We have just come to the close of perhaps one of the most memorable years that we will ever experience. We are all tired of hearing about the pandemic and COVID and masks and social distancing. We want it all to end and there is fresh hope with the acceptance of vaccines happening all over the world. However, we aren’t there yet. We are in a liminal space. We haven’t come to the end of one season and we haven’t entered into the next. It’s the space in between and it can be uncomfortable, unsettling, emotionally challenging and tiring.
One definition of liminal space is: a transitional or transformative space. A waiting area between one point in time and space and the next. (Julia Thomas)
Liminal spaces aren’t meant to be lived in but passed through like doors. Airports are the classic metaphor – they aren’t the final landing place, but you go through them to get to a destination. If you experience any kind of waiting, you are usually in a liminal space. Do you like waiting? It can be exciting, boring, holding anticipation or dread. Everyone will experience it differently. When we are in liminal spaces, we have the feeling of just being on the verge of something new. The question really is though, am I learning in this space or just rushing to move on to the new thing – whatever that is!
We talk a lot about transitions in YWAM and actually they are a part of all our lives. Transitions incorporate the moving from one space to another space. The liminal space is that mental space, the physical space or the space in the dark transitional tunnel where you aren’t where you want to be but aren’t where you have been – you are in limbo, or liminal space.
I am sitting in my home in the south of Spain, wondering what this coming year will hold. I applied for my permanent residence in Canada back in July but haven’t heard anything from Canadian immigration. Back then I was told it was a 6-month process! 6 months on, who knows how long it will take. I am in a liminal space and it’s definitely uncomfortable.
We encounter simple liminal spaces all the time. For instance, as I sit down to put pen to paper, I pause to gather some thoughts – I am in a liminal space. Artists find creativity in these spaces as they begin those creative moves with their paintbrushes or mould their clay or thread their needle or whatever kind of art, they are involved in.
People moving from one ministry to another, moving from one role to another, from one stage of life to another, from one country to another, all experience that space in between. It’s an important space for reflection, envisioning, creativity and growth. This whole season of COVID has been one long liminal space. What have we done with it? What will we continue to do with it? How has it changed us? What will 2021 look like as a result of what we have done in this space?
I have never been one to relish and enjoy the process. I have always wanted to get to the finish line as quickly as I can. In doing so, of course, I can easily miss out on the important lessons to be learned on route. And that’s what this article is all about – making the most of our experience, so we can move on as new improved versions of ourselves.
I asked myself this morning, what has been the benefits of liminal space for me over this year of 2020?
- Romans 5:3 says, ‘Even in times of trouble we have a joyful confidence, knowing that our pressures will develop in us patient endurance.’ To be honest, this verse hasn’t been one of my favourites and patience has been a weak virtue. But this season has certainly encouraged me to develop in this important quality.
- I get used to having freedom to make my own decisions and plan and organise my life. This period of COVID has helped me appreciate the emotions of millions of people around the world that feel helpless and unable to have control of their lives.
- I have learned the importance of slowing down, spending time in processing with the Lord and allowing things to sit and settle before jumping into action. I have lived in Europe most of my life and I need to work through the major change of moving to another continent.
- It is easy to become fixed on certain methods and ways of doing things. This liminal space has brought creativity not just for now but perhaps for new approaches for the ongoing future. Life won’t be the same again. That fixed way of doing things also causes me to have a lack of ‘indifference.’ That quality of being open to the options that God brings and not having to have my will done!
- Perhaps the greatest benefit is learning a new level of trust. When you are in a liminal space, the past is gone, the future is blurry, and you have to take one day at a time, trusting Jesus every step of the way.
We must pause and reflect on the challenges before us and pay attention to all the emerging questions that are raised. What thresholds are you crossing or perhaps thresholds that have been thrust upon you and unwanted? Whatever kind of liminal space you are in – ask the Holy Spirit to bring patience, peace and trust in this coming new year. This space can be the most life transforming time if you are willing to learn its lessons.
Happy new year