HOW TO GET UNSTUCK.
Life is a journey. A road. A path.
We’ve all heard the metaphors. They abound in song, in prose, in film.
Every day is a winding road. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. The only impossible journey is the one you never begin.
It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey. Life takes time. Effort. Energy. Blah, blah, blah. I get it.
Metaphors such as these are all fine and good when we’re making progress. When we’re moving forward, no matter how slowly. When we’re able to at least put one foot in front of the other.
But, I ask, what about those times when we’re stuck? When we’re off course? When we’re moving backwards? When we don’t even know what path we’re supposed to be on? What about those times when, instead of being on the road, we’re in the ditches?
Nobody writes songs about ditches, except for that fictitious band Mouse Rat. When you’re stuck in the ditch, chances are you’re not going anywhere anytime soon.
This is real life.
Not Instagram life. Not Tinder profile life. Not Christmas card life.
Don’t feel stuck? Lost? Off course? Give it time. You will. Soon.
It’s so tempting to think of life as a series of goals, of destinations, of social media highlights. And sometimes it is. Sometimes we move forward. Things proceed at least somewhat as planned. Before you know it, though, you take your eyes off the road, and you’re back in the ditch. Maybe you swerve to miss an unforeseen obstacle. Maybe the road itself unexpectedly ends. Maybe your vehicle suddenly breaks down.
Let me dispense with the road metaphors for a minute. Life seldom, if ever, goes as planned. Just when we put out one fire, another one ignites. As much as we try, often convincingly, to portray ourselves as having it together, we don’t. Whether it’s from forces internal or forces external, we often feel like our lives, our happiness, our sense of purpose, our very existence is hanging by a thread.
For every day spent on the road, we spend two in the ditch.
Even our best attempts to stay on the road fail. Whether it’s cancer, or anxiety, or bankruptcy, or a family in chaos, or a dishonest spouse, or falling off a mountain in Mexico, those dastardly ditches beckon.
Sometimes it’s not even a catastrophe that forces us into the ditch. Sometimes it’s a dead-end job. A loveless marriage. A sense of being unfulfilled, of lacking purpose. Sometimes it’s just the day-to-day, the monotony, the routine.
Next thing you know, you’re hopelessly stuck. And, you’re stuck being hopeless.
I have more bad news. Ready or not, here it is: there is no magic formula for getting unstuck. No timely roadside assistance. Navigating this life, its highs and lows, takes patience. Courage. Strength. Faith. You think there’s an easy answer? Think again.
Getting unstuck is not the work of a moment, but of a lifetime.
This isn’t your Instagram feed. This is real life.
However, there are three tangible things you can do to get unstuck. First, stop wishing and start doing. We can’t rescue ourselves from every ditch, but there are certainly some that are shallow enough to climb out of. Feel trapped in a dead-end job? Get a new one. Yes, finding that dream job isn’t easy, but no one ever landed it by simply throwing pennies and resumes into their proverbial wishing well. Stuck in a situation that you can change? Change it. Don’t wait for a better day or a stronger you.
Second, destroy your comfort zone. So often, we feel stuck because we’re unwilling to take risks. Risks that could end in that elusive life on the highway we’ve always wanted, but that could also result in catastrophic failure. Time precludes me from delving deeper into the wisdom of the Einsteins, the Edisons, and the Teslas of this world, for whom failure was a necessary part of invention and growth. You’re never going to learn to swim if you won’t even get in the water.
Third, learn to have patience with the process. Remember that this too shall pass. Yes, I know it’s easier said than done, but take it from me. My 2019 has been one enormous ditch. From dealing with peripheral neuropathy for months, to falling off a cliff and breaking 21 bones, to my spinal fusion surgery and subsequent recovery, to issues I can’t even discuss here, this year has been one son of a ditch. However, I have faith that this ditch will not have the final say. Time heals. Time changes. Time unsticks. Choose to have faith that there is a solution to the problem you’re facing, whether that solution lies inside or outside of yourself. Choose to have faith that that solution will become apparent in time.
Ditches are not our goal in life. But they lie on either side of the road. Waiting. Beckoning. While on the highway, we turn to anything to stay between the lines, or at least help us numb the pain of having lost our way. Lost the plot.
Work. Money. Sex. Booze. Travel. Relationships. Religion.
We even turn to God in hopes that He can make our paths smooth. Easy. Painless.
Unfortunately, that’s not his first priority. Yes, he wants us to be happy. But not when our happiness comes at the cost of our growth. Our faith. Our souls.
I highly doubt that professional drivers hone their skills on straight, flat stretches of highway. If setting the cruise control and keeping your car pointed straight ahead were the only requirements to a successful NASCAR career, you probably wouldn’t see nearly as many fiery crashes, but you wouldn’t see as many skilled drivers, either.
Jesus never said the road would be straightforward. He never even said he would keep us on the road. He only said he would walk with us. Down highways, through ditches. He never said the way would be easy. He only told us that he is the way. The truth. The life. “In this world you will have trouble,” he emphatically declared. Not won’t. Not might. If anything, life will get harder when we hand the wheel to the only One we can trust with it. Ironically, so many lose faith for this very reason: expecting smooth sailing, they balk at the first sight of stormy seas.
Jesus walked our road before us. He was well acquainted with discouragement. With dejection. With doubt. With ditches. Ultimately, his road led him to Calvary. A cross. Some nails. Mockery. Rejection. A cruel death. Why would we expect our road to be any smoother than that of the Son of God himself?
This is real life. Messy, painful, discomfiting. But there is hope. Hope that we don’t have to travel alone. Hope that through highways and ditches alike, we are growing. Changing. Learning. Hope that there is a destination at the end of the road, a destination without ditches, distrust, or despair.
Do you feel lost? I know I do. Are you hurting? Lonely? Scared? Tired? You’re not alone. We are all on this journey together. None of us actually know what we’re doing behind the wheel. So stop comparing your driving, your progress, your abilities to anyone else’s. If you’re in the ditch and someone flies by you on the road, don’t be filled with envy or exasperation. Your time will come. If you ain’t first, it doesn’t mean you’re last.
In the ditch? Don’t spin your wheels. This will only sink you further. Instead, trust that the One who can handle the valley of the shadow of death knows a thing or two about ditches, himself. He is not in the business of quick, easy fixes. He knows that the ditches are where our character is formed, tested, refined. Thus, he may not pull us out on our own myopic timetables, but he’ll give us the patience and strength you need until we’re back on the road again.
Life doesn’t start only when we get back out of the ditch. The hourglass of our lives doesn’t pause while we’re stuck. Time marches steadily onward. So, I encourage you: make the most of the trying season you’re in. Look outward and upward, not inward. You may find that through helping others out of their ditches, you’ve gotten yourself out of yours as well.
This, my friends, is real life.
This piece was originally published on Medium.