A Prayer for When You Feel Stuck
by J. Scott McElroy
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” -Matthew 11:28-30 NIV
Does it ever seem hard to make progress in your life; to reach goals (even daily ones) and fulfill your calling? You seem to be going in the right direction, making a little progress… and then you get bogged down. That stuck feeling surfaces again. Maybe it's caused by distraction, fear, or something that's just hard to put a finger on.
I’ve experienced this feeling more often than I care to admit.
I think I have a pretty good handle on my personal calling and the work God has prepared for me (Eph 2:10), but getting there or letting him take me there can be a struggle. I can get stuck along the way.
A few weeks ago God unexpectedly shined some light on my dilemma.
I’d been leading a book study of Finding Divine Inspiration for several weeks with a sweet group of ladies here in Indianapolis. In response to one of the chapters, we took a few minutes to quiet ourselves and listen for God’s voice. I find these exercises very fruitful; it’s often surprising how easily we’ll hear God’s still small voice if we just get quiet for a few minutes.
I wasn’t thinking about this stuckness issue as I sat there silently, but God decided it would be a good time to talk about it. What he showed me felt like an instant mini-revelation, and I impulsively laughed out loud at his wisdom and grace.
He took me back to a recent moment when my wife and I were working on our bathroom, preparing to turn our upstairs into an Airbnb. Danielle volunteered to repaint all the cabinets under the sink, and she did a wonderful job. A little too wonderful, in fact. She painted the drawer --including the sides—a nice, thick, shiny coat of white enamel. It looked like new.
This is the kind of drawer that slides in and out on a hard plastic rail, so the sides of the drawer must make contact with that rail when you open it. You can see where this is going.
When I put Danielle’s pristine drawer in the slot after the paint dried, it immediately got stuck. Would not budge. The beautiful new paint had completely gummed up the simple slide system.
I’d spent over an hour chipping away at the layers of paint on the sides, taking it back down to the bare wood and uncovering the plastic strip the drawer slides on.
As I sat in silence during the book study exercise, that scene played out in my imagination and God reminded me why the drawer got so quickly and completely stuck. It was because unnecessary layersof paint were added to it. Danielle thought she was making the drawer look nice and clean by adding those layers on. But they weren’t necessary, and in fact they were detrimental to the intended operation of the drawer.
God was telling me that I often get stuck because I add unnecessary layers; to projects, to my day, to my work, to my routine. I add them because I think I know what needs to be done, or how something needs to look, or because I’m craving comfort or “balance,” or because I’m not ready to go on to the next thing. I add an unnecessary layer when I decide to read one more internet news story and then spend 10 minutes in the click-bait rabbit hole. When I get distracted by a task that seems more fun than the one I need to be focused on. When my priorities get jumbled, I overdo the preparation phase on a project, or when I spend unnecessary time and energy in order to impress people.
Yep, without a doubt unnecessary layers contribute extensively to that feeling of stuckness. And often those layers create a situation I have to deal with; scraping off the gook before things can function properly.
Additionally, I think my problem with stuckness has a lot to do with communication.
If I’d told Danielle more specifically what to paint on that cabinet, it would have saved us both time and energy. When I don’t take the time to communicate and consult with God about my day or my work and instead automatically follow what I think is right, it’s easy to add unnecessary layers. The Bible tells us he’ll reveal things to us when we ask him (Jer. 33:3; Prov. 16:3; James 1:5) or even—as in my case—when we just get quiet for a moment and listen. Sometimes spending just a few minutes listening for his voice can save hours of extra work and stuckness.
God’s given me a new, very effective tool against stuckness: Keep in regular communication with him and keep asking him and myself, “Will this thing I’m doing or thinking about doing add an unnecessary layer to my life or work?” Give it a try.
What are some of the unnecessary layers you tend to add?
We humble ourselves before you and confess that we often go our own way instead of consulting you on our plans. And sometimes we feel stuck, as a result.
Thank you for your grace and mercy towards us, to give us wisdom and understanding in how to avoid adding unnecessary layers to our lives. Please give us a listening ear to your guidance. Please give us the strength to overcome the temptation to add unnecessary layers and encourage us with a new sense of freedom. Enable us to live the life of faith that you created us for!
In Jesus Name, Amen!
J. Scott McElroy writes about the faith journey, and advocates for the arts and creativity in the local church. He's the author of Finding Divine Inspiration and The Creative Church Handbook: Releasing the Power of the Arts in Your Congregation, and director of The New Renaissance Arts Movement. He blogs at JScottMcElroy.com. Reach him at Scott (at) TheNewR.org.
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Originally published Tuesday, 14 July 2020.