Every story has a plot. It is what is called the story arc or the plot-line. At the beginning of a story, the readers are introduced to the main character, also called the protagonist. Once the action begins to rise, they get to know the character by the thoughts and behaviors they observe. By the time the antagonist, or bad guy, arrives on the scene to cause trouble, the reader is invested in the main character.
Every story has a problem. Something for the hero to overcome, and once the problem presents itself, there are obstacles. These are twists and turns in the story and the antagonist is often the source of them. Other times, the hindrances have nothing to do with a specific character, but are just natural occurrences which prevent the hero from forward movement.
Every story has other characters. They come along to help the overcome the hardships. The hero is rarely alone in his quest. There is a climax in the action where all the work and overcoming comes to a peak and it is the most exciting part of the story. After this, the problem is resolved.
Every story has a conclusion. Over the course of the story, the main character grows in significant ways which change him/her. The change and how it occurs is what the story is really about.
Every story has a beginning, middle, and end. Whether it is a five-paragraph essay or a 500-page novel you will find this to be true. The most action happens in the middle. I call it the messy middle, and it is where main character is unsure and doesn’t know what to do. The decisions made can make things better or worse. Everything hangs in the balance. There is tension that keeps the reader turning the pages. The messy middle is where the work of transformation happens.
In the stories of our lives, we have all experienced the messy middle. After the diagnosis, but before the cure. After the accident, but before the healing. After the job loss, but before the provision. After the divorce, but before the new life. After the grief, but before the joy. After the disability, but before the acceptance. After confusion, but before belief. After the quarantine, but before the release. All the middles of our lives are where we find who we are.
In the middle, we wrestle. We cry out. We weep. We shout. We are unclear about what is happening. We squirm. We twist and turn through the bad and good days. In the middle, we find out what we really believe, what is really true, and the difference between the two. The middle is a humbling place. It challenges what we think about ourselves. Our pride takes a hit as we struggle. Our perseverance is tested. In the end, we will emerge differently than we when in. We will be transformed.
Currently, we are all in the messy middle together. This pandemic has us locked into it. There are days we struggle, and the longer lock-down goes, the more we lose. The more we lose, the more we wonder what will the world be like in the after. We are making decisions which effect it, and we are hoping they are the right ones. Here in the middle, some of us are crying. Some of us are angry and frustrated. Some of us want to sleep all the time. Some of us are in spring-cleaning overdrive. Some of us are taking stock of our lives. Some of us are more confused than ever before. Our sidekicks don’t seem to know the answers any better than we do. Our sages are baffled, as well. We are fumbling in the dark, groping our way through, trying to find the light at the end of the tunnel. There’s always a light, right?
Fortunately, we have a God who understands the messy middle. After death, but before resurrection. Is Hell. He knows from experience it is a hard place. A place of wrestling. A place of darkness. A place of gnashing of teeth. A place of the epic battle between good and evil. A place of transformation. His story gives us hope that indeed, a new day is coming.
In the meantime, we can see the messy middle is where the battles are won. It is where the strength of the antagonist is defeated. Trust and hope are found in the middle. Desire to seek God is enhanced. Control is replaced with surrender. Hard hearts are tenderized. Lamenting births repentance which then brings forgiveness. Humility may be born in hardship, but it becomes a weapon in the messy middle. Submitting our hearts to it and allowing transformation to happen is the core of the story arc. It is the turning of the protagonist. The realization. The maturing. The becoming. The climax, just before the victory. It happens in every great story.
This chapter in our story is going to be a great one. The messy middle of a pandemic is hard, but it will result in our turning. If we humbly submit to this season, we will be transformed. We don’t know how long it will last. Even after quarantine is lifted, the ramifications will likely continue to keep us in the messy middle for a while yet. Though the outcome is unclear, the victory is assured. The waiting is an opportunity.
True freedom is coming. There is so much to be gained here. More than we can comprehend. The middle is where God does his best work. The places we all look back to, that are transformative in our lives, are lessons learned here. So, rest in the wrestling. It is a place marker. We will look back on this time and see God’s hand working. One day soon, we will testify of this trial of transformation that we found in the messy middle.