Sometimes people get stuck. And sometimes those trying to help feel stuck as well. It is a frustrating experience for both when nothing seems to be changing.
At such times, stepping back and taking a fresh look at everything is often the wise thing to do. The idea can be introduced in a matter of fact way: How about we start over and see if there is anything important that we might have missed? It may be that something important emerges that we somehow didn’t spot first time round.
There are many ways such an approach may help:
Going back to learn new things
First, and most obviously, you may have missed something really important. A key aspect of a person’s struggle simply may not have emerged. And it is that which proves key to making progress. For example, someone has become increasingly anxious and obsessional. And what was missed first time round was that the onset of these struggles coincided with new possibilities about a change of job and move of house. These new insights open up the need to explore where our true security is found and how material gifts, graciously given by God, can so easily become our functional security and our functional gods.
Going back to benefit from deeper trust
The second reason to take a fresh look at things is because first time round, there just may not have been the necessary depth of trust in place. A few months down the line, a person trusts you more because you have stuck with them. Meeting and talking may not have changed their struggle, but it probably has created a deeper level of trust. And when a problem is revisited, they are willing to be more vulnerable and to reflect, and speak, with greater honesty than originally. Perhaps you learn that they were adopted as a child and you never knew that. Perhaps they had an abortion in their late teens but have never found the courage to speak of it and how its impact on them persists. New avenues emerge and with them new and more relevant Scripture to read.
Going back to make new links
On this second look, it will often make sense to explore the past. Present day struggles often get stuck because they are tethered to things in the past. And those links may need exploring in order that the medicine of the gospel can be applied more specifically to a difficult family relationship from the past. Mistruths learnt in childhood can be deeply entrenched. A child who was taught to expect God to bring suffering for every misdeed will struggle to truly apply the gospel of grace to their present struggles. Their cognitive knowledge of the gospel may be impeccable. But their functional understanding of what they can expect from God may be something else altogether.
Going back to seek God’s wisdom
Finally, at the risk of stating the obvious, whenever we are stuck prayer is always a wise response. Psalm 139 speaks of the intimate and complete knowledge God has of a person. The psalmist writes:
You have searched me, Lord, and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
You perceive my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.
Later the psalmist adds:
My frame was no hidden from you when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.
This comprehensive knowledge leads the psalmist to conclude with these words:
Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thought.
See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.
It’s always seemed odd to me that the psalmist should end by inviting the Lord to search their heart (v23), when the very first verse of the psalm declares that this searching and knowing has happened already – You have searched me, Lord, and you know me (v1, my emphasis).
The point, I think, of the psalmist’s conclusion is that they want to share in this knowledge. They want to know what God knows. They want to be led in the way everlasting which always involves that vital mix of knowledge of self and knowledge of God.
Whenever we experience a feeling of stuckness while trying to help someone, going back to the beginning is always a wise step to take. By God’s grace it so often opens up more of this crucial combination of knowledge of self and knowledge of God. And in that, something new begins to happen and stuck patterns begin to shift.