By Rachel Clair
Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right
Here I am, stuck in the middle with you
Yes, I’m stuck in the middle with you
Have you heard that song before? It’s kinda weird, but it popped into my head today because that’s where I find myself - stuck in the middle, likely with you.
I’ve recently found myself looking for a blog or a devotional from someone who’s also stuck in the middle. Someone who says, “Hey, I got you. I’m stuck in the middle with you. I really have no idea when we’re going to get to leave, but I’m here. I’m with you, and I fully believe God is here too.”
While I’ve found a lot of stuff to read, most of it has come from people who are past their messy middle. They’ve learned some lessons and ready to share them. It’s all been good, but it’s just not offering up that, “I’m in it with you” encouragement I need right now.
A writer friend once said that when she’s searching for something to read and she can’t find what she’s looking for, it’s probably because she’s searching for herself. She’s looking for her voice and her perspective. She’s got a story to tell that’s bottled up inside, ready to burst, so she better stop looking and just start writing.
So here I am - coming at you from right smack dab in the messy middle - with a letter, a story, written just as much for me as it is for you.
A little set up for you before I jump in - these last two years have been characterized by loss for me and my husband. His dad died in the summer of 2017. A few of our really close friends moved out of state. We suffered some deep hurt and betrayal from another friend. My sister lost a baby, and I left a job that I had hoped would become my long term calling. As 2018 draws to a close, I sense little glimmers that we might finally be rounding the corner, that hope and joy might be possible again. But for the most part, I feel like we’re still swimming around somewhere in the middle, looking for direction, mourning loss, and begging to be healed.
This summer, while directing a kids’ camp at Soul City Church in Chicago, God handed me the story of Joseph. Joseph was a man more than familiar with the middle. He had 11 brothers, and he was his father’s favorite. I’m sure that put him in the middle of quite a few family feuds.
One day, while Joseph’s brothers were out tending the family’s flock, Jacob (the father) sent Joseph out to check on his brothers.
“Go and see how your brothers and the flocks are getting along,” Jacob said. “Then come back and bring me a report.”
Sounds like a recipe for disaster, if you ask me. The favorite son gets to stay at home while the rest of the brothers work. Then, he’s sent to check on them and report back to the father on how they are doing. Can we say, “Perfect storm for pride and jealousy to collide?”
Sure enough, Joseph set out to find his brothers, and when they saw him coming, they made plans to kill him.
You can read the whole story in Genesis 37. In fact, you should because of the twists and turns happen, and by the end of it, Joseph is sold to a caravan of traders who then sell him to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the king of Egypt.
Can you imagine what this must have been like for Joseph? His day started out at home with his dad and ended as a slave in Egypt. Joseph suddenly found himself in the middle, just past the loss of a life he knew and loved, but quite far from the blessings and success God had in store for him.
You and I have the benefit of reading Joseph’s entire story in the Bible. We can easily find out that things end well for him: he becomes a successful officer in Potiphar’s household; he saves the entire region of Egypt from famine; and he is reunited with his family.
But at this moment, when Joseph’s riding in the caravan, when he’s being sold to Potiphar in Egypt, he has no idea how his story will unfold. All he knows is that he’s not where he once was, and he desperately wants to get out of the situation he’s in.
In his book, “The Land Between,” Jeff Manion writes that the period of waiting, the time between one thing and the next, is a land ripe with potential growth. But we get to choose what will grow. Will it be bitterness and resentment towards the Lord? Or will it be faith and trust. Will we grow an attitude of complaint? Or a posture of surrender?
“The habits of the heart that we foster in this space—our responses and reactions—will determine whether the Land Between results in spiritual life or spiritual death,” he says. “We choose.”
I’ve read Joseph’s story several times over the last few months. Unsurprisingly, it also popped up as the subject matter of a small group I was in this fall. Joseph’s middle lasted for a really long time.
Scholars believe somewhere around 13 years passed between the time Joseph was sold into slavery and the time he was made an overseer in Potiphar’s house. An additional nine years passed before he saw his brothers again, and another two years past before they were officially reunited. That’s 25 years! Can you imagine? And as if being sold into slavery wasn’t enough, Joseph was also accused of a sexual assault he didn’t commit and thrown into prison for several years during this time. Talk about a messy middle.
Joseph didn’t know how his life was going to turn out. He didn’t know he would become wealthy and successful, and that he would be the one to save his brothers from starvation. But God did.
Genesis 39:2 tells us that, “The Lord was with Joseph so he succeeded in everything he did as he served in the home of his Egyptian master.”
Genesis 39:21 says it again, “But the Lord was with Joseph in prison and showed him his faithful love…”
God was with Joseph, even in the messy middle. The writer of Genesis doesn’t fill in all the details of how Joseph reacted to his situation, but since he is human, I have to imagine it was struggle sometimes. I’m sure he cried out to God, doubted God, got angry with God and angry at his situation. But the fruit of his life shows us that overall, he trusted God in the middle, and God used the middle to grow Joseph in ways he couldn’t grow before.
So let me ask you this, what messy middle currently defines your situation? In what “land between” do you find yourself? Do you feel stuck? Have you just arrived? Are you kicking and screaming? Are you seated in prayer?
In the same breath that God gave me Joseph this summer, he also gave me Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your path straight.”
That was in July, and it is now December.
My situation hasn’t changed much. I still have a growing desire to find success as a writer and creator, but have no idea how it will happen. I’m still asking for a full time job, while learning to thank God for the financial provision he is giving, even if it’s less than what I want. My husband was diagnosed with depression earlier this year, and we still haven’t found a medication or a rhythm of communication that will let us live in peace. The conflict with our friends that hurt us so deeply is still bruising on our hearts, and we find ourselves wrestling in the middle. Everywhere we look, it's the middle.
I’ve written a lot about waiting, about existing in the place between where you were and the place where you want to go. Waiting is hard; most of us don’t like it. But I’m finding that as I pull my gaze away from the past and stop focusing so hard on the future, God’s light burns bright right here in the messy middle with me. He is present. He is here, and he longs for me to be here with him.
I want you to know I see you. I’m right here with you in the middle. I have no idea how long it’s going to last or when we’re going to get to leave, but I’m here. I’m with you, and the best part is, I know God is here with you too.
You can read more of Rachel’s incredible work over on The Sunday Afternoon Blog