovery, only to return it to its forgotten place. You see, I would have already moved on to the next perceived necessity in my young life.
It strikes me that we do not grow out of this inclination. Yes perhaps it may be centered around less frivolous things, but our propensity is the same: we long and pine for things until we get them, and then immediately begin longing and pining for something else.
The moments of our hopes and dreams being recognized are fleeting and far between and punctuated by times of waiting that far outweigh the blip of euphoria some achievement may give us.
I am not saying we do not or should not find joy in these things. There is great joy to be found as we follow the Lord and experience the gifts he gives to us. I am saying that we rob ourselves of this joy and satisfaction by focusing our hopes and dreams around fleeting moments of achievement, rather than learning to live in the in-between.
For purposes of illustration, let us trace an average American’s life beginning in fledgling adulthood:
- “I can’t wait to graduate high school, once I graduate high school everything will be great.”
- “I can’t wait to graduate college, once I graduate college my life will be set.”
- “I just really need a job, once I find a job everything will fall into place.”
- “I need a spouse. I want to get married. I just need a spouse and then I’ll be good.”
- “We need to buy a house. Buying a house will help us be set up for life.”
- “Kids. It’s time to have kids. Once we have a child we can really be set up for life.”
I could go on ad nauseam. Perhaps all of these common milestones do not apply to you, but I am sure you can plug in some of your own. The principle remains: we are constantly looking forward to one event or another, and then immediately turn to the next thing. How is it we continue in this cycle, where the in-between simply becomes something to impatiently suffer through until we can get to the next milestone in our lives? We know that the in-between takes up most of our lives, but we still fall back into old habit of sitting and pining for what’s next.
How should a follower of Christ live their life in a way that finds joy in the blessings we have been given, without stringing ourselves out in between life milestones that, while notable and wonderful, often lose the luster they had at the beginning?
There are many biblical examples of people living in the “in-between,” often for different purposes. It may have been for testing, for punishment, or for some reason that we cannot quite grasp. But we do see that God works in these times of the in-between; they are not wasted.
Let us take the example of the children of Israel who wandered in the desert for 40 years before God allowed them to enter the promised land. This was obviously intended as punishment for a generation that had refused to trust in the God that had delivered them from Egypt (Numbers 14:20-35). This punishment was also extended to the children of the people God had brought out of Egypt. Although it may appear that spending 40 years in the wilderness is a waste of time, we know this is not true.
It was God’s mercy that allowed the Israelites to even survive their rebellion in the first place. Beyond this, now they recognized that they were completely reliant upon God and his power. So while this in-between time did act as punishment for those that would never see the promised land, it was also a purifying process for the Israelite people as a whole. It also allowed a new generation to rise up and learn from their elders and from the Lord himself how they should live as people of God.
God does not waste time.
Our human perception of time can cause us to be impatient and restless but we should never assume that because we “feel” like nothing is happening that God is not working. Instead, the Lord invites us into the work that he is doing in our world, and this invitation is a humbling and anointed opportunity that we should not ignore because we are waiting for our next life event.
What is our typical response to these in-between times? Do we fill up our perceived stagnation with hobbies, entertainment, or meaningless trivialities that leave us unsatisfied? We don’t like being in a place where something big isn’t happening, so we distract ourselves from what we see as our current reality.
Jesus spoke directly into this human tendency with what we refer to as “the parable of the talents,” found in Matthew 25.
Here he reminds us that we are all in some semblance of the in-between as we await the Lord’s return. Jesus describes a master giving three different servants three different amounts of money, and then going on a trip. While he was gone, two of the servants went and invested and were able to double what their master had given them. However, the other servant takes what he was given and hides it, and then sits and waits for the master’s return. When their master finally does return, he is overjoyed with the servants that have used their time wisely and rewards them, while he is angry with the the third who is then punished (Matthew 25:14-30).
I can’t help but thinking of a waiting room whenever I ponder the idea of an “in-between time.”
Every time I go into a waiting room I am somehow astonished that I have to…wait. If only there was some context clue, some way for me to know what kind of activity I would be participating in while in this room! But instead I am told “we’ll call you back in a minute” and I am left standing alone, slack-jawed as I consider the vast differences in meaning of the word “minute.” I typically wander over and sit, perusing Good Housekeeping or American Rifleman circa 2008.
I have, on occasion, seen people that are ready to wait. They baffle me. Immediately upon being told “we’ll call you back in a medical-minute” they march with purpose to a seat and pull out a book, or homework, or something else they have prepared to pass the time. They have recognized they will be waiting and instead of wasting this time, they have redeemed it, while I peruse the top 10 pastels of 2012 that will make your curtains POP.
There is so much more that could be said on this topic, but let us close with a sobering reality, illustrated by David in Psalms 144:3-4: “O Lord, what is man that you regard him, or the son of man that you think of him? Man is like a breath; his days are like a passing shadow.”
Our time on earth is limited, our lives pass away so quickly (James 4:13-17), and yet we spend so much of the time we have been in aimlessly waiting. Most of our life is spent in the “in-between” and yet instead of redeeming these times, we so often waste them, pining for what’s next. Commit to spending time in prayer, asking the Lord what you should be doing in these “in-between times” to honor him in those times and prepare for what he may call you to in the future. Allow him to guide you to not waste the time you have been given, but to use it.