Have you ever wrestled with the way you wished things were and the way they actually are? If you are like me, there is a tendency to go one of two ways: get cynical and wash my hands of it all or to the other extreme where I bury my head in the proverbial sand and live in the land of ‘if only’. Regardless, both are disengaged from the real world. You know... the place where you and others live. Where real life happens! But is there another way through? Yes!
Some years ago I was in London, England on a layover on my way to Kenya, Africa. Having 12 hours to spare before the second leg of my journey, I took full advantage, and I set off to explore the historic city. Visiting as many of the sites as I could, I had an opportunity to use the famed “Tube”. We call them subways - underground trains that move people quickly around the city. It was there I began seeing some peculiar signs telling me to “Mind the Gap”. I discovered to ‘Mind the Gap’ was to be aware of the gap between the subway platform and the subway car when boarding, keeping one from getting a toe or heal caught in the gap and causing a stumble.
Over time, “Mind the Gap” came to represent the gap between what I say I believe and how I actually behave; the space between the way things are and the way I would like them to be. Apostle Paul would lament of this gap as well when he wrote: "Why do I do the things I don't want to and not the things I want to?" Similarly, Parker Palmer of the Centre for Courage and Renewal coined a phrase the “Tragic Gap”. The tragic gaps speak of the gap between the world the way it is and how it could be. For example; we want to be loved and accepted for who we really are but we are fearful of being rejected, so we live from behind masks. We long to be a good parent and 'be there' for our children in a greater way but the realities of a career, paying the mortgage and everything else it just seems like we just can't in the way we wished we could.
Learning to live in the tension between two seemingly contradictory places is an art. The harsh realities of the world and even our inner world - if we let it, can make us very cynical, overwhelmed and discourage us from even trying. Conversely, we can hit the other ditch where we are so idealistic that we become totally irrelevant and unrealistic. Such idealism takes us to the loftiness of abstractness and never lands upon terra-firma in a way that is meaningful. We simply avoid the realities by living far beyond it in a spiritual or philosophical fantasy world. Pick your ditch; both inhibit your ability to live authentically and be change agents.
So how do we live in the gap without becoming cynical, or floating off into irrelevancy of abstract idealism?
We return to Paul when he answers his own lament when he writes "The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different." (Roman 7:25 Message) God himself becomes the personification of love itself in Jesus. This is good news! This personification of love takes love from a lofty idea and emotion and makes it very concrete in the person of Christ. A love that meets us all where we are at, in the middle of the mess that life sometimes is. A love more than capable of rescuing us, of healing us and transforming us. A love that has overcome fear, sin, and death.
In this love, we are safe to learn to live creatively in the tension of what is and what could be. Walking in this tension in healthy ways requires much grace and a great deal of creativity. It is a place of grace where we accept people (and ourselves) and situations as they are, and believe they capable of growth, maturity, and change for the better. It understands that for our part in it, we are empowered agents of change who by tangible, deliberate love can affect change in situations, relationships and in ourselves. We, by grace, become the change we wish to see* grounded in the concrete of the real world and inspired forward by the hope of perfect love.
How does this happen?
First patience, and accept there will be heartbreak. I am not talking about the destructive heartbreak that shatters and scatters our hearts, rather the kind of heartbreak which breaks open the hard areas of our hearts thereby increasing our capacity to live loved and live love.
This produces several benefits:
- Our capacity for love increases which will change us, heal us and positively affect those around us.
- It cultivates grace and compassion for others, even those we don’t like.
- It heals us from the need to blame or fix others.
- Produces a great sense of the peace, to experience rest.
While we may feel under-resourced at times, we trust God is at work and what we do have is enough for where we are at right now. I am convinced that whenever we offer ourselves: our presence, gifts, talents, desires, as an act of love, God often takes these, as meager and as insignificant as they may appear and, in turn, does what only God can do! Love never returns empty! Love always has a life-giving impact.
Practical steps to living life in the gap:
- Be honest about how you want things to be.
- Be honest about how things really are and your role, responsibility, and influence in it.
- Ask yourself in what ways you can live genuinely between those two places in your life today? What choices and actions (that are consistent with love) can you make to inspire greater life within the gap?
- Ask God for grace, wisdom and courage and step out and become the change you wish to see.
* - Gandhi