Liminal Space

Have you ever had a dream or a goal?  I am a planner, so I feel the need to always have dreams and goals.  Dreams and goals are great because they give us a vision.  A destination.  An aspiration.

However, with any dream or goal we don’t instantly arrive, there is a process of becoming.  An in between.  That place where we have declared the goal, we may even be actively pursuing that goal, but have not yet achieved it.

Did you know there is an actual term for this in between?  It’s referred to as – liminal space (thanks to my friend Rebecca for sharing this gem).  I am sure many of us find ourselves presently in a liminal space.

It is easy to get discouraged and lose heart in the liminal space, but we are not alone.  Everyone at some point has found themselves in a liminal space.  Relationally.  Scholastically.  Professionally.  Spiritually.  Even many well-known Biblical characters found themselves in a liminal space.

Joseph, one of my favorite Bible characters, was given a big dream – his entire family would eventually bow down to him.  Yet it was 17 years before that dream came to fruition.  So, what did he do in his liminal space? He was enslaved and wrongfully imprisoned.  Not exactly the path most would choose to rise to power.

Moses spent 40 years shepherding sheep in the desert of Midian before he ever led God’s people out of Egypt.

David was anointed the next king of Israel and then he went back to shepherding his father’s sheep.  God eventually positioned him in King Saul’s household, possibly a step in the right direction in our minds.  He became a military leader, befriended Saul’s son Jonathan and married Saul’s daughter.  Also steps that seem to point in the right direction toward kingship.  But then…Saul set out to kill David and he literally had to run for his life.  From the time David was anointed until he was crowned king it was 15 liminal years.

The prophet Elijah anointed Elisha as his successor and then Elisha spent 6 years serving Elijah. How did he serve Elijah? He washed his hands. Not exactly the preparation most would expect to becoming the next great prophet.

Jesus himself was on the earth 30 years before his ministry ever began. Other than a few stories those 30 liminal years are summed up in a single verse:

And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.

Luke 2:52 – ESV

I don’t share these stories to discourage us.  I share them to encourage us that we are not alone in our hope deferred:

Hope deferred makes the heart sick,

But a dream fulfilled is a tree of life.

Proverbs 13:12 NLT

Oftentimes the realization of our dreams is a journey that takes time. That journey, the liminal space, can feel confusing and even downright discouraging at times. Just like the Proverbs states – “hope deferred makes the heart sick.” Especially when we feel our path is leading us further from our dream rather than closer to achieving it.  

Liminal spaces are transformational. Each of the aforementioned Bible characters were far different after their liminal spaces.  Joseph went from a cocky arrogant young man, who may have been speaking truth, but his delivery was all wrong to a gracious and merciful leader.  He saw his present circumstances and his liminal space as providence.  A divine set up for divine deliverance.

Liminal space is not wasted time.  Time spent just pining after our dreams.  It is meant to prepare us. God uses liminal spaces to mold and shape us into the person who can most effectively live out our dreams. 

Oftentimes we want to circumvent this process to arrive at immediate success, but that is not in our best interest. We live in an instant gratification world, but:

Liminal spaces are holy sacred spaces.

– Rebecca Hamlin.

This week let’s relish in the liminal space trusting that God has a purpose and a plan even here.  Let’s faithfully pursue our dreams, even if they feel unattainable.  Let’s trust God that the liminal space is not a – NO, but rather a – NOT YET.  Let’s yield to God’s molding and shaping trusting that each day we spend in the liminal space is equipping us to be the person God wants us to be when we fully step into the dreams he has for us.