When I first moved to Minnesota, I had never been stuck in the snow before. I had occasionally had to shovel myself out in college, but I had never been legitimately stuck until one day I parked my car and came outside to find it had snowed 10 inches in one night. This Kansan was not pleased. I got in my car and started to back out of my space only to discover (native upper midwesterners will laugh) that if you spin your wheels too hard, you just get more stuck. So I had completely dug myself into my parking space and it took an experienced AAA employee to pull me out. Now that I'm an experienced Minnesotan, I've learned there's a trick: if you are stuck and start backing up only to find your wheels are spinning without you moving, you have to stop completely. The longer you spin, the more you melt the snow and lose friction, and the more stuck you'll be. It's kind of like those Chinese finger traps. Once you've entirely stopped, you can sometimes do this thing where you very, very slowly move as far forward as you can and then quickly reverse to shoot yourself out of the hole while you have traction. I don't recommend trying this if you are parked near anybody else, but it's worked for me a few times. There's an innate wisdom in this Minnesota snow-escape trick that I picked up, and that is that sometimes in order to go, you have to stop first.
This is also a well known psychological phenomenon. In problem solving, like problems of math or logic, you can essentially think yourself into a corner. You approach a problem, and the more you think about it, the more you train yourself into incorrect methods of problem solving, and the harder it is to find a new way to think about it. In this case, the best solution is to completely leave the problem, do something else, and come back to it fresh later. Often, that leads to a new approach that ends up solving the problem. This is pretty much life. Some problem occurs, and we dive into it full tilt with all our problem solving abilities drawn like a sword, but often these problems can't be solved with brute strength and we end up getting stuck and discouraged, and sometimes paralyzed by the crap that happens to us.
One of my favorite movies is The Legend of Bagger Vance. For some stupid reason it got bad reviews so it's not very well known, but it is absolutely brilliant. BRILLIANT, I TELL YOU! The gist of the movie is that Matt Damon's character, Junah, is a promising young golfer who goes off to the first World War and after witnessing his entire platoon being killed, he comes back broken. He can't function, let alone golf. He has "lost his swing." The movie uses a golf swing as a metaphor for the control we have over our life, and suggests that there is an "authentic swing" that each and every one of us is born with--a calling or vocation or path of sorts--and that is intimately tied with who we are and how we live. Junah has been to hell and he's trying so hard to get out of that hell that he's alternating between giving up and frantically, ineptly spinning his wheels. He's totally stuck. The scene below is the turning point, where Junah realizes that he can't do it on his own, and Bagger Vance, caddy/representation of the divine teaches him what he needs to do to get un-stuck. (If this scene doesn't make you cry, you have no soul.)
There's a lot going on in this scene from a philosophical standpoint, but to my understanding the three main ideas are that suffering and that frantic wheel spinning can cause us to forget our identity, and it's only in stopping that we can return to that state that we lived in before evil hurt us and broke us. We have to let go of the burdens and the inevitable suffering in order to move forward toward becoming who and what God has called us to be. And as Bagger says, "you ain't alone in that." The reason you can lay the burdens down is because you have somebody there who's ready to pick them up for you. "Ain't a soul on this entire earth got a burden to carry he don't understand."
Whew, now that I'm done crying, let me get to what this means for us. Who you were created to be is intimately tied to where you are going, but life happens. Just like there isn't a burden on this earth that Jesus doesn't understand, there's also probably not a person on this earth that doesn't have one. Living is hard, and the suffering that happens to us drags us away from who we were named to be. The doubt and insecurity and loss and violence and failures and mistakes hurt us, and if you've ever been hurt in love or life you know that it's easy to clam up when we're hurt. I hate being vulnerable, and my first instinct when I'm hurt is to withdraw (how's that for an awesome coping skill?), and that's pretty typical. Once bitten, twice shy, right? That withdrawal and tentativeness and waiting for the other shoe to drop is exactly the "grip too tight" that the movie is talking about. It's control and protection, but ultimately, it doesn't work out. The anxiety doesn't protect you from the bad things that happen. The hard shell doesn't protect you from getting hurt in love if all you end up with is bitterness that you're alone. And so we have to make the totally counter intuitive move from being scared shitless and clinging on for dear life to letting go in order to avoid falling. What?
This is the heart of the gospel. Paul talks about his power being made perfect in weakness, and about the foolishness of the gospel. The gospel is foolishness exactly because the best place to be, the strongest place to be, is the place where we are most vulnerable. It's in letting go that you can be caught. It's in opening yourself to rejection that you can be loved. It's in dying that you can be raised. To quote a great blog post about suffering that I read earlier, "Not once have I danced around our house shouting, “Yeah suffering!” Instead, in the midst of pain and hurt, I am actively expecting God to do something." And it's because we believe in a God of resurrection, a God who cares and is with us and acts on our behalf that we can loosen up that grip a smidge, and remember who it is that God has created and called us to be.