Traditionally when you read a story or watch a movie there is a beginning, middle and end. We mostly focus on the beginning and end but don't spend much time dwelling on the middle. Because the middle is just the middle. There is no significance. Nothing happens in the middle, and yet a lot happens in the middle.
The middle is the time where they are learning, growing, becoming. In a mystery, the middle is where the clues are gathered. In a love story it is the time where they are getting to know each other. We learn details about characters and their lives in the middle. Sometimes the middle is where tragic events occur that cause our hero or heroine to grow and examine the choices of life. Everything that happens in the middle is vitally important to what happens next but not always the part of the story we talk about. When you think about the Matrix, do you remember how Neo struggled to believe he was the one and had doubts or do you remember how he confidently walked through a security gate and the epic series of action scenes that followed. We remember how he came to believe and did things that they didn't know were possible, but before that, he was just a guy on a cold ship, wearing old clothes and with serious doubts about who he was.
The stories in the bible have beginnings, middles and ends. Abraham was told by God to sacrifice Isaac, brought him up the mountain to do so and at the last minute God stopped him and provided an alternate sacrifice. God's people were rescued from Egypt, wandered for 40 years in the desert and then were given the promise land. The prodigal son was given his inheritance, was gone many years and then returned. Mary was told she would give birth to God's son, 9 months of pregnancy passed and then Jesus was born. 33 years later he was crucified on a cross, 3 days past and then he rose from the dead.
What happens in the middle? What was it like for Abraham to walk up that mountain not knowing God would save his only son? What did the Israelites do for 40 years wandering the desert wondering what the purpose of their life was? What was the father of the prodigal son thinking when he sold half his stuff, gave it to his son who he loved and watched him walk away unsure he would ever see him again? What was it like for Mary to spend all those months being judged? And then all those years raising Jesus and watching him grow and be part of their lives. He didn't launch his ministry at 18 after high school, when he was an adult, he continued to live as a regular man learning and listening well into his adult life. What was Mary thinking about the fact that she was raising God's son and yet he was doing nothing significant? What were Jesus' disciples thinking during those 3 days Jesus was in the tomb? How they all must have suffered.
We know the stories, know how they end, the beautiful way God redeems, works out situations. He has a purpose for everything he does. So when we see someone in the middle or we are in the middle we tell ourselves God will work it out. And He does! No doubt about it. Eventually. God does not make random decisions, he is not surprised by anything that happens. God does not go about reacting to what pops out in front of him. He didn't leave the Israelites in the desert for 40 years because he forgot about them or was busy with something else. There is deep purpose in the middle.
In the middle we grow, learn, listen, believe.
I imagine Abraham walking up that mountain praying, telling God he trusted him, reminding himself of God's promise and power to fulfill it. Reminding himself of God's sovereignty and his commitment to Him. But I also can't imagine the walk up the mountain without also hearing Abraham's doubts, fears. Why are you asking this of me God? How can you fulfill your promise if I sacrifice Isaac to you? I don't want to do this Lord, please don't ask me to do this. And I imagine a deep sadness settling on him as he got closer and knew he must obey the Lord. The full gamut of grief.
I imagine the Israelites wander the desert, day in and day out. The routine can become comfortable and familiar. Life happens. Manna and quail show up every day to feed them. They walk, set up tents, build fires, sleep. Wake up, break down camp and move again. They marry, have children, celebrate, learn, grow, listen. But they wonder what they are doing, how long must they do it. They get tired of all the same, see other nations building buildings, building wealth, setting down roots, having a place to belong and yet they just wander.
I imagine the father of the prodigal son. The grief he must have felt when his son asked for his inheritance. I imagine him selling half of all he had to give his son the money he desired and then watching him walk down the path away from him. I imagine what it must have felt like to not know if he would ever see him again. And I imagine all those years the father spent, rebuilding his wealth, taking care of his land, enjoying his other son yet knowing someone was missing from all their celebrations. Always remembering the son who left. I imagine him wondering what he did wrong. Wishing he could go back and be a better father. His desire to go find him and bring him back. Tell him he is wrong and make him understand how much the father loves him. And how much more valuable that is than all of his wealth and any inheritance he might receive. And yet, he waits patiently at home.
I imagine Mary going through a pregnancy, trying to convince people she did not cheat on Joseph, being judged, hiding, being scared of what was happening to her. Trusting God and yet, wondering, so much wondering when we are in the middle, Mary wondering what will happen to her. Why did God chose her?
I imagine Mary's pain as her son is killed, crucified. As she watches him die. And his disciples who gave up families and livelihoods to follow him. 3 days of wondering, why they did that? Do they have anything to go back to? What is next for them? I imagine a real crisis of faith at that moment.
Maybe it is just me but when I am in the middle I tend to get wiggly. Sometimes the middle can be OK. We are in the middle of John's educational journey. It isn't fun but I can practically taste the thrill of victory that will come when he is finished and has a job in hand. And the success will be sweeter because of all we did to get there.
However, not all middles are the result of a clear goal or plan. Sometimes you are in the middle of something you don't want to be in, sometimes you get put there by someone else and you have no idea when or if it will ever end. Being in the middle of something you didn't choose, no fun.
Still, the stories give us hope. Keep us going. Abraham came down the mountain with his son, the Israelites settled in the promise land, the prodigal son came home, Jesus was born and had a ministry, he rose from the dead and is reining to this day. Knowing all that doesn't make the middle difficult, a big pain in the butt, a place we want to run from but, it does remind us on those days that there will be an end and God's purpose is always so much more amazing than what we had planned for ourselves.