By Jennifer Seylar
If you have ever paddled in the Boundary Waters in Minnesota or on a river with dams, then you may know what a portage is. For those who don’t, the portage is the space of land that stretches in between two lakes. If it is on the river, it is the stretch of land that goes from the area above the dam to below it. If you want to explore more areas by water then portaging is often necessary.
The way the portage works is that the paddlers pull up on shore, pull the boat out of the water, and walk the boat and all the gear to the other end of the portage. The distances of the portages vary from 100 feet to the longest portage in Northern Minnesota, the Grand Portage, which is 9 miles long. It was the place where fur traders left the lakes in order to go to the fur trading village along the shore of Lake Superior.
This space between, like the portage, is an important link from one place to the next. Our lives have our own between spaces: the space between graduating high school and going to college; the space between getting engaged and the wedding; the space in between losing a loved one and finally feeling like life is moving forward again; the space between retirement and the experiences that fill the days once full with work. Any time we are transitioning to something new and different, we are in the portage of our lives. We carry all the weight of this space between as we sort out what comes next.
I am living in the space between as I sort out what life will be like following my husband’s death. It is lonely and challenging in this place, but it is an important link to the growth that I am experiencing. I have discovered that we do not do this portage space alone. Believe me, I’ve tried! Navigating the hardships by myself in the beginning, I carried too much, dropped the ball on a few things, and made numerous trips across the portage of grief. Then I realized that Jesus has the power to join me in even that stage of my life. He promises that once we invite Christ in, He will never leave our side. “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).
Much as I am tempted to want to, I cannot rush this time and space because God will act on my behalf when the timing is right. Psalm 27:14 is a great reminder for me of this: “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” (NRSV). But waiting is difficult, and I often seek ways to speed up the critical learning that God desires for me as I journey in the space between.
I have learned that when I have tried to take a shortcut in my spiritual growth, it only serves me in the short term. Too many times I have read my daily devotional, prayed a token prayer, and moved on with my day, leaving no space for God to enter in and really work on my heart. As a result, I found it difficult to handle the hard things of life, and I kept getting sent back to that space in between.
Now, I understand the blessing that comes from trusting God in the time between. It’s about prioritizing my life in a way that creates the space in my schedule and in my heart to allow God to enter into all parts of my life. This is God’s space, and there is no activity, relationship, or physical item that can replace Him.
Remember as you spend time in your portage, God goes with you if you let Him. So don’t lose heart, and never forget there is another body of water just around the bend. God is leading you to a fulfilling life that is just waiting to be explored.
FOR FURTHER THOUGHT If you are tempted to run ahead in your spiritual walk with God, be cautious. God wants our whole heart, not the surface attempt at growth when times are tough–even though it’s okay if that’s when you start! But true faith development takes time. This is a lesson the Israelites learned when they fled Egypt and set out into the desert. “So our ancestors trusted God’s words; they sang God’s praise. But how quickly they forgot what God had done! They wouldn’t wait for God’s advice. They were overcome with craving in the desert; they tested God in the wastelands…” (Psalm 106:12-15, CEB). As a result, they stayed in the between for 40 years as they wandered the desert. Today, make a choice to invite God into your life, into your heart, into your coming and going, and into your time in between. Even though it takes more time upfront, it leads to the most powerful growth and richest result over time.
PRAYER Almighty God, thank You for walking through the portages and the waterways of life with me. Help me remember to invite You in so You can help carry the burdens that often accompany these spaces between. Thank you that I never have to carry the burden alone, for You are always with me even when I don’t feel it. In season and out of season, guide me as I grow in my walk with You and become more intentional in prayer and study, and always taking time to listen and wait for You to act. Amen.