Limbo is not an easy place to be. Maybe it’s waiting for exam results, or the results of medical tests; maybe it’s waiting to find out how someone will respond to an invitation or an apology; maybe it’s waiting for God to act in a situation or fulfil his promises.
In any case it involves waiting, and that is not an easy place to be. When there is nothing to do but to wait and hope and pray it can feel scary and out of control.
That’s the problem, for me anyway. I like to be in control, or at least to feel in control, but that is not always a helpful desire.
It reassures me that people in the Bible struggled with this too. The Israelites created a golden calf to worship while Moses was with God on the mountain, receiving the 10 Commandments. It was ridiculous to worship a statue they had created themselves, but at the time it seemed better than waiting, and wondering if Moses would ever return. Gideon tested God with a fleece, asking for reassurance that he really would keep his promise. Even Abraham, renowned for his amazing faith, had his moment of doubt when, after waiting several years for the son God had promised, he decided to take matters into his own hands and conceived a child with his servant Hagar.
I have been there- different situations but similar reactions: going to ridiculous lengths to feel in control, seeking reassurance of God’s faithfulness, trying to sort things out by myself. The result is anxiety, bad decisions and a lot of time wasted on needless worrying.
The Bible also contains some good examples which can help us know how to respond in these times.
Joseph had long times of waiting- working in Egypt as a slave, then unfairly imprisoned. Then his hopes were raised that he would be released. He helped Pharaoh’s cup-bearer and hoped he would return the favour by putting in a good word for Joseph before Pharaoh, but he forgot and Joseph had to wait in prison for another two years. Yet through all of this, Joseph responded with integrity- doing his duties to the best of his ability, gaining the favour of those in authority. “The Lord was with him and caused everything he did to succeed.” (Genesis 39:23)
David was anointed as the future king of Israel when he was very young, but it was several years before it became a reality. During that time there were several challenges as the jealous King Saul hunted him down, trying to kill him. The climax of the story came when David was hiding in a cave and Saul entered the same cave, without noticing David and his men. It seemed like a God-given opportunity for David to end the persecution he was suffering, get rid of Saul and take his rightful place as king. At least it seemed that way to David’s men. David realised this was not how it was meant to happen. Saul had been chosen by God to be King so he should not harm him. He refused to take matters into his own hands, and instead chose to wait in that uncomfortable place of limbo for God to resolve the situation.
After Jesus had risen from the dead and ascended to heaven, the disciples had a time of waiting. They were told by Jesus to wait in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit to come. Although the disciples so often got it wrong, on this occasion they did exactly the right thing. They gathered and they prayed and they waited for God’s promise to be fulfilled.
I want to follow these examples and face those times of limbo well, living through them faithfully and with integrity, waiting for God and trusting him to fulfil his promises, accepting that I am not in control and knowing that’s okay, because, however scary it may seem, he is in control and he knows what he’s doing.
Someone shared this poem with me, which helped me during a time of waiting. I hope it blesses you too!
Patient Trust (Pierre Teilhard de Chardin)
Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something
unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability—
and that it may take a very long time.
And so I think it is with you;
your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances
acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow.
Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.
linking with #LiveFreeThursday