Last fall, my dad had to be rushed to the hospital with severe chest pains. They quickly stabilized him, but they knew something was wrong. For about a week, we lived in limbo – we knew things were about to change, but we weren’t sure what that would look like.
When we finally learned that it would look like cardiac disease and a sextuple bypass surgery (yep, it’s a thing), you’d think we would’ve felt worse – this was not the news we were hoping for. But we didn’t feel worse. We had a plan. The fragile, confusing space between no longer healthy and not yet a heart patient was one of the hardest spaces to sit in through the whole process.
I think a lot about that space in between.
In change management, there’s a theory called Bridges’ Transition Model. It’s the idea that with any change, there’s the “neutral zone”, the period where things are no longer what they were, but you’re not yet at a new normal.
Or as Richard Rohr puts it, “When you have left the tried and true, but have not yet been able to replace it with anything else.”
Think about changes you’ve gone through – can you identify that middle space?
When you have a baby, there’s a period where you’re no longer childless, but you’re not yet used to being responsible for another life.
When a company restructures, there’s a period where you’re no longer operating as you used to, but you’re not yet settled in the new way.
When you begin a relationship, there’s a period where you’re no longer technically single, but you’re not yet comfortable calling this person you’re boyfriend/girlfriend.
I’ve never liked this in between – the space between “no longer” and “not yet”. I’m not good at waiting and anticipating, I’m not good at not knowing. I want a plan, a way over to the other side.
I recently learned there’s a term for this in between space: Liminal Space.
Liminal Space: of or relating to a transitional or initial stage of a process; occupying a position at, or on both sides of, a boundary or threshold.
I first heard the term on Good Friday at church. The speaker described it as the time in between, the waiting. In this context, it was the time between when Jesus died and when he rose again.
Later that day, I got an email about the theme for a conference I have followed closely for a few years, but had not yet found the courage to attend. This year’s theme? Liminal Space.
A term I had never heard before, about a concept I have thought so much about, comes up twice in one day. (And yes, I signed up for that conference…more on that later)
Okay, I was paying attention.
For the first time, I considered that this in between space could be good, it wasn’t something I needed to fear. Dr. Carol Kershaw explains that “the state of mind achieved when you’re in a liminal space—either physically or mentally speaking—is conducive to forming new habits, changing old ways and finding creative solutions.”
So maybe, when we are aware that we’re in this space, we can use it to our advantage.
With this realization, liminal space was suddenly everywhere. And I could see the fragile creativity that happens in it.
A sunset. It can be the most beautiful display of nature, that time in between day and night, but it lasts only a moment.
The moment between sleep and awake – I have some really clear revelations in that moment.
The time between getting exciting news and sharing that news. What a precious moment where the news is yours alone.
So I’m going to start embracing the liminal space. I’m not going to fear it. I’m going let that space wash over me. I’m going to choose to find beauty, creativity and preciousness in it.