After murdering the Egyptian soldier, Moses fled to the Median desert, and spent forty years there. God made that choice for Moses, as He sometimes does for us. From our perspective, intermissions mean waiting...and waiting...and waiting. Waiting for God to make changes in our lives. Waiting for God to change the hearts of others whom we have hurt. Waiting for God to work out the circumstances that make our second act possible. But waiting times are not wasted times. God’s still at work even though we can’t always see immediate results. Still, that knowledge doesn’t lessen our dislike of intermissions.
Although a major failure usually signals the beginning of our intermission, we have no idea how long it will be. Moses spent forty years in the desert. Paul spent three years in the desert. Peter spent seven weeks wondering if his failure was final. Jonah spent three days in the belly of the great fish rethinking his calling. More important than the length of our intermission is how we use that interlude between our failure and our future. Intermissions can either be a waste of time or an invaluable gift that prepares us for a great second act. Intermissions are usually imposed, not chosen. Intermissions come at various times in life. Intermissions are of varying lengths.
How to deal with it?
Resist the urge to skip intermissions
We naturally hate the waiting that characterizes intermissions. Part of our dislike for intermissions is the anxiety that accompanies them. We fear the intermission will last indefinitely. If we have gone six months without a job, we worry that we will always be unemployed. If we have been without a mate for three years, we fear that will spend the rest of our lives alone.
Intermissions can also be difficult to endure because of uncomfortable questions from other people. “Have you ever considered a career with Amway?” “Have you ever thought you might be better off single?” “Didn’t you realize what a stupid investment that was?” Although the waiting and the uncomfortable questions that accompany intermissions can make us want to rush through them or skip them altogether, doing so can have disastrous consequences. For example, have you ever wondered why the divorce statistics for second marriages are higher than for first marriages? Simple answer: not understanding the value of intermissions.
Storms blow into our lives, and suddenly the smallest details of our lives are swirling around in front of us and distorting our perspective. This is absolutely the worst time to make a major decision. Before we can see clearly, we must allow the wind to subside. Sometimes we can turn off the wind ourselves. Have you ever felt as if circumstances were moving so quickly that you couldn’t see clearly enough to make the simplest decision, such as what to do next? Spending a half day or even a half hour in a quiet place away from other people, the telephone, and email is a simple way to turn down the wind. However, major storms that are caused by our failures cannot by turned off so easily or quickly. We just have to wait for the wind to die down and resist the urge to move forward when our vision is impaired. But remember, waiting time does not have to be wasted time. There are several important things we can do while we are waiting out the storm.
Refresh your physical and emotional batteries
Sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do is take a nap. The Old Testament prophet Elijah discovered that truth after he failed to exercise faith and gave in to fear. Elijah had just taken a bold stand for God on Mount Carmel and successfully demonstrated to Israel that Jehovah, not Baal, was the true God. Queen Jezebel, the chief promoter of Baal worship in Israel, heard that Elijah had not only humiliated her god but had also decimated more that four hundred of her false prophets. When she threatened his life, instead of taking a stand, the prophet ran...and ran...and ran until he collapsed under a juniper tree and asked God to take his life. Instead, God encouraged him to take a nap. When Elijah awakened, he found a jar of water and a cake delivered by an angel. After eating and drinking, Elijah went back to sleep. He kept repeating the process of eating and sleeping until his perspective was restored and he was ready to return to business.
Failure can exact a devastating emotional and physical toll on our lives. God understands that reality and provides us with intermissions during which we can refresh ourselves for our second act. Instead of refusing the gift, use the gift. For example, if you are facing termination from your job, negotiate with your employer for as many weeks or months of severance pay as possible. Don’t allow pride to keep you from asking for more. After all, at this point you have nothing to lose.
If you receive three months of severance pay, you obviously need to use most of that time to secure a new position. But use the first week or two for something you have always wanted to do and have never had time for: a trip, a project around the house, a short-term class in a subject that has always fascinated you. Far from being a waste of time, these diversions will reenergize you as you prepare for your next act.
Reflect on where you have been and where you want to go
One of the upsides to failure is that it provides us with both the motivation and opportunity to stop what we are doing and make midcourse corrections in our lives. Some of our intermission time should be used for personal refreshment. But we should also use a portion to reflect on what we have learned from our failure and to answer some directional questions that will help us prepare for our second act.
By the way, you don’t have to be unemployed to experience a profitable intermission. Use a day off or several days of vacation to find a place where you can turn down the wind and ask yourself directional questions.
Renew your relationship with God
Although Elijah was a successful prophet who worked tirelessly for God, he lost his personal connection with God and began to feel as if he were all alone. His sense of isolation led to desperation as he fled from Jezebel and ended up under a tree ready to trade in his prophet’s mantle. After some much-needed R and R, Elijah traveled to Mount Horeb and took up residence in a cave. God told Elijah to step outside the cave. There the prophet witnessed a spectacular display of God’s power, complete with an earthquake, wind, and fire. 1Ki 19:11-13 makes an interesting observation, “But the Lord was not in the wind.... The Lord was not in the earthquake.... The Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of a gentle blowing. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. And behold, a voice came to him.” God spoke through the silence rather than through the noise. It was while Elijah was inside the cave, rather than on the mountain, that he heard a small, gentle voice reminding him of his calling and giving him the direction he needed for his second act.
If you are experiencing an intermission in your life right now, don’t despise it. Recognize it as a perfect time for you to listen to God’s still, small voice. How? If you are unaccustomed to spending time alone with God’s don’t overdo it by trying to spend an entire week or even an entire day by yourself. Instead, find a secluded spot where you can spend two or three uninterrupted hours.
First, I suggest that you allow God to speak to you through His Word. When you read scripture, you can know that you are listening to nothing other than the voice of God. Next I recommend you take a good Christian book with you that emphasizes the character of God, such as A.W. Tozer’s The Knowledge of the Holy, J. Oswald Sander’s The Pursuit of the Holy, or J.I. Packer’s Knowing God. Finally, allow God to speak to your particular situation by asking Him: What am I doing in my life that displeases You? What do You want me to do that I am not now doing? Am I more interested in pleasing You or pleasing others? Am I defining success and failure by Your standards or other people’s standards?
Remember, the curtain will rise again
Failure seems so final. And the intermissions that usually follow only confirm our deepest fear that life as we know it is over. We can easily forget that intermissions are simply commas, not periods, in our life story. Consider the experience of Jesus Christ a human perspective, the Lord had failed. What started as a growing movement embraced by thousands was reduced to a handful of followers who denied they even knew Him when the going got tough. Be all appearances, His dream for a new kingdom had failed. He died alone, deserted by His friends and alienated from His heavenly Father.
But the story was not over. And then they put His body in a cave. That was their big mistake. His body was there for three days. But they could not keep Him there. They forgot that God does some of His best work in caves. The cave is where God resurrects dead things. At some point in your life you will find yourself in a cave. You will be tempted to think that the death of a relationship, career, dream, or reputation means that your life is over. But it isn’t. The pause in your life story isn’t permanent. It’s simply a prelude to what can be a spectacular second act.