The convergence of a master bath redo and the revisions of my first draft of my 4th book collided in my life recently. As often happens, the collision cracked open new vistas for my mind to mull over. Of all that I pondered in the dark hours of the night, this truth seemed to be the most profound: work is what happens in the middle.
In both the bathroom remodel and the book, the beginning was exciting to say the least. The giddy prospect of something new. The imaginings of what that would look like, on the page and in the space just off my bedroom. Each crash that tore away the old facade ignited a thrill, just as each new word on the page promised good things to come.
But then something happened. The middle. And I got discouraged. I knew from experience–my own and others’–that the end would come, and it would all be fine. But in the meantime, I had to live in the middle. I had to work through the middle. It required effort. And tenacity. By it’s very nature. Getting through the middle is the work. Recognizing that became a freeing thing. Here are three lessons I’ve discovered about the work that happens in “the middle” of almost anything.
1. The Middle is messy.
Our remodeler tore out the old tile, the old tub, the old toilet and shower. What was left? A mess! My bedroom is caked in the dust of it all. The removal exposed other conditions beneath that had to be addressed. In the same way, once I’d moved past those first few euphoric days of revisions, I found myself in a tangle of plot points moved up or back, conversations that needed to happen sooner or later. Like a skein of yarn left to unravel on its own, I had a mess of epic proportions.
2. The Middle is ugly.
I think this point flows directly out of the mess. In the midst of mess, you can’t see what was or what will be–you can only see the ugliness between. It seems even with work, even as the “mess” becomes less, the beauty doesn’t reveal itself right away. You wonder. You second guess. You fear that what you imagined in the beginning as an master oasis or a readable novel will not arrange itself to your liking, let alone your expectations.
3. The Middle feels like it will never end.
This is the biggest problem, the hardest part of the middle. It feels eternal. Day after day, a little work here, a little work there and still it feels the same ugly mess as the day before. Progress is occasionally seen and felt, but setbacks are frequent, leaving you discouraged. At this point, I often find myself wondering, what have I done? or even should I just quit now? And yet most of us persevere, because we must. Even if it feels like slogging through quicksand.
The end of the book has come. At least for this round. And it felt good. The bathroom is close. Oh, so close! And it feels good. But my musings on the middle took me far beyond either of those things. I realized that the work in the middle is more about any specific project or circumstance. Our entire lives are lived in that work in the middle, aren’t they?
In the beginning God created the earth, and it was good. When Jesus returns and ushers us into the new heaven and the new earth, it will be good. But for now we live our lives in the middle, between sin and redemption, between grace and mercy, between justification and sanctification, between the creation of time and the end of time. We live in the messy, ugly, feels-like-it-will-never-end middle of eternity. It’s work. Hard work. But we don’t do it alone. We live it with one another, encouraging each other, and we live it in Christ, who gives peace in the midst of the troubles of this world. So we press on, our eyes on Christ, the author and finisher (the beginner and ender) of our faith. And the work in the middle changes us to be more like Him.