By Rev. Paul Graves
Even for those of us who endure the coronavirus pandemic with a minimum of disruption, I sense we all live in some degree of “stuck.” Arguably, everyone alive right now is feeling “stuck” to a lesser or greater degree.
But please allow me two cheeky questions: Is the pandemic the reason you feel stuck? Or did your feeling stuck begin before we were asked to shelter in place?
Perhaps your answer is “both-and.” There are thousands of reasons our lives might be stalled in “stuck.” The pandemic may simply be a more obvious reason – or excuse.
My first self-admission of feeling stuck happened 38 years ago. I came face to face with the realization that I deeply grieved the fact that I had not advanced professionally as far I had expected to be at that age. Getting unstuck from that grief was not easy, nor was it fast.
I currently lead an adult spiritual formation class at our church (on Zoom for the past many weeks). We’re using Joan Chittister’s stimulating book “Welcome to the Wisdom of the World: Universal Insights Distilled From Five Religious Traditions.”
In a chapter on Jewish community, she plants a provocative statement before us: “Failing to become what we want to be, we refuse to be the best that we are.” Sister Joan then identifies three psychological barriers that prompt that refusal to be the best that we are:
- We buy into some kind of “rescue mentality.” Basically, we’re always looking for someone to take the responsibility of our very being off our shoulders. “We expect other people to take responsibility for our unhappiness.” Ouch, that hurts!
Do you ever find yourself looking for that person, or maybe God, to take away your need to be responsible for your own actions? I’ve had moments when I gave in to the temptation. It pushed me further down into the muck of incompetence and self-pity. It would have been easy to stay stuck there.
- Settling for less than the best we are is giving in to what Chittister calls the “Great Impostor Syndrome.” We’re very good at posing as someone else. But eventually, we’re found out to be someone else. Our fear, though, is that “someone else” isn’t nearly as strong or good as who we pretend to be.
And that’s where we’re so wrong. Our basic humanness is so much better and greater than we obviously settle for on our own. That seems to be a common thread that runs through so many faith traditions. It’s certainly true in the Christian tradition. Even though we may not believe it.
- We’re often afraid to be “found out.” One of our cherished cultural metaphors for being found out is when Dorothy’s dog, Toto, pulls back the curtain in the Land of Oz, showing us who the wizard really is. After a stuttering time of embarrassing accountability, the wizard is redeemed in the eyes of Dorothy, the scarecrow, lion, and tin man. It sounds like a redemptive moment.
One reason we experience self-stuckness is our persistent bias toward negative wishful thinking. It may go like this: If people really knew who I am, they wouldn’t like me anymore. I’m convinced that most people with grandiose self-images live with that negative self-image. We try to wish it away through so many dishonest efforts to hide ourselves.
Many Christians say “God loves you just as you are.” I suspect fewer can honestly say “God loves me just as I am.” That’s the leap of faith God is waiting to hear. Honest awareness may be the toughest first step to getting unstuck.
The Rev. Paul Graves serves as the chair for the Council on Older Adult Ministries for the Pacific Northwest Conference of The United Methodist Church.