If you’ve ever lived on a super cute little side street, with porches and front yards that make you swoon, the occasional barking dog, and trees that beg you to step up your multi tasking game of looking up and watching where you walk, book ended by two main thoroughfares or even one main thoroughfare, you can relate. I live on said super cute little side street. In order to make it just about anywhere- work, the gym, the grocery store, Target, or Starbucks, I have to cross a big ol’ busy street.
Now, there’s a method to crossing at the end of my street which intersects smack in the middle of the busy street. First, the traffic lights at one end of the busy street has to be red and at the other, they need to be green. Then, I have to make it to the middle of the street before it narrows into turn lanes. If can make it to the middle, getting all the way across the street is typically easy peasy. Make it to the middle then make it all the way to my final destination, which depending on the day could be to work or to get a tall soy green tea latte.
I’m learning in this season of my life, it’s important to get to the middle but not to get stuck. The middle is not the final destination, just a place to pause, so I can strategically get where I am trying to go. It’s important to start. To make the lists, to apply, to purge, to let go, to shift. It’s necessary to take the class, download the app, meet with the financial adviser, unsubscribe from your favorite shops so you don’t feel like you’re missing out on “a great deal” every time an email comes through, do your homework on the best counselors in the area, etc.
It’s even more important to accomplish work through the list and get stuff done, submit the application, attend the class, use the app, stick with the budget prescribed by your financial advisor and use that budget to empower you to not re-subscribe to your favorite shops for “a great deal”, and complete an intake with the counseling practice you think will best meet your needs.
But what’ most important, is to make it all the way across, to get to the other side, journey on to our final destination.
Can you imagine if all I ever did was get to the end of my sweet little side street, make it safely to the middle and stayed in the middle? Can you imagine if I just stayed there? If i never paid attention to the changing lights at either end of the busy street that created the conditions for me to finish the process I started? If I ignored the slowed cars, waving hands, and usually smiling faces that signaled “Danger is not present, be cautious, but go for it, cross the street, continue your journey, get to your destination”? Someone would probably call the police and say “There is a woman who is just standing in middle of the street. While she’s not disrupting traffic per se, she may end up getting hurt or causing someone else to get hurt.”
It sounds pretty ridiculous, right?
Yet, we do this. We make it to the middle and we hang out there. We are somewhere between grateful, surprised, excited that we started and made it past the first part of the journey to the middle. We didn’t get hit, no broken bones, no EMT coming to our aid. But then, we stay in the middle. We stay longer than necessary, ultimately foregoing our destinies.
We settle for the job because it pays the bills and provides insurance. Never mind that it’s not even close to the work we’ve dreamed of doing or went to get a graduate degree for. We stay with the partner because they’re not that bad really. They pick you up from work in your car. They help out with the kids (or your kids, depending on their mood) as long as it’s not when the game is on, they aren’t tired, there’s another happy hour, or overtime isn’t being offered. We don’t apply to the ivy league school because college is college and if you got a scholarship to Princeton you can surely get one to the state school. Slim thick is the new black, so no need to really go to the doctor about the weight we’ve put on that we know is a result of our job, because we’re not leaving the paycheck or the comfort of being there at what was supposed to be two years tuned seven or the half priced appetizers where we go on Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday after work. We’re not going on a date after the divorce. In the middle “taking time” is acceptable. So we take six years and we look forward to year seven, even though the marriage ended because the abuse needed to end before someone’s life did. We don’t let anyone get too close romantically because they may see the scars from when we used to cut or notice we tense up at their touch because of the attempted sexual assault, so we text a lot, talk a lot, and after the third date we find the reason to cancel date four, block their number, and try a new dating app. And we’re definitely not leaving the church we’ve been going to since we were four. They depend on us to lead the small group bible study at our home, set up and tear down for the events, step in as second soprano if sister Angela does have to go visit her poor sick momma in Kentucky. It’s familiar. It’s manageable. We haven’t been hit. It feels safe. The middle of that big ol street can be safe, but only temporarily.
The same way my chances of being hurt or causing hurt the longer I hang out in the middle of the street as opposed to finishing the process of actually crossing the street, we increase our chances of self harm and harming others the longer we linger in the middle of our journeys toward our purpose. The longer I stay in the middle of the road, the longer I expose myself to the driver who is not paying attention to me and hits me, or swerves to avoid me at the last minute and hits someone else or something.
When we don’t figure out how to strategically navigate our middle or look for others who signal it’s safe to keep on keeping on, we rob ourselves of abundant lives; lives that were meant to also help others on their journeys. We aren’t the best employees, partners, parents, entrepreneurs, daughters, friends, cousins, artists, leaders, versions of ourselves we were created to be. We cheat our partners, children, friends, community members, patients, clients, and students- offering them a hologram of us. And, we know this. Our bodies know this. We heap on unhealthy habits that typically lead to some type malady. We say we’re tired, feel stuck, just need a vacation, but it’s more than that. It’s the cost of settling for an illusion of safety. The middle offers an illusion of safety. It offers the promise of almost. Let’s us take pride in starting, but it deters us from moving forward, reaching, completing, thriving, living- if we’re not mindful to manage the middle.
I’ve spent the last few years in the middle. At first, it was exhilarating to make it to the middle. To observe enough to know when it was safe to make the initial cross- to start. There was entering a new field of work, a nice title, solid salary, new freedoms, new people, travel, and so many experiences and opportunities. However, I’ve noticed recently that it’s time for me to finish crossing the street. The middle has served its purpose in facilitating my journey to the other side. It’s given me the time needed to note how temporary it was and how much more I’ve still got to do in order to be who I was created, gifted, and called to be. It’s given me the time needed to note the pain that results from hanging out there too long and the living that I am missing out on just hanging between what was and what will be.
My hope for you as you are on your own journey is that you stay mindful of the middle. Use it wisely, but don’t linger, don’t get stuck. Let it serve its purpose in your life, but don’t let it hijack your purpose or your role in someone else discovering and living out their purpose. Pay attention to the lights, the drivers, the signals so you know when to proceed with caution, but proceed nonetheless.