When You’re Stuck On Pause


F_Tanya Stuck on pause

The church loves progress. We love to measure church growth, spiritual growth, numbers, charts, seats. If it isn’t about measuring numbers of people converted, it’s about the quality of our spiritual life, as though it were an eternal ladder we were ascending.

Run the race. (FASTER. BETTER.) Keep in step with the Spirit. (Don’t let up. Don’t get distracted.) I have heard sermons and sermons with these kinds of messages about how to be a Christian, and they are exhilarating and motivating.

They are also exhausting.

I have been the girl at the conferences, running to the front to demonstrate more commitment, more love, more service. I have been the speaker at the front of the conferences, calling for the same from others. I have done ministry like I was running a race to win. I also ran—literally—several miles a week, ignoring my over-high pulse rate, pushing my muscles further.

Until one day, I couldn’t run any more. An autoimmune disease stopped me in my tracks, and I found myself unable to run, unable do the ministry I had loved. In fact, it prevented me from doing much more than lying in bed and checking Facebook.

Days passed. Months. Years. Before, I could map my progress—in life and spiritually. Now I was stuck on pause, like an eternal semicolon, while the rest of the world moved forward without me.

* * *

I’m not the only one who feels like their life or spirituality is on pause. It’s the routine banalities of the every day that does it.

The path ahead can seem so clear when you are a teenager, like a road stretching before you. But the experience of most people in their thirties is more like a rather tiring carousel, constantly revolving. You run. You wait. You start again. You wait.

You wait. For the job interview that never comes. For the life partner who might be just around the corner. For the time to come when you no longer smell of baby sick. For your lost faith to return to you. For a place you can call home.

You feel like you’ve lost the map, the way ahead. You don’t know how to go forward anymore, because you don’t know where forward will lead. You don’t know where you are. You are stuck on hold, while life plays elevator music on repeat, and you hope that someone will eventually pick up the phone and help you put your life back into motion again.

* * *

Running the race, keeping in step with the Spirit—these are good and important biblical metaphors to describe the spiritual life of the Christian. But they are not the whole picture. They are truth, but they are not the whole truth.

Lying in bed, when even talking to someone for half an hour was too taxing, I had to search for alternative metaphors for the Christian life. And they are there in the Bible, too.

Paul also talks about working as a farmer. As a farmer, you have to work hard, but there are times when all you can do is sit and wait. The life of the farmer is a balance of back-breaking work and seeming idleness. Paul gives us this metaphor, too.

Ecclesiastes talks about seasons—a time to plant, a time to uproot. There is a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them. A time to search and a time to give up.

It doesn’t feel like progress, like a straight line forward. But God has created this world as a globe, and life runs in circles. Night follows day; winter comes after summer. There is a time to be born and a time to die. In winter, everything goes to sleep: unfruitful branches are pruned; seeds die and sink into the ground, only to sprout again come Spring. This, too, is progress.

When our outlook is too linear, too goal-focused, the cycle of the seasons can speak divine truths to us. We are dependent on the grace of God, and sometimes going forward looks like a lot like boredom and waiting.

To the person who feels everlastingly behind, behind, behind—you are not forgotten. You don’t have to catch up. This is just Winter. Spring will come. You’re doing just fine.