Have you ever been confused about what to do or paralyzed with indecision because it seemed that you had limited, poor, or no options at all? At some point in our lives, most of us discover what it’s like to be stuck between rocks and hard places; the ordinary but complicated challenges that remind us how little control we actually have.
I’ve found myself in this position at significant crossroads in life, in matters related to health, work, and particularly, it seems, within the context of relationships (parenting, family, and/or friendship). A few examples immediately come to mind—
- When we were faced with having to live abroad two additional years or walk away from what had seemed like a dream job for my husband
- The time I suspected (without proof) that one of my children was playing with “fire” and I needed to build a bridge to their heart, not trigger them to lie or completely shut down
- When I had to navigate emotionally-charged waters among family members who didn’t always agree during my father’s heartbreaking last year of life
Thankfully, through the Holy Spirit’s transformative work, experience can become an incredible teacher. And, isn’t it so true that what we’ve learned from life’s greatest challenges can often equip us to serve and minister to others? This is why living in community is so important — we need each other when life gets hard.
Here’s what else I’ve learned: Before you find yourself struggling, it also helps to prepare with what you can do when you have no idea what to do. True, you can’t exactly prevent life sometimes going off the rails, but I’ve found a few practices that have helped free me from the pinch and pressure of those rocks and hard places:
1. Pray. I know you know this – we all knowknowKNOW this! – so why is prayer too often our last resort rather than our first response? When we don’t pray, fear can creep in, worry becomes our master, and we end up thinking or talking about our problems instead of actually praying. My wise friend Margaret Ann said something years ago that stuck with me: “If you can fret, you can pray!” This has prompted me to pray when I’m tempted to worry or only talk about the things I’m wrestling with.
When we pray, our circumstances may not change, but God hears, responds, and might even change us. It’s powerful and sobering to consider that sometimes painful or difficult circumstances is a means God can use to get our attention. Thankfully, we can always trust that when He is at work, it is always for our good and His glory. I wonder how much our lives would change if prayer was always our first response?
2. Seek counsel from proven and trusted resources. Scripture and your church’s leadership (not just your pastor) are good places to start. Who are the people who tell you what you need to hear versus what you want to hear? Who will point you to Truth, encourage you from a biblical perspective, and remind you of the goodness of the Gospel? Who has walked in similar shoes? Pursue “older and wiser” godly women whose vast life experience will be a treasure in friendship.
However, encouraging you to seek counsel comes with a strong caution: be careful and discerning about the voices who are speaking into your life and circumstances. We’re living in a post-Christian culture that is increasingly challenging the truth of God’s word. Scripture is reliable but people are not (even when their intentions are good), and popularity isn’t equal to trustworthiness. Always remember that just because a Christian influencer, author, or speaker says something, doesn’t mean it’s true.
3. Seek to understand before needing to be understood. This has become one of my guiding life principles, and I’ve found it especially important in marriage, parenting, and friendship. It even has application in work and ministry — truly whenever other people are involved. It’s a life philosophy that aligns with Philippians 2:3-4:
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
When I get this in the right order, it makes all the difference in the world. When I get it out of order? When I demand to be understood, when I think about my own interests first, relationships are fractured, walls are constructed, and it’s much harder to recover.
What a grace that when we really don’t know what to do, there are simple but wise steps we can take to move in the right direction. I don’t know what’s going on in your world today, but chances are good that you are struggling with how to respond to a difficult situation right now. God sees you, friend. He’s an ever-present help in our times of trouble, the giver of perfect encouragement precisely when we need it the most.