by Becca Ehrlich
In my article in this month’s issue, we looked at what it means to live in liminal space, that in-between, transitional time when waiting and uncertainty are the norm. We also looked at Joseph’s story in Genesis and how he experienced liminal space.
We can learn a lot from Joseph’s story and his in-between time. Below are some of the significant takeaways we can apply to our own lives as we deal with our own liminal space.
Liminal space happens. When we live in the in-between, it can feel as if we are alone and singled-out. But having transitional times in our lives is normal—it happens to us all.
Joseph was thrown in prison after being falsely accused, and that should not have happened. But it occurs more often in our judicial system than we would like to admit.
That Joseph experienced liminal space during his biblical lifetime illustrates transitional periods happen. We are not singled-out when we experience liminal space. We all will experience it at some point.
Liminal space is rarely enjoyable. Living in the in-between means that we can see where we have been, but the road ahead isn’t clear. We don’t know what’s coming next, and that can make us anxious and afraid.
No doubt Joseph felt similar emotions while living many years (some scholars say 10) in prison. He had no idea if or when he would get out. He was anxious and scared, worried for his future.
When living in the in-between, it’s okay to accept that we are not okay. In-between is not an easy place to be. So, we need to find ways to care for ourselves and each other. We must also recognize that some chapters in our lives are more difficult than others.
Liminal space can provide opportunities
Though transitional times in our lives can be tough, good things can still happen in that liminal space. We shouldn’t sit down and wait for it to go away. Opportunities can present themselves during this time.
While in prison, Joseph uses the gifts God has given him to take care of his fellow inmates and interpret his cellmates’ dreams. Those interpretations accurately describe their futures. When Joseph’s former cellmate (the cupbearer of Pharaoh) hears that Pharaoh needs a dream interpreter, he suggests Joseph. He tells Pharaoh that Joseph gave him an accurate dream interpretation.
Pharaoh orders Joseph out of the dungeon to interpret his dream, which he does. Joseph tells Pharaoh to plan for a famine. Grateful for Joseph’s help, Pharaoh frees Joseph and hires him as his second-in-command. Thanks to Joseph’s foresight and planning, Egypt survives the famine. Joseph’s gift of dream interpretation gets him out of prison and helps save lives.
Like God called Joseph, God calls us all to use our spiritual gifts even in liminal space. Sometimes using our gifts may help shorten our time in liminal space. Or it might make our in-between time more bearable for us and helpful to others.
Because living in liminal space can be difficult, it can often feel like God has abandoned us. But that is not the case. God is with us when we are in liminal space.
When Joseph’s master threw him in prison, we read that God was with him:
“And Joseph’s master took him and put him into the prison, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined; he remained there in prison. But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love; he gave him favor in the sight of the chief jailer. The chief jailer committed to Joseph’s care all the prisoners who were in the prison, and whatever was done there, he was the one who did it. The chief jailer paid no heed to anything that was in Joseph’s care, because the Lord was with him; and whatever he did, the Lord made it prosper.” (Genesis 39:21-23)
If God was with Joseph, God will be with us and show us steadfast love in our in-between times. Like with Joseph, God will continue to guide us and help us use the gifts God has given us to serve others.
Many of us are in liminal space during this pandemic. We do not know when it will end or what the future will be.
What we do know is that God is with us in the midst of this uncertainty and is inviting us to use our spiritual gifts to serve others.
1. How can you approach liminal space in the future, knowing that the in-between times happen to us all at some time?
2. What opportunities are present during your current liminal space?
3. What difference does it make knowing that God is with us in the in-between?
Ever-present God, help us remember that liminal space happens, is tough, and provides opportunities. Continue to be with us through our liminal space and guide us through the in-between. Show us what gifts you’ve given us to serve others during transitional times. In Jesus’ name, we pray, Amen.
Becca Ehrlich is an ELCA pastor serving as interim director for Evangelical Mission/assistant to the bishop in Allegheny and Upstate N.Y. Synods, ELCA. She blogs about minimalism from a Christian perspective at www.christianminimalism.com. Her book, Christian Minimalism: Simple Steps for Abundant Living, comes out May 17.
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