Jimmy’s Table PodcastCuriously evangelical. Politically homeless. A dreamer of small things. On this podcast, I am having conversations about the intersection of faith, life, and culture.

How To Escape A “Rut” (And The Gift Of Surprise) – Episode #182

Stuck in a Rut - Groundhog Day

Our life is relatively good. Yet, we feel we are stuck on a hamster wheel. Life develops a rhythm and pace that can be predictable, boring, and stagnant feeling. We can feel like we are suffocating, trapped, where one day feels like the next, and tomorrow never comes. Life begins to take on Bill Murray’s “Groundhog Day” sorta feeling.

So the question is, what do we do about that? We feel like we are stuck in a rut and we want out. I’ve talked about this issue previously in podcast episode #57. And while this podcast shares some overlap with this one from several years ago, I believe I have something more to say on this issue than I did several years ago.

First, I think we need to acknowledge this is perfectly natural and good situation to find ourselves in.

If your life feels this way sometimes, it’s probably because you are a person of character, living a life of integrity, and you are surrounded by people that love you, and rely on you. You probably even have experienced some measure of success. And I think we often lose sight of this, because it’s what we experience day in and day out, and we take it for granted. But chances are, our life, even as much of a rut as we might find ourselves in, is often more beautiful than we’d regularly acknowledge.

We should never look with disdain or contempt upon such a life. It’s something in many ways to be celebrated, and we should learn to be thankful for the lot we have in life.

But in saying that, I think we all need the occasional shake up. While we should be content with our lot in life, we are creatures created in the image of God, and have so much untapped potential in our lives that God wants to work through to make something awesome in this world.

In the Bible we read that God created the world and placed mankind in a garden so that they could tend that garden, and to cause the world around us to flourish with life. As such, I believe we need to embrace a “growth mindset,” whereby we always find ourselves wading into uncharted waters, stretching ourselves, learning, trying new things, and challenging ourselves to do things we didn’t think we could previously do.

I know, that sounds like a cliché. And in many ways, it is. But I think there’s a lot of truth behind it this well worn cliché. And there’s something more I want to add to this idea than I think you usually hear. I want to go a bit beyond the simple pitch you usually hear from self-help gurus and gym bros on YouTube.

When we were kids many of us were often told, “You can be anything you want to be when you grow up.” This was told to us by an adult, of course, who knew better. In truth, you can’t be anything you want in the world when you grow up, and we eventually all learn that.

That was a nice childhood myth used to hopefully motivate us to be curious creatures that tested the limits of what we are made of, to explore the world, and to do whatever we could to make a dent in the universe. Of course, we eventually learn about the limits of what we actually can do. While we are created in the image and likeness of God, we can’t do everything because we aren’t God. There are limits, and we learn those limits through the discovery of trial and error, and not the self-imposed limits we or others place on ourselves.

Unfortunately though, I think too often in life we place limits on ourselves, and in the process, choke out the potential God placed inside each and everyone one of us. And once that happens, then we enter into a self-fulfilling prophecy, where we no longer look at the world as a place of wonder, and full of opportunity. We no longer grow, we no longer stretch ourselves, we no longer seek to discover new things. Instead, we settle, and declare that “This is all that there is!” and become like bears prepared for a long winter hibernation.

And once this happens, we will find ourselves in a rut.

So, how do you escape that rut?

I believe it’s to go back to the child like wonder we had once upon a time. Jesus talked about things like this when it comes to our salvation, such as becoming “born again,” and becoming like a child to enter the kingdom of heaven.

Such I think applies not only to our salvation, but simply our way of life and mode of being. We must become born again, and in many things we must become like children.

Such involves shifting our mindset and the way we see the world and our place in it. It’s about growing, exploring, stretching, and trying new things, whereby we live in such a way that we invite the gift of surprise into our lives.

Which is perhaps the chief characteristic that defines our life when we are stuck in a rut. When our life is in a rut, like in Bill Murray’s “Groundhog Day,” we find there’s zero room for surprise. Every day is the same and tomorrow never comes. Which is the exact opposite of childhood. Most children never feel anything resembling the rut we usually find ourselves trapped in once we enter the middle stages of our lives.

And why? Because things are always changing for them. They are bombarded with new things all the time. So much so that we all know the wonder a small child often has over the box their birthday or Christmas gifts are placed in more than the actual gift inside the box. That child like surprise is something they only experience because just about everything they experience every single day is new to them, and we marvel over that, and post cute videos of fat babies laughing online, but we fail to learn anything in the process.

I think we often get in a rut because we have stopped growing, we’ve stopped exploring, and we’ve stopped going on quests that allow for surprise to enter our life.

Of course, lest I sound naïve, we will never fully recapture the newness of experiencing the world like we did in childhood. But, it’s a path of life we can continue down, a road which many of us have long since abandoned.

Practically speaking, you’ll have to make some plans and take some steps. You’ll even have to take some leaps in the dark, into worlds unknown where the outcome is not certain. You’ll have to try things you used to say “never” to, and maybe even revisit things you said “never again” to.

I know in my own life, feeling like being in something of a rut after my divorce, I decided to challenge myself to new things, and to revisit things I considered no longer a part of my life, or impossible to do again. So I started on a quest.

I volunteered for additional ministries at church. I started going to the gym and lifting weights, and watching what I eat. Never having gone on a cruise before, and having no desire to do so, I decided to take a cruise to the Bahamas. I have explored a new sense of style. I have reconnected with numerous childhood friends. I’ve interjected myself into new social situations and made a lot of new friends. I started playing ice hockey again at 40 years old, after having not played since I was in high school.

And the list could go on and on.

I also have a lot of things that I’m considering doing that I’ve yet to pull the trigger on, but am considering doing in the not too distant future depending on how some things pan out.

In doing this, my life has been full of surprise and wonder. I’m enjoying my life, becoming a greater blessing to others, and otherwise feel like I’m flourishing. And along the way, I keep being amazed with a sense of wonder at what God is doing in my life, and the little things He’s allowing me to experience and accomplish.

Is my life perfect? No. Are there still a lot of “normal” routine sorta things? Of course. On most days I get up, and drink the same cup of coffee, go to the same job, eat the same meals, talk to the same people, and go to bed at the same time just about every day of the week.

My life likely won’t be free of these things anytime soon, and I don’t wish them to be. They are good and wonderful and blessed, and serve as the foundation of my flourishing. These are wonderful and healthy things to have, and we should be thankful for these things.

But so far as it depends on us, and so far as we are capable, we need to occasionally get up, go outside, and poke a sleeping bear.

We need to try something for the sake of trying something new, even if we are skeptical about our interest level, or our abilities to outrun a startled bear. The outcome may actually surprise us. But one thing is for sure, we won’t likely find ourselves in a rut.

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