Suspended

November 2015

There’s this thing among Christians where we want complete stories from one another. We want a beginning, a middle, and an end. There’s very little willingness to live in suspension. Maybe this is because it doesn’t line up with the Clifs-Notes way in which we usually talk about God and the Bible. We have the whole story on speed-dial — God makes the world, the world goes wrong, the world is made right. Point A resolves to Point B. And then there’s the personal, individual Gospel — we were broken, Jesus came to save us, and we are made right to live abundantly in him. Our faith is a narrative faith, a trajectory we revisit from beginning to end almost every time we’re together. There’s always a beginning, a middle, and a conclusion.

So what happens when our personal stories get stuck somewhere between point A and B, or between B and C? It’s awkward, but why? We love suspended things. We love a musical chord that’s dissonant, hanging in the air, floating on a millisecond before its resolution washes over us. We adore that moment of free-fall between acrobats, the hitch of breathlessness when all could go wrong or all could go right and it’s brilliantly unclear for only a second until the expected — yet thrilling — catch is made. We love the suspension in a speaker’s voice when he pauses. Ever so subtly. To put emphasis on that one. Single. Word.

Suspension is brilliant.

Except when it’s the norm and not the nano-second. Then it becomes grating and frightening, and it makes for some awkward Christian conversations.

It’s awkward to shrug your shoulders when your friend can’t seem to believe in God’s goodness anymore. Awkward when another friend bemoans the endless dysfunction in her family. Awkward, even, when I look in the mirror and see a very different person than the one I thought I’d encounter at this stage of life.

When will my story line up nicely with the Bible story, the Gospel-story? When will I be able to stand up in front of a church gathering and share my life in Point-A-to-B terms? And quickly I go from asking “when?” to “will I ever”?

In 2 Corinthians, the apostle Paul alludes to his ever-fascinating “thorn in the flesh,” a “messenger of Satan” sent to torment him. He asked God multiple times to remove it but to no avail. He concludes its purpose is to keep him from being conceited about the powerful revelations and position he had received from God. I wonder how that resolved itself in Paul’s life. I wonder if he was forever suspended over dark water or if he was able to stand and proclaim victory over this thing that interfered with a simpler trajectory.

The longest suspension bridge in the world is the Akashi Kaikyō Bridge, linking the city of Kobe on the mainland of Honshu to Iwaya on Awaji Island, in Japan. It crosses the busy Akashi Strait, a major waterway that often experiences bad storms. In 1955, two ferries sank in the Strait, killing 168 people, a tragedy that prompted the Japanese government to begin plans for a massive, 2-mile long suspension bridge. And like travelers on the bridge today, I am also trying to learn to trust my own suspension. Not only to trust God Himself, but to trust Suspension Itself. To see it as a way over troubled waters, the dark nature of which only God knows. Suspension might be inconvenient, long, confusing, painful and seemingly endless, but what about the alternative? Piloting my little ship through some other more sinister storm?

My story — your story — is a hard one to tell. We had a beginning. That, at least, is certain. We’re somewhere in the middle, I think. Or maybe we have to go and start a new beginning once or twice, or every day, and the end of the story could be now — or nowhere in sight.

So are we willing to travel in suspension? To keep moving forward over the unknown, on an equally unknown trajectory? Can we hold dearly to the sentiment expressed by Moses who led the Israelites on a windy road to the Promised Land?

Hear his confidence, placed unequivocally in God instead of in predictability or a tidy plan:

“In your unfailing love you will lead the people you have redeemed. In your strength you will guide them to your holy dwelling” (Exodus 15:13).

Julie

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