Advent is a time of waiting. Waiting for Jesus, waiting for change, waiting for redemption. The patience we exercise while waiting is not rooted in wishing or planning or picking ourselves up by our bootstraps; it is rooted in hope, a promise of restoration that was born a bloody mess into a crude bed of hay.
The idea of limbo has come to mind this season. Maybe the Israelites wandering in the desert for 40 years felt like they were in a limbo—would this aimlessness never cease? Would there be an end to collecting manna and wondering where they’d spend the night? I bet Noah and his family felt like they were in limbo on the ark with no promise of the rain stopping, the violent rocking of their boat a constant reminder of their need for deliverance. What about Abraham and Sarah waiting for their promised child? A lifetime of dreams and desires in the hands of a God they feared and didn’t understand.
What is the difference between waiting and limbo? In my life, the difference has been hope. Or lack thereof.
I remember the first Christmas after my parents died. Nothing was how it should have been. I had nothing to look forward to and no home to go home to from college. I dreaded each day of Advent, the joy of others’ unbearable to my broken heart. Many people promised that the grief would get better, that my heart would heal, but I saw no evidence to that end, nothing that lent hope to my despairing soul.
That was limbo.
Have you experienced this? Do you understand the limbo of grief or the limbo of illness or the limbo of unemployment? How about the limbo of depression or abuse or divorce? Really, any ugliness can trap us in this limbo. Our broken hearts are very susceptible to it.
If you are wandering limbo this season, I wish I could give you a magic formula to make it better. I wish I could tell you what Bible verses to read, what hymns to sing, what chocolate to eat, what good deeds to do that will fix everything.
But the truth is, the only thing that can heal the pain of limbo is a slow trust—a tiny, minuscule recognition that Jesus loves you. A seed of faith. A simple prayer: God, I don’t trust, my heart is cold, I can’t remember joy. Help me trust you. Help me believe you love me and will redeem me.
Maybe you can’t pray these prayers. Maybe it hurts too much and past disappointments have crushed your heart.
If you can’t pray these prayers, a friend can pray them for you. Can you find the energy to tell a friend and ask them to pray for you, on behalf of your hurting heart? Can you invite them into your struggle and allow their faith to gird up your brokenness? Can you try to speak these words to yourself out loud: God loves me and will redeem me? Because he will, friends. It may not be today or tomorrow or even this side of heaven. But God has made a promise to his children, and he would delight to give you the gift of hope.