The Reason We Avoid the Space Between

I’m thirty-eight minutes into a forty-minute workout on the stationary bike, when the program switches to “cool down” mode and the resistance in the pedals fades away. Immediately, without thought or premeditation, I swing my leg over the bike to get off.

But I stop mid-dismount, suddenly aware of what I’m doing.

As I regain my balance, barely avoiding humankind’s first ever face-plant from a stationary bike, I wonder to myself, how long have I been skipping the cool down phase of my workouts?

More importantly, how long have I been skipping the cool down phases in my life?

It’s been eight days since the launch of my first book, and already I’m planning my next two blog posts and at least two brand new projects. I have not allowed myself a cool down phase. I have not allowed any space between what was and what will be.

Sometimes, we treat the finish line of one race like the starting line of the next.

For the next few days, I pay attention, and the truth is, though I have a lot going on, there is plenty of space between in my life. It is everywhere, intertwined through all things. The space between happens at the fuel pump and at the red light, in the line at the supermarket and in the line at the drive-thru. On long straight stretches of interstate and winding country roads. And when the kids are sent to their rooms so I can have a moment of silence.

Indeed, the space between is present in the space of a single breath.

But like the cool down phase on the bike, I skip it. Or more accurately, I fill it up. We all do. These days, we fill up the still, quiet spaces between the hard work of being alive with gigabytes. Data and Wi-Fi. Streaming and tweeting. News and noise. Instead of delving into the space between, we dive into our devices.

We do this for a reason.

As I drive home from the gym, I decide I’m going to give my life a cool down phase. Not a couple of minutes. A whole day. A day of space between the whirlwind of launching Loveable and whatever whirlwind may come next. Quickly, though, I’m reminded of why we compulsively fill up the space between with gigabytes.

Because if we don’t, the space between naturally fills up on its own. With feelings. The space between is sacred and, like all sacred spaces, it is full of our humanity—all of our pain and all of our peace.

As I resist my urge to check email, reply to texts, plan a podcast, check the news, scroll through Facebook, or do the dishes, feelings start to surface. Not just one. Lots of them. So many feelings I don’t know where to start or what to feel, and I’d rather just eat potato chips.

But I don’t dismount this particular stationary place.

Instead, I sit down and list the emotions that I feel. I literally list them. On paper. With a pen. The most dominant feeling is exhaustion. Is exhaustion a feeling? Yes, I can assure you, it is. When I think about what I’ve poured into my blog and my book over the last five years, I feel fatigue everywhere, from the center of my soul to the tips of my toes. And I cry tired tears. It turns out, like so many other emotions, sometimes exhaustion leaves the body through our tear ducts.

For a while, my space between is filled up with fatigue.

Then, gradually, the fatigue gives way to more pleasant feelings. I feel a strange but joyful mixture of relief and wonder, and a thought: “Wow, the dream you dared to dream actually came true.” I feel peace when I think about the people who have told me that Loveable has brought them comfort and clarity and healing. And, in the space between, I feel gratitude. I’m grateful for my people—my wife, my kids, my friends, and the worldwide community of readers who have supported me like family.

Then, I feel fatigued again.

I’m reminded that rest and restoration cannot happen completely in one little space between. Rest has to become a ritual. The space between has to be cherished and protected like the sacred space it is.

There must be a million ways to start protecting our space between. I begin by buying an alarm clock. Because in the space between my lying down and my falling sleep—and in the space between my waking and my rising—it is too tempting to flick through my phone. It needs to say outside of the bedroom, so I can feel what I need to feel during these sacred spaces in my daily rhythm.

May you, too, begin to reclaim the hallowed ground of your space between.

May you feel it.

May you rest.

And may you be restored, to the fullness of your humanity.

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In his debut novel, Kelly weaves a page-turning, plot-twisting tale that explores the spiritual depths of identity and relationships, amidst themes of healing, grace, faith, forgiveness, and freedom.

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About Kelly

Dr. Kelly Flanagan is a psychologist, author, consultant, and speaker who enjoys walking with people through the three essentials of a truly satisfying life: worthiness, belonging, and purpose. His blog writings have been featured in Reader’s Digest, The Huffington Post, The 5 Love Languages, and the TODAY Show. Kelly is the author of Loveable and True Companions.