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 God? 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 the world.
As Rohr suggests, our tendency is to run when we’re in liminal spaces, but I’m encouraging you to stay. Someone once told me that often the best prayer we can manage is to stay in an uncomfortable 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 through this time.
- 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 friend, mentor, therapist, or spiritual director along with you on your journey can help tremendously.
- Keep a journal. You don’t want to miss the lessons of this time, and journaling can help you sort out your thoughts.
- 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.
- 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 a community. Reach out to your friends. The journey will be lighter with friends to help support and encourage you.
- Find some heroes who have endured difficult times. Interview your parents and relatives about what they’ve learned during trials. Study the life of Martin Luther King Jr. or read poems by Maya Angelou.
Remember, God does some of God’s best work in deserts, cocoons, waiting rooms, and tombs. Don’t fear this liminal space. Embrace the space!
What has helped you get through times of waiting?
Photo: Waiting Room: From my dentist office waiting room!
The second is artwork called “melancholy: by Albert Gyorgy and can be found in Geneva, Switzerland.
*I originally wrote this article for IVCF and have changed it a bit to fit the language I’m more comfortable with.