Challenges can stir us to action or sap our strength. The eternal optimists at despair.com created a poster depicting the silhouette of a man hiking up a steep hill. Underneath are the words: “Challenges: I expected times like this – but I never thought they’d be so bad, so long and so frequent.” That poster relies on our common experiences with those sentiments to elicit a chuckle. Like a steep mountain, life’s challenges can seem to pile on top of each other. “What’s next?” we may ask ourselves. Even in the ‘good times’ we may wonder just how long it will last.
In my previous post, Did you just hit a pothole?, we explored what turns a pothole experience into a debilitating sinkhole. It happens when our focus is on unearthing answers to the question ‘why?’ Asking that question, as if something were wrong with either God or us, leads into the sinkholes of inaction and despair.
Having hit more than a few potholes of his own, the Apostle Paul penned these words:
“We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9)
Did you notice the word “perplexed”? Paul didn’t understand what was going on – he didn’t need to. He knew that peace was a greater prize than understanding (Philippians 4:7).
Because of God’s peace, he was not in despair.
So what should you do when you hit a pothole in life? Do the same thing as when it’s one of those car stoppers – pull over and ask for help. Call AAA.
First, ASSESS the situation. Ask “what” questions. What just happened? What is my condition? What circumstances just led to this? What can I learn from it? When I ask these “what” questions my focus is constructive – to move me through the challenge. Sinkhole questions, on the other hand, attach themselves to my identity. What’s wrong with me? Why does this always happen to me? Why can’t I ever…? The key is to remember that the pothole is not about me.
Second, ASK for help. Ask “who” questions. Who’s experienced a similar thing? Who can be a resource for me? Who can be a friend? Good pothole questions focus on identifying the resources that may be available to help. Sinkhole questions expect others to be responsible for my rescue. When I don’t take responsibility for moving forward, I’m in a sinkhole and begin to resent those who do not respond to my needs the way I might like.
Finally, ACT forward. Ask “how” questions. How can I take one step today that will honor God? How should I communicate this to those affected? How should I care for myself while staying vigilant? Getting through a pothole may take longer than I’d like. I need to accept and prepare for that. The notion of an instant escape becomes a sinkhole. Instead of doing the right thing, it invites many temptations to take short cuts. When my focus is on getting out of pain and not on the way I conduct myself, I dishonor God. I’ve forgotten that He alone is my rescue. He alone is ever present. How did the Apostle Paul put it? “Persecuted but not abandoned.”
So you know you’ve hit a pothole but you’re not sure if it’s become a sinkhole. How can you tell? Easy. Honestly evaluate how you are responding to those around you. If you have a spirit of ministry – seeking to encourage others because of what you’ve been through and are learning (2 Corinthians 1:3-4) – you are exhibiting healthy pothole responses. If, on the other hand, you are anxious, despondent, manipulative, resentful or envious of others, you may have landed yourself in a sinkhole. If you find yourself there, take courage, Jesus’ long arms are stretched out toward you. Grasp hold and call AAA.
What have you learned from the potholes of life?