There is a feeling in life, a position in life, that I absolutely hate. I was under the illusion that this painful moment is a one-time season that we must go through when we are in our 20s in order to grow and mature. After we have gone through it, we then have been brought to a spiritual place where God can use us more effectively.
In some talks that I have given, I use the image of alabaster flasks from the ancient Middle East. These alabaster flasks were filled with perfume and then were sealed. Since there were no screw-off caps in the ancient world, the only way to access the fragrant oil was to break the flask. Once broken, the fragrance was released.
This is what I thought the “Eliza Doolittle” syndrome did. I thought there was a one-time period of suffering that will break us and then allow us to be used by God for the rest of our lives never to be endured again.
That is far from the truth.
If you’re not familiar with the character of Eliza Doolittle in the play, “Pygmalion”, and in the musical, “My Fair Lady”, she was the subject of a bet between two members of the English elite and upper crust. The bet was that one of the gentlemen, Henry Higgins, could take a lowly street vendor, Eliza, and pass her off as royalty. Spoiler alert: if you aren’t familiar with the story, it worked. By teaching her how to speak properly, she was mistaken for a Hungarian princess. In the wake of this seeming moment of triumph, she was reduced to tears. She asked, “What is to become of me?” This was the right question to ask and it is something that I have asked of the Lord on too many occasions. She asked this question because she did not fit in to the British upper crust. She was not a proper lady. Yet, she couldn’t go back to being a flower girl either. She didn’t fit in there any more either because she had been exposed to a new world and differently way of living. She was alone. She was in between two worlds. She was stuck in the between, in the “liminal” space.
This feeling of being caught between to worlds or two moments in life is incredibly painful. My past life is no longer working for me and I can’t see my next place. In these moments, we can be sincerely angry with the Lord. Eliza Doolittle said to Henry Higgins, “What have you made me good for?” When we cannot go back to our past self or former life and we cannot imagine our future we are Eliza Doolittle’s liminal space. When we have spent months and years preparing for a particular ministry or career and when we hate it, or when it hates us, we are Eliza Doolittle’s liminal space.
Again, I went through this as a young man and I thought I was done. I was very wrong. I continue to find myself in this liminal space.
When we are in the middle of it, we cannot imagine when or how we get out. My hope, however, lies in the fact that I have never, ever stayed there. Every time I have been in that space I have been broken and I sincerely believe that my relationship with the Lord, and sometimes my ministry has grown more fragrant. I guess if I am going to belabor the analogy, we are not a single alabaster flask. Instead there are many alabaster flasks within each of us.
This gives me hope.
Again, I have never stayed in that liminal space even when they have lasted for two or three years. I have always found myself out of these situations it and in a place of fruitfulness. While I am in the midst of these times, there are two things that have kept me sane. The first is St. Peter. “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of everlasting life.” The second is the lyrics from a song:
We’ve come this far by faith,
leaning on the Lord.
Trusting in His Holy Word,
He’s never failed me, yet.
Whoa, I can’t turn around.
We’ve come this far by faith.
Looking back, I feel so silly for having doubted God’s faithfulness. Even in the midst of it, I know God will not fail me, but it is so hard to modify the feelings of despair. Yes …despair. When I find myself in the throes of defeat, I can’t not feel defeated. The only thing I can do is remind God of what he has done and what I have done. I have said to him, “Lord: I have followed you imperfectly, but I have sincerely wanted to follow you and I believe I have been obedient to your movement in my life and in the life of my family. Why did you bring me to this place?”
I believe the Lord hears the cry of an honest heart. The greatest act of faith I can do in these moments is to speak to God angrily. If I am angry with him, it means I know he is there and that he is the one to do something about my situation. Good news. He always has and I am left broken, but I am far more fragrant as a disciple and more fruitful as a minister.