How do you talk to graduate students about serving where they are – especially if you have not walked the path to tenure? Yet, like most people, I have been in many in-between places in life. Places in which it is easy to just wait until the next goal is met to do the important things in life. Once I get the degree – then I can serve at church. Once I make the next pay grade – then my position will be secure and I can witness more about Christ to co-workers.
However, as I review my life and look at that of others, it soon becomes evident that much of life is lived in liminal spaces – in the now and not yet – and not at the end points. Victor Turner in his study of rites of passage and other rituals, such as pilgrimage, highlights the in-between time as a significant element during such practices. It’s not merely a time to get through. Its very structure sets the stage for transformation. We are not in a comfortable, known place and are therefore more open to change.
At such times the opportunities for a deeper community – one Turner defines as communitas – confront us. As we live in-between and encounter others who are walking along similar paths, traditional barriers to relationships are often relaxed and new connections are possible. In these communities there are plenty of opportunities to serve – and be served.
From a theological perspective, Christians are always in a liminal space. We are fully redeemed because of what Christ accomplished on the cross. We are made right with God. Yet, creation is not fully restored. We continue to sin. So, we wait for that time of complete renewal. But how do we wait? Putting everything else on hold, or by fully diving into each moment?
In the Bible we see this is action. Noah, Abraham, David, the exiles, the disciples – they all leave places of comfort. Jacob was the home body – but after he deceived Esau for the second time, he must leave his place of comfort. Not until this departure does he encounter God in powerful and life changing ways. He could have taken this time and sulked, just waiting for Esau to calm down. Head down, doing his work. But instead he is aware, meets God, listens, and follows.
Where does God call us, today? He calls us to live where we are now as He serves us. During these uncomfortable times when we are waiting to reach the next step, we are whole people in relationships – with God and with our neighbor. Moreover, it is through people that God continues to restore his creation, build his kingdom, as we live out our vocations in work, family, society, church. Therefore, even in times of liminality, when we haven’t yet reached that next end point, we are living in vocations in which we are serving others.
Whether or not you are a graduate student, and finding yourself in a liminal space, consider the following:
- Be aware of the many times of transition ahead along with the opportunities they bring.
- Consider how God calls you to serve others through your unique vocations.
- Most importantly, know the ultimate story, God’s story, toward which you are moving. It puts everything else in perspective.