Stuck in the Middle...Again

August 31st, 2013

Did you ever notice there’s a lot more “middle” to life than there is on either end? It’s a bell curve. We’re infants/toddlers/children/teens for a short stretch of time. We’re in the end-of-life stage for what often seems too short a time. Then there’s a long, winding, twisty, endurance test in the middle filled with exhilarating moments and heart-wrenching seasons.

Crises sometimes feel like that too. It didn’t take long to ramp up the crisis. It may end abruptly, or not. But it’s the middle in which we find our endurance tested. It’s in the middle where we get mired emotionally, walking the difficult journey as if each footstep means pulling one leg after another out of the suction of quicksand.

If you’re visiting or following this blog, it means you do understand the mud in the middle.

A friend of mine who is crawling her way through the aftermath of a crippling decision her nephew made—a decision that has repercussions for the whole family—splatted, “Yeah, I know I’ll get through this. I know God will help me. Heard it all before. Tell me how!”

I’m allergic to pat answers. I assumed she would be, too. As I considered where to look for the hows she needed, it occurred to me that we can easily rattle off what doesn’t work. The answers she sought lay buried in that very “What Not To Do” section.

We know letting our pain define us and mold us into something ugly in crisis doesn’t work. It keeps us stuck in the middle, in the trauma, and distances us from the people and activities that can help us keep moving.

Experience tells us that taking it out on others doesn’t work. And we can destroy relationships in the process, adding guilt to our pain, a toxic cocktail.

Allowing bitterness and disappointment to dictate what life is going to look and sound like doesn’t work. It poisons the air we and the people we care about have to breathe. It drains us of the energy we need to make wise decisions and carry heavy loads until rescue arrives.

We know reaching for destructive influences and people never works. How would it help to exchange being chained to distress for being chained to an addiction? How does it help to hang with people stuck in the complaining phase of their own crises?

Getting stuck on “Whose fault is it?” doesn’t work. Blame-fixing doesn’t affect change. It can’t make us stronger for the journey.

Getting stuck on regret has the same outcome. It’ll cripple us, incapacitate us, hamstring us.

It doesn’t work to let our own disappointment or pain become someone else’s fallout to deal with. We can observe the children of a bitter, resentful mother or an angry father to see that it is as difficult for children to breathe through that as it is for us to breathe through a cloud of secondhand smoke. Isaiah 49:20 (CEB) talks about children “who were born bereaved.” What a tragic legacy.

Pulling away from God—the only One with the power to affect change in our circumstances and in ourselves—doesn’t work. It weakens us, starves us of the very things we need to survive—hope, confidence, reassurance, and help.

If we flip those “What Not To Do” ideas as if turning an upside down page upright so we can read the print, we discover proactive choices for times we’re stuck in the middle of a muddle.

Resist letting our pain label us. We don’t have to let ourselves adopt a new name—The Widow Jensen—as in the old west. Or That Woman With Cancer. Or The Prodigal Son’s Mom. Who we are is not the same thing as what we’re facing, the challenge ahead of us, or the distress others have caused us.

Resist taking it out on others. Let God handle the things He handles better than we do—revenge, retribution, even forgiveness. He’s an expert at all three. We’re amateurs.

Resist allowing bitterness and disappointment to dictate what life is going to look like. The crisis wins twice when that happens. We can’t conquer any obstacle if we’re weighted down or raw with bitterness. Life does not have to be about how disappointed or devastated we are.

Resist the pull of substances and people that are more dangerous than our original problem. No matter how justified they seem in the muddle of the middle, the cost is too great. We can’t afford the toll.

Care less about “Whose fault is it?” and more about “Where do I go from here?” One will drain your resources. One will fill your supply.

Realize that God has a plan for dissolving regret. He spells it out in Psalm 51.

Don’t let pain and despair become someone else’s problem. We all need a confidante, someone who will lend a listening ear and offer wise counsel. But if we guard against dumping an ash cloud of distress on everyone within hearing distance, especially those in our own families, we’ll find we’re drawing a circle of genuine help rather than shoving them away.

Whatever you do, don’t stiff-arm God when stuck in the middle of a crisis. You’ll sabotage your strongest alliance, distance yourself from your greatest supply source, and run away from hope, rather than toward it.

I’m on the alert now, looking for more “What Not To Do” so I can flip it upside down and read about actions and cautions that do work when we’re mired in the middle.

I wonder if we could syndicate a TV show by that name. Our Producer would ambush an unsuspecting Middle Muddler for a complete makeover. He’d find out the difference between where she wants to be and where she is now in her crisis, dump a bunch of unnecessary and unflattering baggage, and send in the team of helpers to make the most of who she is, the most of what she has left in her crisis. She’d be taught a new posture—upright rather than bent forward with her pain. She’d learn to walk without tripping on the temptation to lash out. And she’d emerge at the end of the process glowing from within.

I think I’ll volunteer as a test case for the pilot show.

Reposted with permission from

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