The messy middle

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In medias res – “into the middle of things.”

Remember that from your high school English class? It’s a narrative technique that simply means a story begins in progress, right in the middle, and fills in the back story along the way. Stories that start in the middle appeal because they resemble life.

Maybe it’s my generation, or Western culture, or just human nature, but we seem to be obsessed with new beginnings and happy endings, and wearied and suspicious of the tedium and uncertainty of the long slog in the middle. Two years at the same job is considered a long time; the mid life crisis is a trope so tired it’s a cliché. My concern and question, for myself and for all of us is this: is our thirst for results and fulfillment feeding our disdain for the messy middle? What are we losing by discarding its value?

In the middle, we’re prone to wonder, “is this all there is?”, frantic for escape or another new beginning. Sometimes the answer is yes, at least for now. How quickly we forget what it took to get here. Whether we’re better off or not, on a hill or in the valley, whether we hope that the best is yet to come or fear it’s behind us – today is built on thousands of breaths, and dozens of conversations, sleepless nights, family dinners, disappointments, sweaty workouts, commutes, whispered prayers and grocery runs. God has sustained us, through nutrition and friendship and laughter and breath and work, and brought us here, to this moment, to this messy middle.

I used to worry a lot about how things might “pay off,” assessing new opportunities for what they would sow, how they might be a stepping stone. I still think this way under stress, when self doubt comes in waves and I grasp desperately for my worth in all the wrong places. But mostly, when I’m calm and quiet, when I’ve slept enough and had enough coffee, I know that most things pay off in unexpected ways. Or they don’t, but they still change me, which is perhaps the best pay off to be had.

I’m in the messy middle of a lot:

my marriage. of home decor. of laying perfectionism to rest. of writing. of many friendships. of life in charleston. of dog momming. of podcasting. of working with a partner. of learning how to market creative stuff. of finding my value in the right places. of learning to hold two contradictory (and possibly equally true) thoughts in my head at the same time.

I’m close to the beginning of some of those, and probably close to the end of others. But most? Most things in life I’m in the middle of a long middle. Even the ones that end with a bang or a whimper or a satisfying crunch don’t really end because the experience changes me, and there’s no going back.

Take heart; the middle isn’t an empty wasteland to hustle through, but the place to dig in, show up and grow. What might we find here, when the newness has worn off and there’s no end is in sight?

“What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.” T.S. Eliot

10 thoughts on “The messy middle

  1. Jacey… Yes. I’m in the messy middle, too. We often are, aren’t we? It’s so hard to not start something new just to feel that excitement. I have to fight the urge to satisfy the part of me that thinks starting something new is better than being faithful to something I’m in the middle of. Sitting, breathing, and living in the messy middle.

  2. Amen and amen! I’m a recovering “things will be better when” addict. It’s sometimes so hard to rest and enjoy the now, especially when the days are long and messy. I love what you said about the middle being the place to dig into!

  3. This topic resonates in my heart so much right now! Thank you for putting into words how messy the middle can be. I am now pondering the question that you posed, “…is our thirst for results and fulfillment feeding our disdain for the messy middle?” It also reminds me not to compare my beginning/middle/end with anyone else’s as I am where I am supposed to be—right here in my messy middle!

  4. Love this post, just what I needed to read. I’m wading thick in the middle of many things, and though I find passion in my life, I often wonder where I’m going. Thanks for reminding me that not everything has to “go somewhere,” and to trust my future self to know how to handle whatever comes!

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