I Am Stuck!
A few years ago I walked onto a sandy stretch during low tide along the Coos Bay slough in Oregon. Immediately my feet sunk down about 6 inches in a stride position, and my shoes were engulfed in thick wet sand. I tried to get out and couldn’t. The more I struggled, the more stuck I became. Eventually, I fell forward and wiggled out with my husband pulling me. The feeling of being immobilized with the upper part of me free and the bottom part hopelessly stuck was an odd sensation. It was a sensation of panic and rational lucidity.
I’ve had that same feeling in my ministry, in my marriage, in my profession, and with my kids at one point or another. I’ve worked with colleagues in ministry where we could not get along. In the early years of my marriage, I wondered if our two different personalities could make it together. Randy and I had difficulties with one of our daughters. No matter what we did, it only made matters worse. Part of me was stuck and part of me was remarkably functional.
“Stuck” happens to all of us. We wade into it often without realizing the dangers. We’re trying to do the right thing. We want to lead and love like Jesus, but then we find ourselves in a bewildering mess. When we travel in God’s wilderness, we will find patches where the only way out is stretching ourselves. We are truly stuck when we can’t make any progress despite trying various ways out. We might try counseling, conversations with trusted friends, seminars, behavior changes, skill-building, etc, and nothing seems effective. We also will notice a rising anxiety that takes up more and more space in us. "Stuckness" is not a test from God or simply our fault (we almost always have a part to play, but rarely are stuck situations the result of one person). We’ll remain stuck until we realize that being stuck is an opportunity to grow so as to lead better.
Jesus is a perfect model for what to do. He too got stuck. He was stuck in the desert, and he was stuck in the Garden. In the desert, he had to decide whether he would walk a human success path or if he would submit to God’s plan. In the desert, each temptation offered him a choice between an easy way or God’s way. We have the same choice. For us the easy path is often to become more reactive by blaming, gossiping, looking for a quick-fix, or running away. The panic gets control. Instead of the easy path, we can learn by doing what Jesus did: make more—not less—room for prayer and reflection. Spend more time creating space for God to pull you out. Look for Scripture and direction to help you choose God’s way.
With prayer and reflection, we can come to understand our part in the mess. We take responsibility. How much of my marriage stuckness came from my desire for Randy to be how I wanted him to be? How much of the struggle with my daughter came from my desire to shape her according to my dreams for her and not relinquishing her to God? How much of my stuckness with a colleague had to do with acknowledging the unhealthiness of the situation and listening to God’s clear direction to “go”?
When we go to the desert, we can examine the voices and forces that try to take us off the foundation of Christ and onto our own striving. In these types of stuck situations we always have options. One is hard but sets us free, and the other keeps us stuck.
There are stuck situations where there are no options for escape. As Jesus faced his death on the cross, he went to the Garden to pray. He knew he had a difficult path to walk, and his heart was wrestling with the pain and despair of it. Sometimes we are asked to walk hard paths, and we can get stuck emotionally and subvert the call to suffering. Jesus went away and prayed again and again. To face his situation, he needed to completely release himself into God’s will. As unfair or strange as it might seem, Jesus knew this was what he was supposed to do.
Sometimes we are in situations where there is no apparent way out: taking care of a child with a disability; extending tough love to an alcoholic friend; having a parent with Alzheimer’s; serving in an environment that doesn’t recognize our gifts, and so on. Life circumstances can shortchange the dreams and hopes we have for ourselves. Life is defined more by suffering than by freedom. Jesus made a choice to relinquish his pain and disappointment to God. In prayer, he searched his heart and came back three times to his trust in God. If we are stuck in a situation not of our choosing, then we, like Jesus, must wrestle through our disappointments at the throne of grace. We relinquish all to God, and then we can find an emotional place of hope in order to get unstuck.
We all get stuck, but these stuck places become an opportunity for digging deep and stretching out so that we are more like Christ. The panic is not from God. A strengthened identity and purpose is a result of being stuck. In Christ there is always a resurrection.
Written by MaryKate Morse
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