Every Jesus-follower I know has hit the wall at some time or another. Their career brings them under the leadership of someone they don’t respect. The family business stalls out – it won’t die but won’t grow. Their marriage is ‘so-so’ and their spouse is beginning to wear thin. They need to move but their house sits on the market and sits on the market and sits on the market. Or maybe it’s health stuff. Chronic pain. Crohn’s disease. Arthritis. Dialysis. Conditions that require constant care or unceasing pain.
In A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, Donald Miller calls it “the long middle.” The journey is underway . . . you’ve launched into the darkness and you’re paddling in the direction you think is right, but you have no idea how long you’re going to be in ‘just keep paddling’ mode. There’s no timeline, no ‘mile markers,’ no “112 miles to Stuckey’s” signs. There’s one thing to do . . . only one. Keep paddling. Persevere. Hang in there.
I’ve lived so much of my life focused on the future. “What’s next?” “How much further?” “When will we get there?” “What’s the next step?” All questions that frustrate when you’re in the ‘long middle’ and have no answers other than the obvious. Keep paddling and trust God.
Speaking of God, where is He while we’re struggling through ‘the long middle?’
I believe He’s in you, you are in Him, and He’s right beside you. Explaining the ‘indwelling’ of the Holy Spirit and the exchanged life is beyond my pay grade. But I get the reality of His Presence with me . . . that I don’t sit in the boat alone. The peace that comes when I call out His name and sense Him saying, “You don’t have to shout . . . I’m right here.”
But there are times when He’s silent and He seems so still that your mind starts to wonder if He’s actually there. You lean over and punch the air with your elbow. Nothing. You pray, “Lord, please speak, your servant is listening.” Crickets. Not a word.
But then you remember His promise “I will never leave you.” “I will never abandon you.” “I will be with you always.” You have to (again) take that leap of faith and know He’s there, even when there’s no evidence to prove it.
I have a dear friend who’s been in the ‘long middle’ for years. Chronic pain with little relief. He’s tired. Wants to quit paddling. Stopped singing. Prayers stop at the ceiling. He feels distant from God. Abandoned by God. Who can blame him after 25 years of constant pain?
As we prayed, God reminded him of something that happened to him on a mission trip to Mexico years ago. He’d gone out to walk. It was dark. Real dark. He walked right into a cactus. Stunned and in pain, he turned around to see the faint outline of ‘home’ in the dark distance. He cried out to the Lord, “I’m stuck. I can’t see where I’m going. I need your help.” From deep within, a voice said, “Keep walking.”
He called me this week to say, “I’m walking again.” I love it. I love him. I love Him.
Wherever you are in life right now, keep walking. Keep paddling. If you know Him, He’s with you, no matter how it feels. And who’s in the boat with you is more important than where the boat is going or what it’s going through.