Friday, February 25, 2011

Walk Softly and Carry A Big Stick

There's a scene in the Swiss Family Robinson where a zebra is stuck in quicksand struggling to get out. The two oldest sons and the girl that they rescued from the pirates spend a while trying to get the animal out of the muck until finally the zebra is freed. Then, because what else would you do with a zebra, they ride it home. Obviously.

This scene popped into my head this week while I was doing therapy with a client. I may not have mentioned on here, but I'm neck deep in my grad school internship at the moment, which means that several days a week I sit across from people on a one on one basis and watch as they pour out their guts, cry out their eyes, and generally make sense of their issues. I LOVE IT. For awhile I felt like all of the brokenness in my life meant that I was a failure. Now I just think God will use the brokenness by letting me watch (and hopefully using me) as he heals the brokenness of others. It's a humbling experience, to say the least, but I'm incredibly excited for this next phase of life. Anyway, I was working with a client this week and she was describing something that many describe when they are faced with struggles. She felt stuck. Her world was crashing down on her. She was sinking. And no matter what, she felt there was no way out.

I found myself during the session picturing the zebra in the quicksand, struggling to get free and sinking down even farther. And because I have also been in this crashing way out place, I knew the feeling of despair that sits on your soul when you are there. So that day, when I got home, I googled "how to get out of quicksand." The result was shockingly therapeutic. There are a couple of different lists out there with various bullet points of helpful hints. My favorite is "walk softly and carry a big stick," because many things can you not solve by walking softly and carrying a big stick. Damn near nothing.

But the basics of quicksand survival are as follows:

1. Remain Calm
2. Shed excess weight
3. Keep as still as possible until your feet reach solid ground
4. Move or swim with slow, deliberate motions.
5. Work in the direction of the last known bit of solid ground.
6.Pull yourself out.

As I read through this list, it seemed so fitting for these places in life where we struggle and feel nothing but sinking dread and despair. I thought about times in my life when I didn't know the answers, couldn't hear God's guiding, felt angry or confused, and generally wanted to give up, throw in the towel, call it a day, or take my ball and go home. What would happen if I had simply:

Remained calm: reminded myself that in this moment I was breathing in and then breathing out with perfectly timed rhythm...that right here, right now, I am O.K...

Shed excess weight: cast aside the things that were weighing me down...said no to overwhelming commitments, asked for help, called a friend, or asked God to bear the burden...

Kept as still as possible: not made decisions out of fear, waited for God's timing, been patient with the possibilities, asked for understanding, or prayed for confirmation and wisdom...

Moved with slow deliberate motions: lived intentionally instead of reactively, moved forward with purpose, been driven by a spirit of direction instead of chaos...

Worked toward the last known bit of solid ground: remembered God's real presence in my life and invited that back to me instead of floundering on my own, centered my spirit instead of living in urgency, allowed God to find me instead of looking, hunting, scavenging...

Pulled myself the arms of grace instead of by my own will...

What would have happened? And what might happen in the future if when I'm stuck, sinking, floundering, and the world is crashing down that I remember these tips for survival? Will the muck and the mire win?

Or, like the zebra, will I find myself safely heading home?