After the post recently about wandering in the wilderness, it lead me down one more path that is relevant to those thoughts, and I think this path is quite well trodden by a lot of friends and workers. I know it was by me when I was still in the group.
It is a common phenomena after “x” number of years at a job, in a relationship, in any kind of group such as a church, you hit a point where the honeymoon is over and it’s just you and God on the road; pedal to the metal. The friends and workers refer to this as “plodding along”. (That sounds so depressing to me!) The tendency during this period is to either become a martyr about it all or to become desperate. The martyr’s are going to keep on keeping on no matter what; all with a little (or a lot) of sighing and deep shows of resignation. The desperate ones either find a new project or calling to throw themselves into, or in the case of their dead feelings spiritually, they turn to anything “spiritual” whether it be of God or not, (i.e. New Age books/practices, essential oils to change how they are feeling) or prescription drugs to lift the heavy feelings.
I am very compassionate and passionate about these times in our spiritual journey because I know them first hand so well. My heart breaks when I see dear friends turn to other sources other than Jesus because He is not only the answer to our disillusionment, doubts, and fears but also the solution. If we pursue Him and pray for new eyes and new ears and are open to where He leads, He will come through. He did for me. I was yearning for something new and fresh and He gave me exactly what I needed and then some. I was never dissatisfied with Him; I just wanted more of Him than I was seeing and/or experiencing.
I am currently reading a book called “Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis” by Lauren F. Winner and I’m going to include some quotes from it as the author shares a very similar journey.
She writes about the fear of the loneliness of making a major change. (In her case it was a divorce but in this context I am referring to the loneliness that comes when you leave the meetings)
“Sit with the loneliness and ask what the loneliness has for you.” That may sound very new-age but there is something of value in that. Sitting and really asking yourself why you are so afraid of the loneliness and then what might God want to bring into that space in your life.
She continued to write about that time in her life, “I used to say, in those tortured months….that what I feared most was loneliness. Not being alone, which I often find perfect and peaceful, but loneliness.”
Then, she wrote about the actual middle miles.
“I began to notice that “middle” rarely denotes something good. Middle school. The Middle Ages.” She wrote about the middle game in chess: The middle game is where players stake out their strategies. Very little is scripted. The middle game is where creativity begins, where tactical daring and subtlety take over. In the middle game, everything is open.”
“An eighteenth century English minister wrote of ‘hauling barley to something called a middle stead’ which turns out to be the threshing floor of a barn, where the inedible hull of the wheat is removed.”
The middle miles are definitely a time of threshing; of sorting. Sorting out what is working and what is not, what is truth and what is not, what is alive and what is dead, what is real and what is forced, what is law and what is grace, what is of man and what is of Christ, what needs to be held onto and what needs to be let go of, what is scriptural and what is tradition. I began to consider new possibilities with God, and with my very life. At first, I was terrified of this sorting process because I was so afraid of being deceived but then I came to see that perhaps I already was.
It used to pain my heart to look out into the audience when I was speaking in a meeting as a worker and see the look on so many women’s faces that were my age. They looked tired and without joy. They had given their years to the system; they had hosted countless dinners and potlucks, had the workers stay several times a year, attended 2-4 meetings a week without fail, stood by their husbands, raised their kids, read their Bible’s every morning, prayed morning and evening but somewhere along the line, the Lord had not delivered the joy to them they read about in the Bible and wondered why their strength wasn’t being renewed day by day. Life had become so routine and so predictable that inside they were screaming and crying for something more but they had nowhere and no one to talk to about that. They dare not expose their fears and disquietedness. It never occurred to them to take every question, fear and feeling to God because who prayed about those kinds of things? Wasn’t that sin? Didn’t it mean something was wrong with her instead of the system itself had failed her? Shouldn’t she just keep trying harder?
So, she starts a new hobby, writes more letters to workers and friends, has someone over for dinner every Sunday after meeting, visits the nursing homes where elderly friends are every week, cleans her house more vigorously….all to quiet the noise inside. Or she goes back to bed as soon as the kids are gone to school or her husband goes off to work. But, the noise never stops because she hasn’t turned to The Source and asked Him all the difficult questions about all her questions. Instead, unless something changes, she will just continue to become sadder and sadder, her countenance will be one of resignation but not one of joy, the years will roll by and she will wonder over and over, “Is this all there is?”
Oh, my dear ladies, I write these things not out of condemnation or pity but out of love and deep care because I KNOW those feelings; I was there. I got to the place where I could not live like that anymore and was willing for anything in order for something to change. Please understand that I am NOT a risk taker by nature; not at all. I am, however, someone who can’t bear to be stuck. “Do not fear to follow Jesus” we sang and yet, when life narrows down and it is indeed just you and Jesus, are you afraid to follow Him? No! Because He is Safe and He is Good!
Yes, life narrows down in the middle miles but it also has the potential to go much deeper than ever before because of your renewed relationship with God. The middle miles actually make up the greatest portion of our lives so we need to choose how we want to spend them. We don’t want to go flat-lined before our time!
The middle miles for the workers is when you are not excited anymore about a new field, a new year and a new co-worker. When studying for meetings is always uphill. When you long for something different to do. When you want to be able to share in meetings what Jesus is doing right now in your life, but sadly, you can’t identify anything. And, even if you could, you would be fearful to share that for fear of what others would think. When you stay in the Work because to leave now is unthinkable. (That last sentence is a quote from a great brother worker years ago.) When you are weary of Concordance Bible studies in homes or at preps and just wish someone would start a conversation that was real and relevant and personal. When you are holding on year after year only because of the hopes of a great reward in heaven for your labor. When you’ve come up through the ranks like you were supposed to, had some good convention round privileges afar, but you still feel unfulfilled and you are chomping at the bit for something totally different.
I’m not talking about stepping out of God’s will for your life; I’m talking about stepping INTO His will as never before. Just “plodding along” year after year is not the answer; there is absolutely no joy in that. If that is where you are, please stop and SEARCH for the fullness of Christ.