Liminality and Into the Woods: Or, What I’m Learning

It is early Sunday morning and I am sitting on the couch watching the thunderstorm outside turn from really dark to a slightly less-dark color. There are cinnamon rolls in the oven and half of my apartment is sparklingly clean and clutter-free. Even still, I am not sure that I’m ready for “real life” to begin again tomorrow.

I wanted to take some time before I get back into the craziness to reflect on what I’ve been learning over the last two weeks. Isn’t it funny how God will use different threads in your life to create a startling or new image of something He’s been trying to teach you? That’s been my experience in the last couple of days.

The first thread: I’m not sure if any of my recent blog posts have given this impression (ha!), but I feel that I am facing a crossroads in my life and my career. There have been some really dark moments lately where I’m not sure if teaching is the right career, I’m not sure if I’m in the right place, and I’m really not sure where I should be headed. It’s easy for people on the outside to say, “Trust God!” or “He knows right where He wants you!” I know this advice is well-meant, but it’s very difficult to take that advice and apply it practically. I believe that God has my best interests at heart, but when I’m the one who has to make decisions without the benefit of a burning bush or cloud of smoke, how do I know when to stay and when to go? Over the break I was able to have some great conversations with friends who have been in the same situation. I am constantly being reminded of little lessons I have learned before but somehow keep forgetting. The main one? Obedience is obedience. Wherever I am, if I am being obedient to what the Lord says, then I am being obedient. Isn’t that what I am called to be? I shouldn’t get caught up in others’ opinions if I know in my hear that I am being obedient to the Lord.

The second thread: Any fellow readers of The Rabbit Room out there? Well, the Lord has greatly used that community to minister to me. Friday as I was driving back I listened to a session from the 2013 Hutchmoot on Liminality or Liminal Space. It seemed like my heart was speaking an “amen” to every word I was hearing. How refreshing to hear that there are other believers who have struggled with this threshold time of liminality. Liminality is the time “in-between” social rituals. It’s basically the moment when you realize that you’ve left the familiar behind and you’re staring out into the great unknown. I didn’t realize that my feelings of disorder and uncertainty had a name! The speakers emphasized that just as chaos necessarily comes before order, so liminal space will come before any sense of structure or security. Knowing that there are others who have trusted God to show them the right path out of this swamp is a huge encouragement. It’s like all of the uncertainty and doubts the first thread caused, I can now name them–I can say to myself, “Sarah, you are in the sea of liminality right now. What choices can you make that demonstrate faith and obedience while still waiting on the Lord to show you the way out?”

The third thread: It seems silly, but I was really impacted by the movie Into the Woods. I saw it Friday night after my enlightening drive learning about liminality, and if you’re looking for the perfect cinematic display of “liminal space,” the “woods” of Into the Woods is perfect. All of our favorite familiar storybook characters end up going into the woods to make their wishes come true. While in the woods, they are confronted with giants and witches and the consequences of their wishes. The woods are the perfect visual metaphor for liminality. It’s a place without place, its a space of confusion with time to reflect and learn from your mistakes.

The main theme: One of the songs from Into the Woods is called “No one is alone.” Here’s my favorite little bit:

Mother cannot guide you.
Now you’re on your own.
Only me beside you.
Still, you’re not alone.
No one is alone. Truly.
No one is alone.
Sometimes people leave you.
Halfway through the wood.
Others may decieve you.
You decide what’s good.
You decide alone.
But no one is alone.

Because there are no coincidences in God’s economy, it’s no coincidence that I’ve also been listening to Jill Phillips’ new album that deals with a lot of these same issues–one of the songs is called “You are Not Alone.”

So what does this all mean? Well, I think it comes to this: I am not alone; no one is alone. I feel like I am about to be overtaken by the seas of uncertainty, but I have friends and family and strangers and movies and Scripture to tell me that God will not leave me here or let me live in uncertainty forever. I have a savior who has experienced these feelings Himself and He won’t leave me. He won’t forget me or fail to show me the way of escape. He has only ever been faithful to me, He drew me out of the woods of my sin and into the light of his presence. I can trust him to show me the way out, and I can be obedient even while I am still in the midst of confusion. My prayer is that I can transfer this into my real life come Monday morning.

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