Most of us get stuck. It doesn’t happen predictably, but it does happen almost inevitably. There will come some point in our lives when we just don’t know how to proceed. We may think there is no option before us at all. Or, we may find ourselves between a proverbial rock and a hard place, where available alternatives seem equally unappealing. Or, we may think we lack the skill, the courage or the stamina to move on. And so we are stuck, dead in the water, paralyzed. The world can look pretty dismal from that place of inertia.
To make matters worse, when we’re stuck it’s not unusual to suppose the condition is permanent and we’ll never get out of this quagmire. We imagine we’re doomed to sit in this unpleasant spot forever. But of course, we’re not. The greatest solace people of faith have in such hard times is the gift of hope. Hope reminds us that though everything may not unfold just as we wish or by the timing we choose, there is nevertheless always possibility ahead because God isn’t through with us. God has come time and again to help people without any apparent direction or prospects or choices.
One of the most treasured stories about God helping people get unstuck comes from the Book of Exodus. We read that the Israelites had been enslaved in Egypt by Pharaoh and his forces for many years without hope of rescue. The Israelites are too numerous to quietly slip away and too weak to mount a rebellion. But God prepares a way for them to leave their captors and then guides them in their escape toward the shore of the Red Sea. At this point, Pharaoh determines to pursue the fleeing Israelites, and when the frightened runaways see the mighty Egyptian army and its chariots on their trail they panic. Of course, they anticipate the worst and find themselves wishing they’d remained stuck in Egypt. But God wasn’t through with them yet.
A portion of a stirring rabbinic prayer imagines the scene this way: “God Who Creates, God Who Redeems … We remember standing at the shore of the sea, afraid, our enslavers in hot pursuit, ready to take us back to captivity. We remember the tumultuous sea before us that showed no signs of parting. And we remember you told us: v’yisa’u – go forward. We stepped forth. The waters parted … God who creates, God Who Redeems, if it can happen once, it can happen over and over and over. V’yisa’u. Let us cross …” (from “The Great Spiritual Migration,” by Brain McLaren.)
Feeling stuck? Remember that God is never through with us, and so many possibilities still lie ahead. The God who creates and redeems may very well be calling us right now to go forward. Though the way ahead seems unclear or even impossible, a way through may open as we set out. It happened once. It can happen again.