Have you ever had a time when you were truly stuck? When you had absolutely no idea what to do? Perhaps it was a project you couldn’t figure out how to tackle or a messy situation you just couldn’t sort out. Maybe it was a personal dilemma, a deep emotional wound, or a crisis of another sort. Or, perhaps you felt lost for seemingly no reason at all.
I’ve had all of the above at one or another time in my life.
In my early years, I would become frantic, kind of like someone who’d been thrown overboard a boat and was grappling for the life preserver. I gradually realized that the more I grappled, the farther from me the life preserver drifted. I learned that it was far better to stop flailing around, conserve my energy, and – as patiently as possible – tread water until the life preserver came my way on its own. I also learned that it’s okay not to know what to do when you don’t know what to do because it’s in that not-knowing that you grow stronger and closer to the Divine.
More out of desperation than any stroke of genius on my part, I developed a set of five things to do at those times when I’m completely stuck.
This is my scaled-down version of Lectio Divina. I begin with a prayer for guidance (or more accurately, a scream for help), asking God to somehow touch my mind and heart through his Word. Then, I close my eyes and open the Bible to a random place and begin reading where my eyes first come to rest. I read until I mentally, emotionally, and spiritually calm down and I’m able to simply take in the words on the page. Sometimes, God gives me a clear message right off the bat. Sometimes, however, I don’t immediately discover anything that seems pertinent in terms of my wee little brain trying to comprehend the magnitude of God’s Eternal Wisdom. But, even when I don’t receive a message specific to me, I’m reminded of God’s activity throughout the course of salvation history, and that gives me hope that he’s active in my own life even though it’s imperceptible to me at the moment.
2. Grab Hold of the Lifeline
Whenever I’m at the end of my rope, I grab hold of the lifeline that our Blessed Mother is constantly holding out to all of her children – the Rosary. I actually picture myself holding one side of the rosary, while she holds on to the other, and together we work through the mysteries. This is particularly effective when I’m so snarled up inside that I don’t even know how to begin to pray. These rosaries I begin by saying, “Mother, come save me.” Sometimes, the answers will begin to appear as I’m working my way along the beads. Sometimes, there are no answers but instead a sweet comfort in being near her and the assurance of her protection and intercession in my need.
3. Grab Hold of the (Other) Lifeline
The Chaplet of Divine Mercy is especially helpful for me in situations that are the result of my own sinfulness or the sinfulness of others. Just as with praying the Rosary, I usually begin with the prayer, “Jesus, come save me.” Then I pray the chaplet and petition our Lord’s mercy – for myself, and for all involved. I asked him to have mercy on all of us and to grant us all merciful hearts so that we can be merciful to each other.
4. Space Out
Either in unison with praying the Rosary or Chaplet of Divine Mercy, I like to meditate on an image of Mary or Jesus. This works especially well when I’m so riled or defeated that I can’t bring myself to read Scripture or even pray the Rosary or Chaplet. And so I sit. I sit and gaze into the beautiful eyes of my Mother, resting in her love and tenderness. It’s like a little child who feels the pressing need to climb into her mother’s lap and just nestle there for comfort. I nestle, and I wait, and eventually, I become so enveloped in her care and gentleness that the world seems right again simply because she’s near me. Whenever possible, I do my “nestling” in Eucharistic Adoration where I can simply be in our Lord’s Presence along with my loving Blessed Mother.
More often than not, once I’ve exercised the previous four points, I’ll escape for a while. I’ll choose something to do that is not mentally or emotionally taxing and that makes me feel somehow productive. It’s always something that uplifts me and is completely unrelated to what’s weighing me down. I might reorganize a part of the house, finished a low-key project, take the dog for a walk, or go thrift shopping. At times, I’ll incorporate the Rosary or Chaplet into my diversion. Laying my burden aside – even for just a while – helps me to let go and regain perspective.
The most important thing I’ve learned about what to do when I don’t know what to do is to never force my way through it. When I’m stuck, it’s usually because I’m not understanding what God is saying to me or what he’s expecting of me. If I stop flailing around, the answer will come to me – in God’s way and in his timing.