Every story has a beginning.
Every story has an ending.
And every story has a middle.
Yesterday I asked the question, “Why do Christians tell crappy stories?”
I think part of the answer is that we don’t often live in the middle.
We’re good at the beginning — the lostness, the helplessness, the disaster, the crisis.
And then we jump straight to the end, where everything gets wrapped up, finished and redeemed.
But what about the middle — the place where many of us have lived for a long time (and maybe are living now)?
One of my very favorite sacred stories is the parable of the Prodigal Son….the privileged, spoiled, rebellious young man who runs away from home, loses all his money, comes to the end of himself when he wakes up in a pig sty, and finally starts for home.
As Jesus is telling the story, he says that while the son was still far off, his father saw him and ran down the road to embrace him.
It’s a beautiful and inspiring story. Rembrandt painted a stunning portrait of the scene. And Henri Nouwen wrote a now-famous book about the parable.
The story has a sudden, startling beginning and a heartwarming ending.
But what about the middle?
The story doesn’t tell us how long the son was gone, but regardless of whether the son was gone for months or years, the father must have had many sleepless nights. He must’ve shed countless tears. His heart must’ve ached and ached. He must have been so worried. He must have wrung his hands and wondered where he’d gone wrong as a parent. He must have blamed himself. He must have lamented his son’s selfish choices. He must have gone to dinner parties and weddings and watched other families who seemed so happy. Or maybe, because he was tired of intrusive questions and uncomfortable stares, he simply stayed home.
And the story is even more beautiful because of that. Because the son was gone for a long time, and all the while, his father waited and prayed and hoped.
When we tell stories that start with a sudden beginning and jump to an ending that only God could write, we skip over a crucial part of the story: the middle. The place where we wait. Where we sit in silence. Where we have no answers. Where our hearts ache and we can’t sleep and we wonder if we’ll ever feel whole again.
It’s there, in the middle, that God’s soft and subtle grace sustains us. Where Love gives us strength to breathe in, and breathe out, and then do it all again. Where Mercy wakes us up every morning and whispers, “Try again.” Where Hope beats in our chest, even as our heart is aching more than we can say.
In order to tell pen songs and write stories and create art that’s believable — and in order to live lives that are honest and vulnerable — we have to talk about the middle. We have to acknowledge the emptiness and the ache. We have to find the courage to put our feet on the floor every morning. We have to pray for faith to try again.
We have to sit with each other on the front porches of messy and desperate situations…praying for the first glimpse of the missing piece finding its way back home.