Beginnings. These we understand to be the point at which something begins. They come to us in many different ways. Some are joyfully anticipated. Like the birth of a child. When he finally pops the question. The long awaited promotion to the corner office. An alcoholic pours the final bottle of booze down the drain. The laying of the foundation stone for your dream home.
Other beginnings, however, can be daunting or sad. Like starting a new job or relocating to a new country. The death of a loved one and learning to live without them. The loss of a job or the end of a relationship. A deadly virus declared a global pandemic. Such beginnings may seem like the end rather than a beginning. But Seneca was inspired in declaring: Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end. Life is a cycle of beginnings and endings and unless you’re dead (the permanent ending), the ending is usually the beginning of something else. Every story has an end, but in life every ending is a new beginning. The beginning of a fresh story. Indeed, every new day is an opportunity for a beautiful new beginning.
Enough with the beginnings and endings. What about the in-between period? The interim time? The time between “here” and “there”? The journey from “Story A” to “Story B”? The long dash in your life? Oftentimes, we do not realize we are in the in-between period, but the truth is that the high or low of a beginning does not last forever. You soon realize the new baby is a lot of work. The excitement of marriage settles down and you discover marriage is not a bed of roses. You move into that new house and you have to contend with additional maintenance and utility costs. The intense feelings of despair characteristic of grief over the death of a loved one soon diminish to more positive memories of the deceased person. You adapt to the “new normal” of living with the Coronavirus. We are always in the in-between period. In-betweenness is a necessary human condition – the quintessential human condition to living. It is where everyday life happens.
Today is Good Friday. I thought about how Jesus’ followers must have felt when he was crucified and the world fell dark and silent. Did they consider it a beginning or the end? Imagine them going back to their homes with their spirits crushed to the core. They had given up their livelihoods to follow this guy for three years and now he was dead. Where were they to start again? For three years, Jesus had taught and guided them. He had even miraculously provided for their daily needs. Now what? Those three days between the crucifixion and resurrection must have felt like the end for them. Not forgetting they risked being hunted down and killed by the same people that killed Jesus. Without the full knowledge we now have that Good Friday would give way to Easter, the followers of Jesus must have been in a state of despair during that in-between period.
Then there is Joseph. The teenager with a coat of many colors. Favored by his father Jacob over his eleven brothers, he dreamt that one day his brothers would bow down to him. And for that, they conspired to get rid of him. They sold him off to some merchants for less than what a common slave was worth. That’s how bad they despised him! You know the story. After many years, thirteen to be precise, his dreams came true and the brothers bowed down to him when he was promoted to be the second most powerful man in Egypt. Yet the in-between period was not a walk in the park. He had to contend with tramped up charges by a crazy Potiphar’s wife. He had to do jail time. He had to deal with people forgetting to return a favor. All this while he was living in a foreign land, away from his family and way of life. Without knowing how and when his dreams would be fulfilled, the in-between period must have been difficult for Joseph.
It doesn’t help that the in-between period is often undefined. The followers of Jesus waited three days for a new dawn. Joseph waited thirteen years. But this was not known to them. The waiting was hard, as it is for us all. We do not enjoy waiting. We do not enjoy the in-between period. Even when the beginning is a good one, we soon tire of it and get anxious for the next high. It is human nature. The impatience at traffic lights or check out queues or waiting at a doctor’s clinic is just a glimpse of who we really are.
So, what to do during the in-between period?
It may sound stupid, but waiting is all you can do. What matters is how you wait. How you spend the in-between time. Your attitude during the in-between period. We can learn a lot from Joseph.
Do what you can with what you have, wherever you are.
Joseph was not in Egypt by choice. He had no idea what would become of him. But whatever he did, he did it with excellence. He performed his duties in Potiphar’s house so well, the guy put him in charge of everything. Well, except the wife! When in prison, he continued to excel and the warden put him in charge of all the other prisoners. It is amazing that he even excelled in the interpretation of dreams. Picture this. A foreigner in prison has the guts to tell a high-ranking prisoner, Pharaoh’s own chief baker, that he shouldn’t expect to leave the prison alive! He said it as it was even though he didn’t know his own fate. Throughout the thirteen years, Joseph did what he could to the best of his ability.
Many theologians agree that Joseph is a type of Christ. Jesus endured much suffering but he was faithful till the end. And as Jesus would declare at the cross, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do“, Joseph forgave his brothers, declaring, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” Forgiveness is the flipside of gratitude. It involves choosing to release things like offenses, hurt feelings, judgments, and condemning thoughts. Gratitude, on the other hand, involves choosing to focus on the positive and good things in life and giving thanks for them. Forgiveness is about letting go of the things that weigh us down. Gratitude is about giving thanks for the things that lift us up.
During the in-between, a grateful heart makes the waiting bearable. Even worthwhile. Psychologists tell us the person who feels gratitude is thankful for what they have, and does not constantly seek more. That’s contentment with the here and now. And even in the worst circumstances, there is always something to be grateful for:
“The world has enough beautiful mountains and meadows, spectacular skies and serene lakes. It has enough lush forests, flowered fields, and sandy beaches. It has plenty of stars and the promise of a new sunrise and sunset every day. What the world needs more of is people to appreciate and enjoy it.” – Michael Josephson
Another thing to do during the in-between is to let go of Story A in order for Story B to emerge. Many of us are tied up in the past. We specialize in the “if onlys”. Imagine if Joseph had remained stuck in his father’s household where he had everything he needed. Where he was his father’s favorite, remaining at home when his brothers went away to graze the flocks. His story would definitely have been different. The in-between story we now read wouldn’t have taken three chapters to tell. We must break away from the things that keep us stuck in the old story. This calls for courage to seek what we need to get through whatever our in-between entails. It will often mean saying “No, this is not what I need right now”.
Joseph’s story is our story. His hope that kept him going during the in-between period is also our hope. We individually wait in whatever narrative that is unfolding in our lives but we mustn’t miss the forest for the trees – God’s purpose in the in-between. He prepared Joseph to save his brethren for thirteen years. He let His own beloved Son die a shameful death for the fulfilment of His redemption plan.
Your in-between period may be hard but if you trust God, He will work all things for your own good. Live in integrity and be confident that He will come through for you at His perfect timing.
After all, Good Friday gives way to Easter.