When was a college pastor in Oregon, one of our traditions was to take the students to a corn maze on Halloween. It was fun because it was dark and people in costumes would jump out to scare us. It was made less fun, however, by the realization that I was not very good at mazes. I found that I kept ending up back where I started and I struggled to find a way out. It was frustrating because I was putting forth a lot of effort, but I was not getting any results. In short, I was stuck.
Sometimes we can feel stuck in our life and in our faith. It is discouraging because we feel like we are putting forth effort to grow, but we find ourselves circling around the same territory again and again. After a while we begin to wonder if it is worth the effort. It is tempting to give up and simply accept a trapped and defeated life instead of continuing to strive for victory and freedom.
While there are many ways that we can be stuck, I want to explore three of them and talk about ways that we move forward instead of remaining stuck.
Some of us have explosions of anger, while others of us are a slow burn. Instead of lashing out immediately, we internalize our hurt and we replay over and over again the ways that we were wronged. This is understandable because we all experience real hurts and some of them cut us deeply. But as our anger turns to bitterness, we can find ourselves wandering around the maze, making no forward movement. The author of Hebrews warns us in Hebrews 12:15, “See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.”
The antidote to anger is forgiveness. When we forgive, we walk away from our anger and bitterness and we extend grace to others. As Paul says in Colossians 3:13, “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” When we have hurts, we are called to forgive. And for those of us who have been forgiven by God, we have the model and the motivation for forgiveness. We follow the lead of our Lord Jesus.
This doesn’t mean that forgiveness is easy. In fact, sometimes we might feel like we are blocked from forgiveness because the person who wronged us is not cooperating. When this happens, it is important to remember that forgiveness is not always the same as reconciliation. We can extend forgiveness to others—letting go of our bitterness—even if they never repent, apologize, or seek to make reparations. Forgiveness is not something that we need the cooperation of others in order to accomplish. Under the leading and empowering of the Spirit of God, we simply release our bitterness and no longer hold on to our (sometimes righteous) anger. We follow the lead of Jesus in forgiving others.
Reconciliation is always desirable when there has been something that stirs up anger. At the same time, feel the freedom to deal with one at a time. Forgive others, and then—when possible—seek to sort out that would go along with reconciliation. Reconciliation is a two-way street. But forgiveness is something you can do with no cooperation from others. If you are stuck in anger and bitterness, God invites you to walk forward in grace instead of remaining stuck.
Sometimes we are stuck because we have experienced a loss and we simply have not found the way to move forward. This may be the loss of a person through death, the loss of a relationship through divorce or distance or conflict, or the loss of a job or a home or a dream. When we are in grief we have find ourselves wandering, half-awake, though the maze and stumbling back to our place or origin.
Psalm 34:18 says, “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” This is a comfort to those who are grieving. God is near! There is also an encouragement, though, to those who feel stuck in grief and discouragement. In Psalm 42:11 the psalmist asks, “Why, my soul, are you to downcast? Why so disturbed within me?” This is the honest question of a grieving and depressed man. He acknowledges his sadness. In fact, he is bringing his grief before God. We never need to fear being honest with God about our grief and depression. He is close to the brokenhearted.
When the psalmist asks, “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me?” he then speaks to himself. He gives himself an answer to his grief. He goes on to say, “Put your hope in God.” Remember God. Remember that your hope is not in money or houses or even in your relationships. Your ultimate hope is in God and He is faithful! The psalmist then says, “For I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” He has confidence that he will not always feel as depressed and discouraged as he currently does. In the future, he will praise God! After all, God is his savior. When you’re in grief, exercise faith that your times of praising God are not all in your past. There are times in the future when you will feel differently, times when your heart overflows with praise and joy. Hope in God in times of grief.
Sometimes we’re not stuck because someone else wronged up, or because we suffered a loss, but because we have a sinful habit that has stalled our lives. Whether it is drunkenness, pornography, dishonesty, drugs, infidelity, stealing, or some other sin, we sometimes find that it is not as easy to walk away from sin as we thought it would be. We find that Paul was right in Romans 6:16, “Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one who obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?” In essence, Paul reminds us that when we choose to sin, we choose sin as our master. We don’t use sin for our purposes; sin uses us for its purposes. When we choose sin, we choose to be slaves.
What do we do when we’re stuck in sin? I want to give a theological answer and a practical answer. The theological answer is found in Romans 6:13 when Paul says, “Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness.” Don’t tinker with sin. Run away. Flee. Stop! And instead offer yourself completely to God for His purposes. Being a “slave” to God is the only true path to joy and freedom.
The practical answer is still needed, though, because we often want to stop sinning, but we find it very difficult. If this is the case, then the single biggest piece of advice I have is to bring someone else into the battle. In Galatians 6:2 Paul writes, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Enlist someone else in your battle. If this is through Celebrate Recovery or Life Care or through a friend or a pastor or a Life Group leader, look for someone to join you in the fight. And make sure you don’t simply enlist a confessor who will listen to your sins and sympathize with you. Enlist a fellow soldier. Enlist someone who will hold your feet to the fire. Enlist a friend (or several) who will fight alongside you and who will call you out when you are returning to your sin. If you want to be unstuck, you need to fight for freedom.
If you feel stuck right now, don’t lose hope. God loves to lead us in freedom and victory and growth. If you need help, however, seek it out. One path is through the Life Care ministry at LBF Church. In this ministry, participants sign up to meet with a Life Care partner for up to 10 sessions of talking through key issues in their lives. The experience is meant to be something between counseling and friendship. It is an intentional relationship meant to help people get unstuck. If you think this will help, call the church and ask for Shauntel Raymond, or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
But whether you use Life Care or not, remember that God leads us to victory, not defeat and stagnation. Hope in God and seek the freedom that only He can bring.