There’s no formal definition for that place in life. But minimally, I suppose, we are “stuck” when we are profoundly uneasy with our circumstances, at dis-ease with the direction in which our lives are moving, and apparently unable to do anything to change the situation.
Some people get stuck in the past, trapped by regret, guilt, or unaddressed injustice. Some get stuck in the present with patterns of behavior that are frustrating, but appear to be intractable. And others are stuck in the future, more often than not, by fear.
There are stuck places in life, of course, that really are difficult to change. Environmental factors, financial constraints, and irretrievable losses (death or illness) may leave us in stuck in places that cannot be materially changed.
When we find ourselves in those places there is little that we can do, but give ourselves back to God in the circumstances that we face, praying to be as fruitful as possible.
But there are also choices that we can make to avoid or free ourselves from at least some of life’s stuck places:
One: Don’t wait to be vindicated.
Anger and depression often point to the disparity between the way we have been treated and the way that we should have been treated. It’s important to pay attention to those feelings, particularly if they point to injustice.
But many of us get stuck waiting for people or institutions to acknowledge the injustice we’ve experienced and to make amends.
Don’t wait for that moment. It almost never comes.
Institutions will protect themselves. Individuals will offer their own excuses for behavior that is cold, cruel, or calculating, and ragged edges will almost always remain.
Chart a course forward. Make the best of what is open to you, and don’t look back. Hoping to find an avenging angel or get an abject apology is a waste of time and energy.
Two: Stop hoping for perfection.
It’s true: The perfect is often the enemy of the best of possible worlds.
One of the best ways to avoid getting stuck is to stop waiting for perfection that will never come.
Roll with what is possible. Don’t let perfection become so important that you lose your freedom to act.
Three: Stop looking for mom and dad.
I’ve lost count of the number of adults who are stuck because they’ve been looking for mom and dad in their relationships or at work: the mother and father they never had, the mother and father who didn’t live up to the role, or simply the mother and father that they thought would step forward as mentor and guide.
That search is certain to get you stuck. Parental relationships are one-of-a-kind, or nearly so, and the rare exceptions are few and far between.
Where the best of parenting experiences are missing, the only really life-giving thing that you can do is to be a mentor and reliable guide to others. You’ll be surprised at what you will get back from the experience.
Four: Stop living out of unexamined anger.
We have a complicated relationship with anger.
Our culture and our faith often teach us that anger is a bad thing to feel. But anger can be a reliable guide to life, and it often surfaces when something is amiss or an injustice has been done.
The difficulty we have isn’t really with anger. It’s with unexamined anger.
When we don’t ask what we are angry about, when we don’t weigh the legitimacy of that anger, and when we don’t ask ourselves what we might do in response, we get stuck with it. That’s when anger can become a way of life.
If you are angry, examine it, learn from it, act in measured sane ways in response to it, and move on.
Five: Stop living out of regret.
We all make mistakes. Life is less about getting it all right and more about learning on the way.
You know what you know, when you know it. When you’ve made a mistake, do what you can and let it go. When you do learn something new, act on it.
Six: Don’t fail to forgive.
Forgiving others is one of life’s greatest spiritual challenges, and we are prone to think that it is all about the person we forgive.
Do they deserve forgiveness? Do they think they need to be forgiven? Will they acknowledge that need and celebrate the gift of forgiveness?
For the person doing the forgiving, none of that actually matters. In certain cases, it may not even be possible to let the other person know that they have been forgiven. That doesn’t matter either.
When we forgive, we free ourselves and we allow God to work in our lives in new ways.
Seven: Don’t try to do God’s job.
The biggest “stuck place” of all is the one where we don’t belong. There is freedom to be had in acknowledging our limitations and when we try to do God’s job, we can find ourselves waiting a long time for things to work out the way we hope.
Be gentle with yourself and acknowledge your limitations. Do what you can, live in the moment, rest in God, and leave the day’s events with God.
A final note:
Depending on our experience and temperament, some of the choices outlined above will be more of a challenge than others for each of us. That’s ok.
The key to avoiding the stuck places in life is not about eliminating the challenges. The key lies in recognizing the places we get stuck, in choosing freedom, and in discovering ever greater ease in moving on.
As such, avoiding those stuck places is one of life’s great spiritual disciplines, and its goal is ever greater freedom and availability to God’s work in and through our lives.
Find the place where you are stuck. Confront it. Choose freedom.
image by Sira Anamwong used with permission from freedigitialphotos.net