A few years back, a study determined that achieving expert status required 10,000 hours of practice. If this is true, then I am an expert in Candyland. Between the hours spent as a child playing on our rust-colored shag carpet and the hours logged with my three children, I have not only hit the 10,000 hour mark but certainly lapped it.
Being an expert, I am well versed in the intricacies of the game. I’m well acquainted with Queen Frostine and Gramma Nut. I’ve floated on the Ice Cream Sea and longed wistfully to land strategically at the entrance to the Gumdrop Path.
I am also familiar with the Molasses Swamp and the frustration that ensues after drawing the card that sticks you like glue to that darn black dot while your colorful gingerbread friends blaze past you on their way to the coveted Candy Castle. You wait, drawing card after card, hoping for the card that will free you. You wait for permission to advance. You wait to move.
Lately, I have been stuck spiritually. Just like my time spent in Molasses Swamp, I simply cannot move forward. It seems no amount of prayer or petition allows me beyond this spot. And while I’m so desperate to move, longing and ready for the next location, there are lessons to be learned in the swamp. The black dot that holds us back has some wisdom to share if we have ears to hear. After some thought and digging, It occurred to me that there are generally three reasons we find ourselves stuck.
When it comes to being stuck because of sin, the Israelites are the quintessential example. After being divinely freed from the Egyptians, they had God’s promise, protection, and provision, but none of it was enough. In an effort to control their situation and ensure success, they authored the book on unfaithfulness and doubt. When things got difficult, they grumbled about empty stomachs. When things got dicey they blamed their leaders. When things got uncertain they bowed to every god but the One that had saved them. Eventually, God had enough and He threw down the card that would stick them in the dessert for 40 years (Numbers 14:34). Stuck with manna and quail, with sand and heat, with nowhere to call home. All because of sin. All because they wanted what they wanted and weren’t willing to trust.
All too often, we do the same thing. While God may be calling us forward, our disobedience keeps us from advancing. Surrounded by all God’s goodness, we dig in our heels and shake our fists because it’s not enough. Just like the Israelites, we want what we want. We want more when God calls us to contentment. We want revenge when God calls us to peace. We want to fight when God calls us to love. And in our desire, we sin. And in our sin, we get stuck.
I’m not sure when Moses figured it out. An Israelite raised under an Egyptian Pharaoh’s roof, at some point he fully realized who he was and it didn’t take long for him to snap. His anger got the best of him when he saw an Egyptian beating an Israelite and in a moment of rage he killed the Egyptian. Confronted with his actions, he did what most red-blooded humans would do – he ran. He ran fast and he ran far. Terrified of likely execution, he ran 285 miles to Midian and stayed there for 50 years (Exodus 2:15). Moses was stuck. He was paralyzed by fear of the future and halted by doubt that he could ever come back from this.
Fear and doubt are dangerous bed partners and unfortunately, they frequently pair up to freeze us in our tracks. We get trapped in the unknowns and uncertainty. We question our value and wonder if we’re even worthy of moving forward. Fear tells us we aren’t good enough. It whispers lies about our purpose and potential, often convincing us we have neither. And before we know it, we’ve let the voices in. We fret, we doubt, we crumble. We stand helpless as the enemy throws the card that leaves us stuck.
In Acts 1, after Jesus’s resurrection, the disciples enjoyed 40 days of living and learning with the risen Lord. I imagine just about the time they settled into their new reality, Jesus dropped the bomb that He was leaving – for good. Furthermore, just before He ascended He instructed them not to leave Jerusalem but instead to wait for what the Father had promised (Acts 1:4). As they left Mount Sinai to return to the city, I expect they anticipated a relatively short waiting period. A few hours perhaps. Certainly no more than a couple days. So they waited. And waited. In the end, they waited ten long days, stuck in uncertainty and hopeful expectation.
Being stuck by design is perhaps the hardest of all. We are ready to move and ready to act. We hear the call, lace up our sneakers and strain our ears for the signal that will release us in all our passion and intention. But sometimes the signal takes a while and we are left kneeling at the starting line far longer than we expected. Maybe because we’re not quite as ready as we thought we were. We might need more equipping, more growth. Or perhaps we are ready but something else isn’t. The timing isn’t right or the people we need on our journey aren’t yet in place. For whatever reason and for as long as it takes, God tells us to wait. And we are stuck.
So we’re stuck. Neck deep in molasses, we just can’t move forward. Now what?
The tendency when we’re stuck is to keep our heads down and try and figure a way out of our predicament. The problem is that when we look down, we wind up with more fear. Focused on our predicament, we easily fall prey to panic and worry. As we look down, so goes our heart.
We are also tempted to look around when we’re stuck. But looking around sends us quickly into the trap of comparison. We see others moving when we cannot and the sins of jealousy, judgment and anger creep silently in. Questions and accusations seep in that are neither helpful nor healthy. Our eyes wander and so does our heart.
So where do we look? We look up. We look towards the castle and our King. Fixing our gaze on Him makes it impossible to focus on whatever is keeping us stuck. And when we look, we also listen. Looking up to our Lord makes us more receptive to receiving what He’s speaking to us. When we look up we see who He is rather than where we are.
While we’re looking up, we also need to lean in and cling to God’s truths. Rather than focusing on what our “stuckness” seems to say about us, if we seek and soak up God’s promises and provision, we are able to rest even in the mire. When we surround ourselves with the truths emanating from the castle we begin to surrender and we begin to trust.
What truths do you need to hear today? What’s keeping you stuck?
Is it sin? Confess, turn and cling to the timeless promises your Father whispers over you.
“For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, ‘In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.’” Isaiah 30:15
“Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord…” Acts 3:19-20
What about fear? Are fear and doubt holding you fast? Take courage in the Lord’s strength and presence.
“…fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10
“…for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” 2 Timothy 1:7
Are you stuck by design? Is God’s plan requiring you to wait just a bit longer? Be patient dear heart and trust that He is working.
“Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” Psalms 27:14
“But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” Romans 8:25
Being stuck is hard. Our sin sinks us, our fear freezes us and divinity delays us. But there is great hope. In His perfect time we will move with swiftness, grace and power. Until then, beloved, look up to your Creator. Lean in to the truth He sings over you. The castle calls and it will be but an instant before we are there!