One week from tomorrow we will (finally) exit the Land of Limbo—that bizarre, alternate-realm between one phase of life and the next to which we refer when we’re between decisions, between jobs, between relationships, or just BETWEEN.
We can thank the Roman Catholic church for the word (not the dance from the West Indies).
Ugh. The definitions aren’t pretty, are they? But for anyone who has ever visited the Land of Limbo, you know how accurate they are. Rest assured, our Bible heroes and heroines know something about being in limbo and we can learn from them.
Moses spent 40 years watching sheep for his father-in-law between the time he understood the truth about his heritage and the activation of his calling. The Israelites wandered around the mountain for 40 years in limbo because they couldn’t come to terms with the facts: God is bigger than the bogeyman, no matter what form the bogeyman takes. I imagine Elijah experienced a visit to Limboland when the Brook Cherith dried up (1 Kings 17) and he was sent elsewhere to seek supernatural provision in the middle of a famine.
What about Joseph in that Egyptian prison, betrayed by his brothers, and forgotten by his fellow inmates? Or Jonah in the belly of the fish? Jesus understands (probably better than any of us) the state of limbo … In a way, His whole life on earth was a kind of limbo, a balancing act between the natural and supernatural realms, brought to a climax in the Garden of Gethsemane (translate: olive press), the crucifixion, and the resurrection.
And what about the ladies? Women (ladies-in-waiting) seem to be destined to go through the Land of Limbo. How about the woman whose child died? For her the Land of Limbo was the time it took to go find the man of God (Elijah) and the moment her child was restored to life. What about Rebekah, who waited for years to bear a child for her one true love, Isaac, while he fathered multiple sons with her sister, Leah? (Tell me the Bible isn’t full of sordid, reality-drama worthy tales!) I’m sure Sarah took her turn in the Land of Limbo when Abraham came home and said, “Honey, God told me to pack up and move. I don’t know where, and we’re gonna have to live in a tent until we get there, but…” Or Noah’s wife, who watched her DH spend more than 100 years building a boat (no one had ever seen a boat, or rain) because he believed what God had spoken to him was true. Would you have been tempted to have him committed? I might have. Or the (now) highly esteemed virgin Mary—the unwed teenage mother—who had to wait for her husband-to-be, Joseph, to hear from God through a dream that she hadn’t actually cheated on him to get pregnant lest she face public execution. Anybody else ever had to wait for a man to hear from God before you can breathe easy? Talk about limbo!
Your Land of Limbo probably has your own personal stamp on it. It could be the transition between childhood and adulthood, between college and career, between wife and mother, between mother and grandmother. It could be waiting for adoption papers to be signed, waiting for divorce papers to go through, or waiting to learn the results of a medical test. It could be as simple as the transition from one job to another, or as difficult as walking through the terminal illness and subsequent death of a loved one.
As a human, I seek understanding during limbo seasons.
As a believer, I turn to God for that understanding.
As a writer, I pray what I learn will translate into words that help, heal, and generate hope.
What to do when you find yourself in the Land of Limbo? Here’s what I’ve learned so far…
1. We will all pass through the Land of Limbo many times during our lives. (My version, the way God give it to me: Suck it up and deal with it.)
2. The only real danger in the Land of Limbo is stopping to dwell there. (My version: Don’t camp out in Limboland! Keep moving, be proactive. Do what you can, when you can.)
3. Don’t embrace Limbo as a lifestyle, instead, as you journey, embrace the hope of what’s possible on the other side. There IS something positive you can focus on, the trick is finding that thing.
I’ll close with the following, a song from the 1940s, another era when our nation was in a state of flux. The words of lyricist Johnny Mercer clue us in to what we need to do when we find ourselves in the Land of Limbo. Take special note of the words “don’t mess with Mr. In-Between.” That’s the Land of Limbo, Dear Reader, and it’s nothing to trifle with! Forward, march!