Stuck… It is one of the most demoralizing words in the English language. It always has a negative connotation to it – I’m stuck in traffic, stuck at home, stuck between a rock and a hard place… What does it mean to be stuck? At its emotional core, there is a hopelessness to the word “stuck” which feels like things will always be as they are right now and that there is no way to move forward.
What is it about our relationship to time and seasons which make us thing that not moving forward is one of the worst things that can happen to us? I have been wrestling with this question at a very personal level of late because I have felt stuck in my transition back to living in the United States. For several years, I had been in a forward trajectory moving from one goal to the next – from graduate school to ministry training to being at last released to live and work overseas. A dream that had been on my heart for decades. I planned on staying there for many years to come. But life does not always turn out as we expect and only 3 short years later, I find myself back in the States – stuck. Stuck in a season of transition that I thought would be far over by now.
I realized that as long as there is a sense of momentum and movement and change that we can see as moving toward a purposeful goal, we see that there is a sense of coherence and logic to our story. We have hope that even if things are not exactly as we want them to be, the story is continuing and things may be better in the next chapter.
JRR Tolkien is famously quoted as saying, “Not all those who wander are lost…” and I have always taken this to be a comforting phrase in my transient life – full of traveling and global wandering. But for one of the first times in all my traveling, I did feel lost. I no longer can see my way ahead. I can’t make sense of the story or where I found myself in the journey. I feel stuck in a ravine I have tumbled into and cannot find my way out.
In Ecclesiastes 3, we read of the normal ebb and flow of a life – Every life will experience times of weeping and times of laughter, times of new birth and times of death, times of dancing and times of mourning, planting and harvesting, speaking and silence, war and peace. This is to be expected. A healthy flow of life moves from one season to the next until its destination is reached.
But what if one season refuses to budge – like in C.S. Lewis’ Narnia, where it was “always winter and never Christmas”? Then we begin to suspect some evil enchantment is at work. Someone or something is working against us so that we are imprisoned within a season and cannot be free to move on and continue to the journey for which we were made. We feel stuck. Discouraging thoughts creep in – “I feel like God has grown tired of my story. He brought me out this far only to forget about me.” In my prayers, I echo the words of the 10th Avenue North song, “will you catch every tear or will you just leave me here?”
It is at this precise moment that you stand at a crossroads – You can choose to believe such thoughts of gloom and doubt which certainly seem to be confirmed by the ‘stuck’ feelings and what you can see of the unchanging horizon. Or you can choose another path. It is the path that chooses to walk by faith and not by sight. To choose the “sight of faith” is to choose to see beyond what our eyes can see in the natural realm.
In Lewis’ Narnia story, the watchword that was whispered from tree to tree and from Bear to Beaver was “Aslan is on the move!” Most of them had never “seen” Aslan with their eyes, but they believed what their eyes could not see. Although the snow was still deep against the trees and the river still stood frozen, the “true Narnians” made preparations for Aslan’s coming. They trusted the word of hope that they had been told, “Aslan was on the move” and His coming and would bring the awakening of a new season in their lives.
As I awake this morning still in this same season of transition, I could choose to grumble about being stuck in the wilderness under a rain cloud of despondency. But instead, I choose to believe that Jesus is “on the move” in my life whether I see it or not. As the author of Hebrews says, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1-3, italics added)
As Jesus himself said, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”