One of the ways to impress friends (and maybe gain some sympathy if they understand you) is to say that you are in a “liminal space” in your life right now. I’ve come across this idea more and more in the past few years and particularly this week at the conference I am attending. A liminal space is the undefined boundary between two clearly defined spaces. The threshold to my house (the front stoop and entryway) is a liminal space between outdoors and the indoor living areas of my house.
In many instances, this term is used to describe a life transition. Pregnancy is a liminal space between just being a couple and being parents–between something that was familiar and something that will be totally new. It can be the space between losing a job and getting another one. It can be things like “mid-life”, that odd period somewhere in your forties where you realize you are no longer “young”, where you see changes in your body, and you are asking questions again of what’s it all about?
This is actually a good term for something my wife and I have been experiencing. This is the year we enter our seventh decade, complete with Golden Buckeye cards, courtesy of the State of Ohio. A number of our high school and college friends have already retired. While I’m not there yet, we’ve noticed some interesting changes and new questions we are asking.
For one thing, we are becoming far more ruthless in deaccumulating. I was cleaning out a desk we are preparing to sell and discovered old notebooks from seminary and college that I haven’t looked at in 30 to 40 years. And for the first time, I had the courage to say–I don’t need to keep this. I also recently got rid of several boxes of books I realized I either would never read or never look at again. And I feel like we are just getting started.
In my work I’ve found myself moving from simply thinking about my own goals and career development to nurturing these in younger colleagues. While I still have challenging assignments and great ministry opportunities among the students and faculty with whom I work I am thinking more and more about encouraging and empowering others and handing off to a new generation of people in our organization. I’m really not intimidated by that–I want what we are doing to outlast my working years. I find myself thinking more about not simply ending work at some point but wanting to finish well–something older workers don’t always do. In particular, I don’t want to be the old crank!
I’ve found we’ve begun pursuing more avidly interests we just couldn’t consider during the peak years of work and being parents. And so we go painting, take photographs, write blogs and sing music. We’ve learned you can audit courses for free at Ohio public universities when you are sixty and are thinking about this. Health permitting, we expect to have a life after work and it is interesting to begin cultivating what that might be and asking what that will look like.
One thing about liminal spaces is that one is going from high def to low def. I really don’t know what life after work entirely will be like. One of the things we learned today is that it is very tempting to rush the answers to these questions rather than to spend some time lingering with the questions, which often leads to greater self-understanding and better answers. Low def is uncomfortable yet it can be a place for growth.
One would think we’d have life figured out by this point. Wrong! We’ve never been to this part of life before, other than watching parents and older friends go through it. In my faith, we talk about growing in Christ-likeness, or as I like to speak of it, growing into our “size Jesus” clothes (thank you for that image, Andrea!). I’m so glad I still have opportunities to learn and grow, even if it means new questions and uncertainties. It seems to me the only alternative is stagnation, and to me that would be to die before I’m dead! Liminal space seem far better.