When the path forward ends

Posted by Kenetha Stanton on

The things that break our hearts and leave us feeling broken almost always involve endings of some kind. And those endings often feel like we've hit a dead end on whatever path we've been following through life.

It doesn't matter whether the ending is of a dear relationship, a job or career, our accustomed physical abilities due to illness or accident, the life of a beloved, membership in a community, or even just the soul-deep way we understand ourselves or our world, these kinds of heart-breaking endings are brick walls in the middle of the paths we've been navigating through life that require us to re-assess our way forward.

Those abrupt endings leave us gasping for breath in the pain of our brokenness with little clarity or energy to give to finding a way forward. All of our energy is going into making it through the day as we try to hold the shattered pieces together. There's nothing left over for renegotiating our life's plan!

Unfortunately, life keeps moving forward anyway, and we are often forced to make new plans and move in new directions in the wake of brokenness long before we feel ready.

I've noticed that I have three common tendencies when I encounter those places in my life, and none of them are terribly helpful. I see these same three tendencies in others, so I suspect they are common to human nature.

Battering the wall

My first tendency is to keep throwing myself at the wall I've encountered, trying to batter it into giving way so I can continue along my previously planned path.

I try to cling to the no-longer-functional life plan I had set for myself and manage only to batter myself in the process.

This approach has invariably extended the brokenness and slowed down the healing process.

Grabbing the first new thing

My second tendency is to grab wholeheartedly at the first new thing that appears and throw all of my energy into that new life plan as a means of avoiding the heartache of that which has ended.

While this has the benefit of keeping me moving forward in some direction, I often make very poor choices about the next new thing when I'm in so much pain. And those poor choices are harder to undo when I've thrown myself into them so completely.

It has often layered a whole new set of brokenness over the original layer before I'm done.

Freezing in paralysis

My third tendency is to freeze in total paralysis. I can't move forward. I can't go back. I can't even fathom other possible paths to consider. I'm just stuck.

In some ways, this option can cause less damage—I neither batter myself further nor jump into new disasters—but also can mean that I lose the chance to choose a new path. My next path may get forced upon me by my lack of choice.

It can also leave me wallowing in the pain of the brokenness longer than is helpful.

So what is a better way?

Seeking the next small step

I have gradually learned that when my path forward ends, I often need to simply let go of knowing what the path is or where it leads for a little while.

Instead of trying to stay on the same blocked path, randomly choosing the first new path I see, or freezing in indecision, I do best when I keep moving with a focus on no more than the next small step in front of me.

I may not know exactly where that step will take me or what might come next, but reducing my line of sight from the vast horizon down to the scope of the next step can simplify my choices enough to keep me moving at a safe pace that I can handle.

As a planner by nature, it's hard for me to live without the whole path and destination in mind. But when I can let go of that and choose just the next step that feels right, I find a balance that gives me space to heal while also keeping life manageable in the meantime.

Question to ponder

Do you recognize any of those tendencies in the way you deal with the brokenness in your life? Which tendency do you tend to choose most often? How has that worked (or not) for you in the past?

Which things have you tried that work better for you in times like this? How can help ensure you choose those more helpful approaches again when you need them?

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