Hope in the Sticky middle

Picnic Table

A previous picnicker must have left a smudge of something sweet along the table edge. A drop of jelly or a splash of lemonade. The source didn’t really matter, but I watched as an exploring ant raced toward the smudge and then slowed, step by step, minuscule antennae wiggling. I couldn’t tell if he was gorging on this tremendous find or becoming mired in the stickiness, but his path across the table quickly slowed. Which made me reflect on my own sticky struggles.

Perhaps you can relate.

When a personal trial or the loss of a loved one first hits, there is a period of free-fall into blackness that leaves me scrambling for any hand or foothold I can find. There aren’t many.

I wonder when I will ever land, or if I will ever land, and how I will ever move on from this.

It is a period of questions. Like why, and how, and what if. And a period of such immense blackness that any spark, no matter how fleeting, is a reason to hope. It is during these times that I learn how pain begets hope, and what it means to hope in the darkness.

Like the ant running headlong across the table, I do everything in my power to get out of there.

An unexpected thing happens next. The pain is not so intense, but neither is the spark of hope. Like a star fading out in a lightening sky, the hope that I clung to in the dark, while still present, does not seem nearly as bright.

I did not expect this. After all, as things stop spiraling out of control, and as life, though forever altered, begins to resume its cycle of days and weeks and years, I expected even greater reason to hope. As I see God delivering on His promises to care for me in a hundred tiny miracles, how could I not feel more hopeful for the future?

Yet instead of feeling my hope increase, I feel mired in what can best be described as grey.

Grey Winter

I have moved far enough from my starting point that I can no longer look back upon it. Going back is no longer an option, a frightening proposition in itself. Yet, I am still so far from where I am going that I see no clear path forward. Behind me is darkness, around me is greyness, and I haven’t got a clue what is ahead of me.

I am someplace in the sticky middle.

Which is how I came to relate to this journeying ant. Rushing from where I came from only to slow at the first hint of anything sweet.

I don’t want to settle for greyness when God is calling me fully into the light. And what the slogging ant can’t see but I can, is that something even better is waiting up ahead. Not simply a smear of something sticky, but a veritable feast of crumbs. But only if he doesn’t get distracted and lose heart along the way.

The same may be true for me. And for you.

I don’t know if the ant ever makes it. I leave him to his journey and I continue mine.

It’s easy to settle when traversing the sticky middle. But God invites us not to crumbs; He invites us to the feast of the lamb. He offers us not just “enough,” but more than we can ever ask or imagine. Having hope while in the sticky middle means having gratitude for the gifts of today while we still reach and push and pursue a brighter tomorrow.

Even when we don’t know what that looks like. Even when hope feels amorphous and fading.

Don’t ever forget, my friends: the stars are still there, even when we cannot see them. And so is our hope.

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Janet Beagle, Ph.D. serves as director of graduate programs for Purdue University’s College of Engineering and is a writer, a Bible study teacher, and a student of God’s word. In her spare time, she likes to eat other people’s cooking and hike with her dog, Marly, who recently passed away but is not forgotten. Read more of Janet’s Christian reflections at www.mustardpatch.org.

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