Three Challenges that Keep us Stuck---Or Frozen (Whichever the case may be?)
“I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.” (Phil. 3:12-14 MSG)
When I was a kid all the backroads out in the country where we lived were dirt. One year we had a wet winter. Ice and snow covered the ground and then melted before a deep Arctic front moved in making it impossible for most people to navigate the frozen ruts, especially school buses. We were stuck at home for two weeks but the situation never felt confining. It was all about perspective.
The ability to move forward in life is not always dependent on circumstance. Our attitude in the midst of circumstances and afterward is crucial. The Apostle Paul pressed on in his faith even as he was in custody in a Roman prison. He couldn’t take off on missionary journeys as he once had, but he was still moving forward, pressing toward his goal to finish his course. He knew soon he would step into eternity. He had set his mind on “things above” and he was intent on finishing well.
Most people who are stuck are stuck by choice. (Guess how I know?) They see themselves as trapped. They take on the attitude of the victim. Because life has handed them some difficulty, especially when someone has hurt them, this is understandable. The problem comes when they decide to live as a victim as the defining reality of their identity. To live, and to finish well, requires a reckoning with that attitude in order to move forward, or as Paul put it, to press on.
Moving on out of our place as the victim is like starting an exercise routine. At the beginning, it’s hard. It takes a few weeks or a month before we can workout without pain. The first week of a workout routine is critical. We have to use our intellect to press through the pain with the knowledge that soon we’ll acclimate and it won’t be so hard. We resign ourselves to the burning in our muscles until we condition them for the physical activity that will eventually result in strengthening them.
Setting an attitude toward moving passed the hurts of our lives will require some pain at the beginning. Grieving hurts, losses, betrayals, and disappointments is necessary as we come to terms with them. This processing step can’t be skipped. After time though, we need to set our hearts toward healing and moving on.
What are some of the attitudes that keep us stuck?
Refusing to learn—
One of the keys to moving forward is an intention to learn. Anytime we are hurt, our nature is to close ourselves off. We were hurt and we decide we won’t let that happen again. We decide that we won’t let anyone have influence in our life. We refuse to learn because we’ve decided we can trust no one. Refusing to learn results in our stagnating as people. Eventually, people who refuse to learn find they are isolated in the world. They are so intent on not being influenced by anyone (including God) that they become boring or cynical. Others don’t enjoy their company. They don’t even enjoy their own company. The boring are dull. The cynical are negative. If they have anything to talk about at all, they talk about others, usually in a judgmental tone which further separates them from people.
When we stop learning, we become isolated. Our world shrinks and so do our opportunities to become all that God intends us to be.
Living in regret—
Regret is a feeling of disappointment concerning an illusion. When we harbor regret regarding what could have been, we are wasting precious time. When hindsight tells us that had we made other decisions we could have avoided the destruction that has come to our lives, we feel deep regret. If those circumstances were indirect---like being at the wrong place at the wrong time--we are tempted to replay what might have happened if we had not gone here or there. Our reframe begins with “if only.” We forget how our perception is different looking back. If we look back too long, we can become obsessed. Those who live in regret struggle to move forward. It’s difficult to take steps forward when you have your neck craned and looking back all the time. Regret is a trap we all need to avoid.
Refusing to forgive—
As I’ve gotten older, one thing that has helped me move forward is to consider that most people are doing the best they can. I am learning that just like me, all people have baggage they are dragging through life. This doesn’t give them a free pass to influence my life with their pain, but it does help me to forgive them for being in their stuck place. This attitude helps my heart move toward wanting them to find God’s forgiveness and redemption. I don’t have to be involved in what God is doing with them. I can trust him to do what He must. When I turn it over to him, I can accept His command to forgive others as truly being for my good. I can move on.
Maybe the hardest person we ever have to forgive is ourselves? When we look back at our sin and how it has impacted our lives and the lives of others, we need to consider that at the time we were doing the best we could. At the same time, we need to learn from our sin and its consequences. God can use our experiences to grow and to change us if we'll allow it. We need to ask forgiveness from God, those we have hurt, and we need to forgive ourselves.
Our identity never has to be that of a victim over a lifetime. We can press on and know that our identity is solid in Christ when we choose to let him redeem our stories as we process in grief, let go of regrets, and forgive because we have been forgiven.
Let’s be realistic. This process doesn’t happen in a day or even a week. But when we set our intention toward thinking in new ways about our circumstances, we find the strength to set our eyes on Jesus. We can endure the disciplined journey toward healing by following in his footsteps. It's a race worth running even if you have to run on the treadmill because the world is in the middle of an Arctic blast!
Which of these challenges do you think is the most difficult to process--being unteachable, living in regret or unforgiveness?