Sometimes you know you will be entering a new phase in life. You see it coming but you cannot clearly grasp it yet. It seems waves are building up and will hit the shore but you are not sure when and how. You feel a certain emptiness but you know that you need to wait instead of just filling this void.
This describes me well. After having had to step down from the organization I led for nearly 10 years, the past 3 years have been a bit like a roller coaster. After a year of mourning and praying and of getting my feet wet again, I felt the season had come to discern more what is next. I started to venture onto new grounds, always again saying, “God, I am just faithful. Wherever you will open the door, I will go through.”
And yes, I have experienced incredible open doors. I have done things I had not even dreamt off. I was given opportunities I had not sought. God has always again provided. Friends, resources, travels. Looking back over these past 3 years, next to my experienced pain in leadership, I have had the most amazing experiences.
Yet in my heart I have this lingering emotion and thought, that something else will come. Something else is to be birthed but I have no clue really how it will look like though it has to be around my calling of youth, young leaders and Europe. I see some sign posts but not yet the path ahead.
In three years, my wonderful aluminium boss will retire and I felt right to announce I will finish with my job as well then. So three years to learn the maximum I can while waiting in the space on whatever might come next to my involvement with the Lausanne Movement, European networks, youth events etc.
When I came across the description of the “liminal space”, I knew I had found words to describe the state I am in. Yeah for innovative thinkers!
Liminal comes from the Latin rood word “limen”, meaning threshold. Any point or place of entering or beginning. Liminal spaces are transformative spaces, if we learn to wait and let it form us. It is like a waiting area between one point in time and space, and the next. A place of transition and not knowing.
Richard Rohr describes it as, “… 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 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 this terrible cloud of unknowing.”
It is standing before an entrance to something new, which will affect identity, time or community. Wikipedia states it as a “continuity of tradition may become uncertain, and future outcomes once taken for granted may be thrown into doubt.”
It contains uncertainty where nothing is certain nor clear and what I thought might be important seems to be on hold. The reason why we land in the liminal space can have numerous reasons. A particular event or circumstance can interrupt our lives and everything is up in the air. For me it was one phone call of maybe 15 minutes which changed my position from being the CEO to nothing.
For others it is what happened to other people which has a significant impact on your next steps and you have no control over this situation nor the timing. Or for another person the direction is clear but the person senses it is not yet the right timing. Again being in this waiting room of God.
It is right in this space where God is with me, waiting, affirming, calling…
In this period, I am faced with my inner fears about who I am, about my successes and failures and it can question the very core of my belief and my identity. This space serves to shake some of my habits and routines helping me to ask once again the questions why and what for.
Alan Seale writes in his blog on the liminal space, “it’s the chrysalis stage for the caterpillar. The caterpillar may instinctively know from its genetic programing that it must weave itself a cocoon, yet it probably has no conscious sense of why, for how long it will be there, or what will happen in the cocoon. In a similar way, we may instinctively weave ourselves into a liminal cocoon, yet at first, not even be aware that we have drawn this space around us, or know why it’s important to be here.”
Having done some readings on this space, I have particularly loved how author and theologian Richard Rohr describes this space,
“where we are betwixt and between the familiar and the completely unknown. There alone is our old world left behind, while we are not yet sure of the new existence. That’s a good space where genuine newness can begin. Get there often and stay as long as you can by whatever means possible…This is the sacred space where the old world is able to fall apart, and a bigger world is revealed. If we don’t encounter liminal space in our lives, we start idealizing normalcy. The threshold is God’s waiting room. Here we are taught openness and patience as we come to expect an appointment with the divine Doctor.
Change never exists in a box, no matter how hard we might try to contain it. Change in one area of life always spills into others that disrupt the status quo. There is a ripple effect. Community, spirituality, vocation, relationships, physicality, friendships and emotions do not exist mutually exclusive from one another—they intersect and intertwine.
When we become aware of our own liminality, most of us, if we’re honest, don’t know who to become or how to navigate the transition. We often miss the real potential of ‘in-between’ places – we either stand paralyzed or we flee the “terrible cloud of unknown.”
If our liminal spaces are approached intentionally and within community, rather than staying paralyzed, running away or going at it alone, we can boldly approach it and confidently move forward into our futures.”
So surrounding myself with people who care about me, I will fight for staying in this space as long as I have to, bearing the tension and trusting God for a bright future (Jeremiah 29:11)!
Some further blogs on it: