Nobody likes to sit in a waiting room. We might not mind for a few minutes while we catch up on favorite magazines, but after that we get antsy and impatient, and start to think uncharitable thoughts about whomever we’re waiting for.
Have you ever been in a spiritual waiting room, the time between one thing and the next when you have no recourse but to wait on the Lord? It can be disconcerting—but it can also grow your faith and character in a way few things can.
The experience of being “between two things” has been referred to as “liminal space” by spiritual formation writers. In an article titled “Grieving as Sacred Space,” Richard Rohr defines liminal space as “a unique spiritual position where human beings hate to be but where the biblical God is always leading them.” He adds:
It is when you have left the “tried and true” but have not yet been able to replace it with anything else. It is when you are finally out of the way. It is when you are in between your old comfort zone and any possible new answer....If you are not trained in how to hold anxiety, how to live with ambiguity, how to entrust and wait—you will run....Anything to flee from this terrible “cloud of unknowing.”
Liminal space can be caused by many things: a long-term illness, the death of someone you love, the inability to get a job, the need to decide on a major, a bad relationship that you feel stuck in, or a sense that there is no place for you to bear fruit in God’s kingdom.
As Rohr suggests, our tendency is to run when we’re in liminal spaces, but I’m exhorting you to stay. Someone once told me that often the best intercession we can do is just to stay in a situation. That’s the best waiting we can do too.
What Waiting Requires
So whatever the reason you’re waiting, don’t try to rush out of it. Instead, ask God to show you what you can learn while you’re there. You might also consider employing these six tips to help you endure.
1. Find someone to wait with you. As Pooh says to Piglet, “It’s so much friendlier with two.” Of course, no one can fully share the agony of your waiting, but having a trusted mentor, campus staff worker, therapist, or spiritual director along with you in your journey can help tremendously.
2. Keep a journal. You don’t want to miss the lessons of this time, and journaling can help you sort out your thoughts.
3. Be kind to yourself. Eat right, sleep well, exercise. It’s easy to feel sorry for ourselves when these times come, but falling into bad health habits will not help you weather this storm. Think of the waiting as a spiritual marathon, and keep up your training.
4. Stay in the Word and in prayer. It’s easy to believe the accusations of the enemy during a waiting time. Instead of listening to his lies, let Scripture wash your mind with truth and pray out your pain and frustration.
5. Don’t be a turtle. Sometimes, when things are hard, pulling away from others and into a protective shell can be a natural instinct. But what you really need when you’re waiting is community. Reach out to your friends and be honest with your small group. The journey will be lighter with friends to help support and encourage you.
6. Find some heroes who have endured difficult times. Interview your parents and relatives about what they’ve learned during trials. Study the life of Job, Abraham, or Ruth. Read books on waiting itself and on ordinary people who have grown through waiting, like Elizabeth Lesser’s Broken Open: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow. See below for other reading suggestions.
Remember, God does some of his best work in deserts, cocoons, waiting rooms, and tombs. Don’t fear this liminal space. Embrace the space!
Jacci Turner is an InterVarsity staff member in Reno. She loves chocolate in all of its manifestations and is a bestsellingauthor.