Getting Unstuck

[Rd. Col. 4] Today I woke up at 6:30 and thought, hooray, it’s Monday and I’m going to leap out of bed and get SO much done. But for some reason, instead of writing the next chapter in the novel I’m working on, I drank coffee and wandered down research rabbit holes on 23 and Me. It was super fun. I was trying to figure out which DNA relatives in the family tree were descended from which relatives.

It wasn’t that fun.

I knew they were rabbit holes. But instead of doing what I actually wanted to do–and needed to do–and think I enjoy doing–I kept diving headfirst down one useless rabbit hole after another. I was stuck.

By 11:30, I decided that I absolutely had to return the vacuum robot I’d bought online last week, riding that Quarantine wave. I’d been so excited about this vacuum. It’s a hybrid. It’s supposed to clean AND mop. However, when it arrived, I discovered to my chagrin that its promised Wifi capabilities are not compatible with 5G. Countless attempts to hook it up (time that I could have spent vacuuming) ended in bitter defeat.

So today I organized returning it (okay, fine: I confess. I bought it from Amazon. Yes, I’m that person, the one who is contributing to Amazon taking over the world). In order to put it back in its box so FedEx could pick it up, I pressed a button.

It sprang to life. “Cleaning,” it said. Startled, and extremely pleased, I stepped back. I watched, mesmerized, as it darted under the dining room table and wove its way around the chair legs. Wow, I thought. I don’t even vacuum under there.

I couldn’t stop watching it. Far from freeing me up, I found myself stuck all over again.

I watched as it bumped into chair legs, wheeled around, tried another way, bumped, pivoted, advanced, got stuck. That robot seemed determined to stay under the table. I lifted it up–while it spun its little legs like a crab and its dead-sounding computer voice complained about the indignity of my treatment–and put it down near some dirt by an ottoman. It went right back under the table and wove between the chair legs again.

I kept watching it. Oh no, I thought. I’m stuck again. Ironically, this time I was stuck watching a little robot vacuum get stuck. It was very meta. I felt like a failure. But the way it moved was so fascinating. What was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I look away?

And then I remembered something my husband had said on our twenty minute WFH walk when I told him about my 23andMe stuckness. “Someone wise once told me,” [me, me, me!], “that when you’re a writer, dreaming is not a waste of time.”

Okay, I thought. Maybe this isn’t a total waste of time. Maybe I’m not the world’s biggest failure. So how can I use this moment? And then I realized that what the robo vacuum was doing was exactly how we usually try to solve our problems. We go over and over the issues. We bump into obstacles, wheel around, try a different direction, encounter another chair leg and pivot.

It’s fine for vacuuming. But for the Big Problems of Life? It’s frustrating and too often leads to nothing but dead ends and defeat. We feel like our wheels are spinning and we’re going nowhere. And a mechanical, dead voice inside of us is saying, this is not working. And it’s because there’s a problem inside of you.

I remembered then that there was a better way. Instead of rabbit holes and robot-vacuum maneuvers, I could ask for God’s help. I wish I could say that prayer was my first line of attack every time I get stuck. But it’s not: obviously. Instead, I somehow fall back into remembering as if for the first time the more excellent way each day–all over again. I hope you’re more resourceful than I am–and more humble. I think pride is the problem. Pride can’t ask for help.

But who wants to be like a robot vacuum? As Paul puts it in today’s letter to the Colossians, we’re supposed to “devote” ourselves to prayer, being “watchful and thankful”. No wonder Paul says to be watchful. It’s all too easy to get stuck in a dry prayerless condition.

And once we pray for God to open a door–He flings it wide open. Instead of focusing on our procrastination techniques, God changes our hearts. We discover that we are looking not at our To Do list to define our sense of worth but instead are thankful for His love. We remember our worth comes from God loving us so much He sent His son to die for us: or, as Paul puts it in today’s reading, we become thankful, all over again, for the “mystery of Christ.” It is a mystery. It’s a divine supernatural mystery and a whole different way of living.

And right there, in the moment of realizing we’re going at it all wrong–we are transformed. We find ourselves asking not how we can feel good about ourselves but what we can do for others. How, God, we ask, can our conversation “be always full of grace, seasoned with salt”? Help us, we ask… and we find that our day has begun in earnest: even more effortlessly than that robot vacuum cleaned up a few dry leaves. He makes us sparkling new–every day. And somehow everything becomes more seamless.

Did I write that chapter? No, but I worked on it. I found it was stuck, too. There was a reason for my procrastination. Because once we’re thankful and watchful and praying, we discover that God is kind… far more kind that we can even imagine.

A meditation for peace: Col. 3

Today, we grieve.

We grieve injustice, racism and violence. We grieve for those killed by the very people paid to protect them. We grieve sickness, death, loneliness, isolation, loss of income, food insecurity and those trapped in prisons where the virus rages, those effectively sentenced to capital punishment for the “crime” of not being able to meet bail.

In Col. 3, St. Paul invites us to set our minds on things above. He provides a long list of things that weigh us down, things that prevent us from being the people we long to be, including lust, greed, rage, slander and lying. He reminds us that we all are one in Christ. He says that there’s no distinction of gender, race or class in Christ.

We know. We agree. But often it feels like the harder we try, the faster we fail. The quarantine has a clarifying effect: it shows us the things we need to shed as individuals, as a nation, as a world.

We need healing. Desperately. So how do we receive the healing we need? One powerful solution is the following mediation exercise, where we imagine handing to Jesus–while He is on the cross–our every grief, mistake and wound.

As Leanne Payne explains in her classic book, THE HEALING PRESENCE:

“I never cease to be awed at the simplicity and the extent of the spiritual and psychological healings that take place when we ask a person to look and see, with the eyes of his heart, Jesus on the Cross. As he looks to the One who took into ‘his own body on the tree’ the sin, the darkness, the pain that is killing him, he is then enabled to yield up to the dying Christ the ‘death’ that is in his own members…. When we do so, God’s energy is indeed ‘let loose.’ People repent and are forgiven: people forgive others and are healed.”

Try it. I have, multiple times this week. But I warn you: get away by yourself, because you might weep.

What I found is that I didn’t want to burden Him. I didn’t want to hurt Christ by giving him my bad stuff. I felt terrible for causing Him to suffer. I imagined handing him my anger, for instance, and visualized what it cost Him to take it from me.

But that is exactly the point. He did suffer for us. He died so we might live. By His stripes we are healed. He invites us to hand Him the burdens we were not made to carry, the burdens of our inadequacy and brokenness.

So close your eyes and give Christ your all, your good and your bad. As you imagine Christ on the cross, dying for you, picture yourself giving to Him the sin, darkness and pain that is killing you. Give him your hopelessness and your fear, the things that make you angry and the things that make you want to give up.

He already wept.

And in the place created by that holy transference, we will find room in our hearts for hope and for love. God takes our sin and gives us grace to enable us to help others who so desperately need it. Amen.