You, my dear, will not build that ugly hut. Instead, you drop your rough tools, open your chest and shoulders, throw your arms back. Lift your chin and declare yourself alive, hopeful, and the kind of person who lives in joy.
How? All I can tell you is that you get there. Here. And it’s worth it.
There’s the rock and there’s the hard place. Then there’s me in the middle.
The sides of these impossible walls are smooth and sheer. They are close enough together to make me claustrophobic but far enough apart to keep me from shimmying up between them. Sure, I can look up but what good does that do? Clear freedom sky to taunt when up is not an option.
So I sit. And think. And whimper and simmer.
Years I’ve been here in this quandary. My few choices seem like no choice at all.
I have tried to kick against the rock and it bruises my toes.
I have turned to pound my fists on the hard place and it mocks my futile flesh.
Is there no way out?
My Rocky Place
Do you have those stuck places in your life? Ever feel like you’ve been dropped into a deep hole out of which neither God nor the universe is offering a hand?
Call it your quandary of (insert your monolithic predicament here). Describe your rock of (insert ineffective solution here) and your hard place of (insert equally-useless option here).
Here’s one of my stuck places: my body doesn’t feel so great. Pain and discomfort have stuck with me for most of my adult life. I have spent a lot of time, energy, and money trying to figure out how to feel better physically.
Over the years, my mysterious aches and pains have driven me to various practitioners of the healing or medicating arts. I always hit a wall. No-one seems able to answer my questions or make me feel better. When I try some new supplement or just plain eating well and exercising, I still end up achy and disappointed.
Therefore, I’m caught between the rock of “trying to make myself feel better” and the hard place of “living with the pain and suffering.”
Both choices have been no choice at all. The first hasn’t worked and the second has not been much of an option. Am I missing something? Is there a third way to grapple with this problem?
The Reconciling Third
After I have spent my energy in seeming futility, I imagine what else I could do with all of this drive to find a way out.
In his bookFalling Upward, Richard Rohr reminds me to survey my surroundings with different eyes. About necessary suffering, he says,
“Being held long and hard inside limits and tension….allows us to search for and often find the ‘reconciling third’ or the unified field beneath it all.”
Jesus reminds me that in this world I will have trouble but, through suffering, He has overcome the world.
St Paul says that I can rejoice in my suffering, knowing it will produce endurance and character leading to hope.
Indiana Jones in The Last Crusade shows me that a step of faith can reveal a hidden and unimaginable way forward.
Long ago, Moses and the fleeing Hebrews found themselves in an impossible situation. Pressed between an Egyptian army and a watery wall, they saw no options. The ‘reconciling third’ was nowhere in sight. What they had forgotten, as I often do, is that sometimes the third way is the way God comes through. In the case of the hard-pressed Hebrews, it was a miracle: the supernatural broke into the flow and carved a path through the impassable.
Miracles like this have not broken into my predicaments. Often, my problems resolve in the natural flow of time and space where step follows step and a small erosion brings change and freedom. Like when I realize my feet don’t ache as much or my low back has loosened a bit.
A true miracle for me, though, is when I surrender to the suffering and my suffering reveals itself as a blessing. God sometimes comes through for me by shifting my perspective.
This shift in my paradigm, my frame of reference, reveals a new angle on an old point of view. A tiny shaft of light breaks into the space.
Like when I accept my physical limitations and suddenly the permission to rest and relax feels like a miracle! Or when I stop thinking and worrying about the pain and it somehow loses its intensity.
When the situation has not changed but my heart sees it in a different light, I realize that the change I have been searching for is taking place within me. My narrow place gives way to more space. Hallelujah!
Two Hard-won Nuggets
1. Keep moving.
I will always have seemingly unsolvable problems. However, I’m old enough to realize that many struggles work themselves out as I get up and on with life each day.
Any kind of faithful obedience in the same direction, despite hardships and intractable issues, reveals the next step on a journey of hope.
2. Find freedom within the prison.
I try to get a new perspective, letting Surrender and Acceptance be my purview.
Any kind of faithful obedience in the same situation, despite hardships and intractable issues, reveals a beautiful new view within the confines of my condition.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not done searching for a way out of my pain and suffering. But my body must give way to the hardness of the way things are. My heart must soften and yield to what is yet to be revealed.
Who knows, maybe someday I’ll find a foothold in one of these walls after all.