The Sullenness of The In-Between
The sun rises, the sun falls: waves roll in and out with the tide. Heat comes in Summer and cold in Winter, the wind chilling the earth. We know the patterns of life, and we even expect them to flow, but sometimes they don’t—sometimes they get stuck. Stuck in traffic, stuck on the phone, stuck in between a rock and a hard place. It’s usually us humans who are stuck, and it’s been my discovery that it’s one thing to get stuck, but it’s a very different thing to get jammed.
The Universe flows, the entire created order turns on an invisible turntable, playing an infinitely-diverse record of music, but somehow, that diversity isn’t chaotic, it’s poetic. But among the poetry are the zillions of dots zooming around in our own little worlds, zooming in jolted stops and starts and fits of chaos, jarring and jamming us until finally, we plug our ears. To ourselves and our stories, we stop paying attention. To the infinitely complex poetry of creation, we block our ears. The baby is thrown out with the bathwater and we learn to ignore perfection as it cycles around us in its glorious poetic order. We do it subconsciously as a coping mechanism, because we can’t bear the dissonance between it and us, order and chaos, stillness and sullenness.
The creation is ever moving, and yet it is still. It is existentially mature, not growing, nor diminishing. Energy isn’t created or destroyed, it’s merely shifting forms from an E Major to an A minor. We humans move faster, changing forms as we go about our lives, parts of ourselves created and destroyed as we learn to cope with the ups and downs of life. The stillness of creation, as it whirls around in space at mach 86, unnerves us so we create engines to scoot us along at a pace that makes our hearts jump, that makes us forget the sun and the moon are still up there, where they’ve been these thousands of years, watching, waiting. Besides the joy ride, we too live and work in patterns. And unless our work is building towards a much larger goal, we slip into the same stillness, a stillness that quickly becomes sullen in our consciousness.
The sole difference between the sun, who is very happy to do his work day after day in the same old way, and us humans, who sometimes ponder ending life sooner rather than later, is this awareness called consciousness. Consciousness turns out to be a burden, a heavy load the sun doesn’t have to bear. It’s our little superpower to be used for good or evil, and with great power comes great responsibility.
What it means to be human (and not the sun) is to look at the world and ponder it, and to find yourself in it. To feel impressions of yourself as alive instead of dead, to react emotionally to those impressions, and to make decisions based on all that to change the world for better. But since we’ve blocked our ears to the heavens, and since we are cast under the spell of the evil witch, our eyes are bent back on themselves, so that what we see and feel and decide on is rarely what’s best in the big picture. We don’t see the big picture, and so we make the best decision we can, but it’s like a child playing the stock market. Sometimes we get lucky, but mostly, we just fumble through. And since the world’s order is bent on destruction, what we feel and experience is never best, for anyone.
Therefore, as opposed to the sun, we are stuck in a pattern we don’t like: we’re stuck with what-is-less-than-best, wishing for what-is-better, in the universal experience of the unanswered prayers and unfulfilled dreams. This is The In-Between of life, the place of the realist who has convinced himself that dreams are for children and thereby bought his 7-course meal of sullenness. Because the world is broken, life is less-than-best, we get that. But because we are made in the image of God, we want what-is-best: we can’t stop dreaming. And since we are limited humans, we often can’t do anything to change our circumstances, so we get stuck. And since we have a consciousness, we can’t stop noticing it all, can’t stop the overwhelming flow of negative impressions, can’t stop feeling sullen about it all, and thus, we get jammed.
This is what it means to be alive, what defines our souls, but it’s also something we experience more at different times of our lives. For me, I’ve been stuck in one spot for several years due to my health. I’m somewhere in between being a dependent child and an independent man. My friends in school are somewhere in between high school and having a real job. One of my best friends is a professional athlete, but he’s somewhere in between his nightmares and his dreams. Odds are, wherever you are, you’re in The In-Between, and you need the hope and courage to press on, to keep fighting this unknown, unnamed enemy of sullenness and dejection.
The antidote isn’t positive self-talk. Or meditation, or reading, or intelligence or yoga or life-hacks or religion or piety or philanthropy, or, God forgive me for saying it, Jesus Christ. There is no immediate antidote. The best final word we have is the Gospel, the good news of Christ’s redemption of our hearts and souls and bodies, but even in Christ’s greatest victory came his worst nightmares of suffering. Just the same, our redemption comes through our suffering, and that includes our sullenness and dejection and disenchantment. What it means to be human is to feel sullen, but what it means to be redeemed is to cast your sullenness on Him for He cares for you. And then, to be strong and act like a man, taking up courage and fighting the good fight of faith, preaching to yourself daily, hourly, praying without ceasing that God would finish what He started in your heart and life, come hell or high water…and to fix your eyes on what’s-to-come, to fight for that dream of perfection, and to take every thought captive to the Lord as He leaves His fingerprints all over creation as it marches toward its final goal of redemption, toward the final prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. If God be for us, what sullenness can be against us? The In-Between is uncomfortable for us, but it’s right where we are supposed to be, right in the middle of the cosmic battle between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. And while there’s no immediate relief, there is joy, glory, and a whole lot of satisfaction knowing you’re playing a part in crushing the head of the serpent for yourself. And that is worth far more than some cheesy, temporary relief.