I’m from a small town in Pennsylvania and recently we buried my Pap at the tiny chapel on the edge of his farm where he lived until he was 93 years old. Making the drive home was nostalgic. Miles and miles of country road twisting and turning through the wild forest leading me to the place where years of life were lived.
As I pulled up to the farm, I was reminded just how much dirt and mud I played in as a kid. My mom won the local award for stain removing, blue ribbon and all. As I reached driving age (not by legal standards per se, but by farm standards), mud took on a new meaning. It seemed every week someone was getting stuck, and not too few times that someone was me. It’s here that the mud taught me a few things about being stuck.
I learned that pressing the gas harder and longer would not get me out of the mud. In fact, it made things worse. I learned how to rock a car back and forth out of the mud – much more of an art than the pure brute default. When that didn’t work, I learned how to put down cardboard and pack sand under the tires to create traction. When that didn’t do the job, I learned how to accept the help of others who were willing to get into the mud to push me out. Last, when all else failed, there was the thick rope tied under the bumper of the car, tethered to a big blue tow truck.
Farmers aren’t the only ones who get stuck. Imagine, in real time:
Job is desperately ill.
Sarah is barren.
Mary has demons.
Elijah has had enough and wants it all to end.
Jonah is inside the fish.
Stuck happens. It can happen in our personal lives and as church leaders. It can happen on an organizational level. A global pandemic, political unrest, and social divides, all at the same time are a breeding ground for personal and organizational stickiness.
Being stuck is so… vulnerable. Regardless of the tactics we try to use to get out, being stuck exposes us. When we are personally stuck we have to face our own inclination to deceive ourselves about the state of our inner life so that we can begin to see who we were created to be and move toward that. And, when we are organizationally stuck, we not only have to move ourselves through the mud, but the others on the bus too.
So, you’re stuck. Now what?
When we find ourselves mired in mud, there are several common things that work against us moving through it, and if we aren’t mindful, they can keep us there. In the mud analogy, this is the “just keep your foot on the gas” method. These things may not have landed us in the mud, but they aren’t going to make getting out easy. You’ll recognize them by name: strong ego, guilt, shame, intellect, achievement.
Certainly, this list is not exhaustive. Self-awareness is key here. We should be curious if these traps are at play when our defenses are high. When we feel like a martyr. When we start to feel resentment or bitterness. When we start to control and/or reframe narratives. When we start to numb the pain. When we create echo chambers.
This can happen personally or organizationally. There are times when we may be blind to our inner needs because our outer lives are going so well. But the inner eventually catches up. How many leaders have found their (outer) platform outpacing their (inner) character? We know too many stories and too many names of those who got stuck and stayed there.
The ripple effects are painful. Staying stuck often has nothing to do with what led us to being stuck— it has to do with what we do after we get stuck.
Getting unstuck isn’t formulaic. From what I can see, there are no five easy steps. But there are some things that I think can help. Because being stuck is vulnerable, we shouldn’t be surprised that getting unstuck is often accompanied by discomfort, surrender, acceptance, forgiveness, awareness, and healing.
Not what you were expecting, huh? Me either. But we see it again and again. Getting unstuck is less about a five-step formula and more about our willingness and humility to lean in.
Read the stories of Job, Sarah, Mary, Elijah, and Jonah again and ask God to show you something new about being stuck and the transformation that can happen – not in spite of the mud, but because of the mud.
Oftentimes, solitude and reflection are helpful tools. For me, the best tool I’ve found for getting unstuck is a trusted mentor. Mentors can serve as a guide along the way: asking good questions, listening, sharing perspective, encouraging, and challenging. At a time when I was particularly stuck, a mentor encouraged me to not find myself ignorant in isolation. This wisdom continues to serve me well regularly.
A NEW VIEW
Being stuck is an opportunity to be transformed. An invitation to sit in awe of the mysteries of God and His ways that are higher than our ways. Trusting that as we emerge from the stuck, we will be changed for the better and learn that we don’t have to be in control. God is God. We are not.
The transformation is worth it – however long it takes.
Some questions to ponder in the mud:
What is standing in the way of God fully living through you?
Do you feel like God has abandoned you?
Who else can help you through this?
God already sent the ultimate tow truck. We have a good Dad. He gave us Jesus, and in Jesus, He gave us everything. He held nothing back. May that be enough. Take heart and stop spinning the tires.