“Most of us spend our life trying to pretend things are better than they are.” Larry Crabb
I should have seen this coming. Tail lights brightening as cars were coming to a halt. Soon I was stuck…stuck in traffic. There was no escape. Soon, it felt good to just move a few inches. Cars, like cattle, were being herded slowly down the asphalt trail. Red lights flicked on and off, warning others not to get too close. Hundreds of humans, all lined up and heading the same way but there is absolutely no feeling of closeness or community among us. Life on the service roads flowed by while I felt stuck. I don't like traffic jams...Perhaps I should rephrase that. I hate the feeling of being stuck.
It seems a week doesn’t go by that I don’t hear of someone who feels “stuck” in something related to their work. Some feel stuck in a “dead-end job”. Some feel stuck in bureaucracy or never-ending deadlines. Some feel stuck with difficult relationships.
Feeling stuck is a feeling of fear... A fear that tomorrow will be just like today.
As I was experiencing my “stuck in traffic” episode, the radio station was interviewing Scottish-born singer Sheila Walsh. It seemed coincidental (yeah…sure) that Sheila was sharing her dramatic story when she had felt stuck in her life to the point of extreme despair and depression. Prior to this dark season in her life, Sheila had experienced tremendous popularity as a singer, author and co-host of the TV show, The 700 Club. Yet inside, even though she was a Christian, she felt despondent and dead. She was going through the motions of life, but was no longer experiencing any meaning. One day, she became so desperate that she abruptly walked off the set of the 700 Club, drove to a psych hospital and checked herself in. Her action was a complete surprise and shock to all. Yet, she couldn’t take it anymore. She said, “I was one of the loneliest people on the planet. You can be incredibly well known and very alone. And that’s who I was. I was…very alone.”
Perhaps your experience is not as dramatic as Sheila Walsh’s, but is there a place in your life where you feel stuck? If you feel stuck in an area of your life, you are not alone. It is a common and re-occurring experience all of us encounter at different seasons of our lives.
In Sheila Walsh’s experience, she got to a point where she felt stuck in her roles and responsibilities and lost sight of the value of who she was as a person. She had come to a place where she knew she couldn’t get unstuck on her own. On The first day when Sheila Walsh entered the hospital the doctor said to her, “Who are you?” Her response was, “I was in a very flip, angry, depressed-kind of place. I wanted to say to him, 'Listen, buddy, you’re getting paid a lot of money. Read your notes and that’ll tell you who I am." But I came out with this pathetic answer: "I’m the co-host of The 700 Club." I thought that was a good answer. He said, "No, no, I don’t mean that. Who are you?" I said, "Well, I’m a writer and a singer." He said, "No. Who are you?" And I said, "I haven’t a clue." Sheila had come to the point where she realized how dead she was on the inside. She was stuck in a very dark place. It took a while, but Sheila finally came to a point where she experienced God’s deliverance. She goes on to share about her breakthrough.
“One of the days…I got a pass on a Sunday to go to church with a couple of the nurses. I sat in the back of this little Episcopalian church in Washington, D.C. I didn’t know anyone. The sun was streaming through the stained glass windows. The pastor, who I had never met before, said, "Some of you in here feel as if you are dead inside and you are already six feet under, but Jesus is here. If you would simply just reach out your hand – you don’t have to get yourself out of the place you’re in – just reach out your hand, and call on His name, He will reach in there and grab hold of you.”
I’ve never walked to an altar in my life. I gave my life to Christ in my bedroom as a child. But I said to the nurse, "Can I go?" She said, "Yeah." I ran to the front of that church, and I lay flat on my face in front of the altar, and it was like, "God, I’m done. I’m absolutely done. I have nothing left. And you either help me here, or I'm done." God said, "Yes.You’ve been done for a while. You just didn’t know it."[i]
Have you been undone for a while, and just don’t know it? While the roles we have in life (i.e. husband, parent, professional, ministry leader, etc.) are very important they are false substitutes as the source we need for real life. Furthermore, the reliance on some “hat we wear” as our source of identity is a form of idolatry. If you and I are trying to suck life out of the roles we play, then one day, no matter how hard we suck, life will become disappointingly dry and desolate.
So what should you do if you feel stuck? What do you do if you feel like Sheila did and are trying to prop up your life from the roles you play rather than living life from the indwelling Christ? Perhaps your life is not as out of control as Sheila’s was, but perhaps you feel you are stuck.
Here are some of the things I’ve found helpful.
1) Acknowledge and forsake any role or responsibility that I depend on for my identity– I have fallen in the trap of allowing a role to be my source of identity. When I have done so, it has left me feeling disappointed. Are the roles you perform the basis for your identity? Are you living off the energy and adrenalin of your role at work? "At some point, if we are to continue to grow, we must begin to differentiate ourselves from the roles we play.” [ii]
2) Cry out to God for help – You and I have no ability to “unstuck” ourselves. God is irresistibly attracted to a heart that cries out to him for help. When Jesus walked this earth, he made his appeal to the Father “with loud cries and tears” (Heb. 5:7). He knows what it feels like to be stuck. (He was stuck on a cross).
3) Get Help– This is really hard for me. I have always had a difficult time asking other people for help. As I was growing up, my family modeled the motto to solve your problems on your own without the help of others. While we do need to cry out to God as our ultimate source of help, he has designed the Body of Christ to personify his care in our time of need.
The prophet Jeremiah states it well when he says,
"Listen carefully: Don't stay stuck in your ways! It's God's Message we're dealing with here. Let your lives glow bright before God…" (Jer. 13:15 MSG)
(Note: Excerpts from this writing are taken “Because Your Heart Matters” by Joe M. Carroll; Xulon Press).
[i] In an interview with Scott Ross and Cheryl Wilcox on CBN.com
[ii] Carol Pearson, The Hero Within (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1986) pg. 62 (quoted in When the Heart Waits pg. 57)