The word liminal, in its most simplistic form, means “in-between” or “transitional.” In anthropology, the word is traditionally used to describe the temporary stage of transition during a rite of passage in which a person no longer holds their previous status but has not yet obtained their new status. This liminal phase is often described by anthropologists as ambiguous and even disorienting because the person in transition lives in what we colloquially call “limbo” – that uncomfortable gray area in the middle of a previous ending and a new beginning.
Liminal living is a perfect description of my current reality. I’m no longer a college student (previous ending) but I have not yet begun my new ministry job in Spain (new beginning). Although I knew theoretically what to expect during this time of transition, like so many things in life, the gap between theory and praxis was larger and more complicated than I anticipated.
For me, the hardest part of liminal living has been the ambiguity. While my organization and I had a projected timeline of when I’d be in Spain, God’s timeline has been very different. If I’m being honest, I’ve been pretty upset with God for not working according to my timeline. I didn’t understand why I wasn’t in Spain yet, or what He could possibly have for me here in Seattle. But I wasn’t just upset about my current reality of support-raising and waiting for my visa; I’ve been carrying a year-and-a-half’s worth of frustration due to the lack of stability, ambiguity, and disorienting reality of liminal living.
Let me give you a little run-down of my life for the past year:
- October 2017: Family moves from Bay Area to Seattle while I’m abroad
- December 2017: Christmas break in new home after four months abroad
- January 2018: Last semester at Wheaton College
- March 2018: Family moves from Seattle to Los Angeles during spring break
- May 2018: Graduation from Wheaton College
- June-July 2018: Summer work in Spain and England
- August 2018: Return to Los Angeles after summer work abroad
- September 2018: Family moves back to Seattle; I leave for training and support-raising in the Midwest
- October 2018: Support-raising in California
- November-December 2018: Holidays in Seattle
- January 2019: Family is offered new job in Bay Area; prepare to move a fourth time
- February 2019: Seattle job counters Bay Area job offer; no longer moving
I’ve spent the past month just trying to create a rhythm and routine after being thrown back and forth between “we’re moving” and “we’re not moving,” support-raising, and normal everyday living. But I’ve also spent a lot of this month being angry. Even if my frustration is justified, I found my heart convicted of sin.
James 1:2-4 says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything."
James’ logic is this: TRIAL → TESTING → PERSEVERANCE → MATURITY
However, after lots of prayer and reflection, I realized that my heart reflected the line of thinking that James warns against in verses 13 through 15:
“When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.”
James explains the other side of the trial coin: TRIAL → TEMPTATION → SIN → DEATH
Without realizing it, I was blaming God for this trial of liminal living. My own selfish desire of wanting to be in Spain already tempted me to sin in anger and pride, ultimately leading me to spiritual death. This may sound weird, but I felt this “death.” I’m not an angry person at all. I’m known as a generally happy person. So when I woke up each morning, filled with anger in my heart, that anger killed me – spiritually, emotionally, and even physically.
Now, I’m not saying we can’t be angry. I believe that God welcomes our sincerity. But for me, that sincerity led me to blame instead of blessing. I blamed God instead of blessing, or praising, Him for this opportunity to grow in maturity and become more complete in Him. James reminded me that, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” I needed to shift my inward focus upward to my Heavenly Father, who does not change as much as my life has in the past year; who gives good gifts in testing; who desires that I reflect His holiness through joy and perseverance.
Illustration by Chris Buzelli, as seen in this article from Nautilus Magazine, which was originally published in their "Home" issue in December, 2013. No copyright infringement is intended.