Someone once said a rut is like a coffin with both ends knocked out. I’ve been in one of those coffin-like ruts. It’s an awful place to find yourself. My “rut” lasted nearly a decade.
Listen to the podcast
You may want to read:
- Abuse, Suffering, and Other Painful Disappointments
- Why We Should Embrace the Crucible Of Suffering
- Three Keys To Help You Look Beyond Your Suffering
Seasons like these make walking with God hard. Prayers seem to be the vain exercises of the religious, while faith is more of a memory from a blissful past.
Rut living leads to rote religion. If you don’t know what else to do, you resign yourself to checking the box and going through the motions. You’re stuck. You can’t go back to your pre-Christian life and securing victory seems impossible.
“Once saved always saved” feels like a trap. You see this idea with the Hebrew nation during their time of wilderness wandering. God had redeemed them from the paganism of Egypt. They had a new life, but it was a hard life, and they were tempted to quit.
When you’re going through deep trials and God appears not to be on your side, the temptation to walk away from your faith can be substantial.
Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness. – Hebrews 3:7-8
I have “quit God” many times in my life. Though I think my suffering threshold is high, there are limits. Occasionally, I will see a young twenty-something worshipping the Lord with all his might in a church meeting, and two thoughts can run through my mind.
- Gratitude for the affection they have for the Lord.
- How will they respond when things become hard?
Though teens and young singles may act as if the complexity of life could not be more difficult, they have yet to live. Though they can create and talk about 24/7 drama, they do not know the difficulties of life like those who are a decade or two ahead of them. The real hard times have yet to come to their doors.
I’m glad for the young people who have authentic faith and I rejoice in the Lord for them, but the people who stir my soul are those who have experienced some of life’s fiercest battles and continue to exalt God (Psalm 34:3).
This kind of faith is a feat of grace. They have not become hard like many who have gone before them. Through many dangers, toils, and snares, they built their hope on nothing less than Jesus Christ and His righteousness.
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. – 2 Corinthians 4:16-18
Living In a Rut
Today, I received three different emails from abused women living with harsh husbands. These women have left their fathers and mothers and cleaved to their husbands (Genesis 2:24-25).
Their husbands swore they would protect and love them through thick and thin. Now, these women are older. They have children who have been affected. There appears to be no way forward and, as one wife asked me plainly, “Can I divorce my husband?”
She wants to go back to her previous life–to a day when the sun was brighter, and the grass was greener. She entered into marriage thinking God was on her side and things would be okay (Romans 8:31).
She is not sure anymore. She is not sure about her husband, her marriage, her future, or her God. She is hurting, confused, and stuck in a rut. Life has turned sour for her.
Her story is not an isolated event of a miserable person who feels trapped in a marriage. There are millions of people like her–people trapped in bad marriages, debilitated bodies, impossible jobs, and challenging lives.
When the horrible things of life converge on your soul and do not leave, the typical tendency is to figure out an exit strategy. This tactic is how I thought. When my rut years came, my primary desire was to escape.
Four People Living In a Rut
I’ve learned through personal experience as well as hundreds of hours of counseling individuals that four specific people types are easily tempted to live in a rut.
- A person whose experience is greater than Christ.
- A person who lives in a conditional love system.
- A person who believes they deserve better.
- A person who has been shaped to fear.
My Experience Is Greater Than Christ
If I were to sketch out what this person’s life looked like on a piece of paper, I would draw a large letter “P” in the center of the page. The “P” would stand for the problem. Then I would write the word “Christ” in small letters at the bottom right corner of the page.
This kind of rut dweller is problem-centered. Let’s call her Mable. When you’re around Mable, the first thing you hear from her is what is going wrong in her life. In fact, it’s the only thing you hear from Mable.
Christ is small in her world. While I understand why she does this, it has to change if she wants to get out of her rut. Her problems are significant, no doubt. Her challenges are involved, and there seems to be no end in sight.
Mable reminds me of what the Hebrew Christians were experiencing. These new converts were facing insurmountable and unending persecution. The author desired to show them a new and better way.
The letter to the Hebrews is a template for how you counsel the persecuted and the afflicted today. The theme of the message is that regardless of what you’re going through Christ is better, and you are asked to draw near to Him (Hebrews 4:14-16)
As a counselor, you cannot draw back from or undersell the greatness of Christ. He is the only right answer regardless of what a person may be experiencing. We have no other solution. Christ is our apology–our defense.
We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain. – Hebrews 6:19
- When you talk about what is going on in your life, what is more prominent–your problems or your Christ?
Conditional Love System
We’re all legalists at heart. Regardless of our upbringing or religious environment, we struggle to live in a functional understanding and practice of God’s gospel.
We’re people pleasers who want affirmation or acceptance from others. We were trained this way because of our Adamic inheritance. We’ve learned this kind of thinking because of our most influential relationships.
It’s a one-for-one system–I do good, and I receive good. If I do wrong, I receive bad in return. This “conditional love system” does not account for the grace that comes to us because of the gospel.
Grace is no longer grace if God is compelled to withdraw it in the presence of human demerit. – Jerry Bridges
Such a person has been trained to crave approval, acceptance, affirmation, and significance from others. These cravings put them under the spell of what people think about them.
It’s a draining and unloving system that was never meant to satisfy the longing soul. A person stuck in a “conditional love system” will always be ensnared by their slavish desire to have their love cup filled by another human being.
Because no one can love them the way God can, they are in a rut. Intellectually, they may tell you how God loves them unconditionally. But functionally, the incredible power and grace of God do not control them.
- Does God’s love for you overwhelm the imperfect love of your closest relationships? Why or why not?
I Deserve Better
One of the quickest ways to experience depression is to think you deserve better than what you’re getting. Most Christians have not received the biblical training for living in a cursed world.
A person who believes they deserve better than what they are getting will always have warfare going on in their soul. This sad truth is not a call for them to resign to their situation.
When you get the negative diagnosis, you should fight for your life. If someone is abusing you, it’s imperative for you to resist with all your might. When evil comes to your life, it is always right and biblical to figure out how to escape from those complexities.
When self-esteem teaching converges with prosperity gospel teaching, the Christian mind becomes convoluted and confused. Typically a person who has a high view of themselves (self-esteem), while thinking they should have a good life (prosperity gospel) is headed for a deep rut.
Paul and Christ had a sound theology of suffering. They did not look for trouble or wallow in worm theology, but they fixed their minds on Sovereign Lord, so when bad things came their way, they were prepared to endure.
Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. – 2 Corinthians 1:9
- When disappointment comes your way, can you readily rely on Him who raises the dead? Why or why not?
The Small Soul
For you always have the poor with you. – Mark 14:7
How comfortable are you with your prewiring? I’m talking about how God made you, or the script that He has written for you. Everyone is not the same. We have poor people, and we have wealthy individuals. Yes, the poor will always be with us.
And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place. – Acts 17:26
How comfortable are you at being a sovereigntist? God dropped you into this world at a particular time and in a specific place (Jeremiah 1:5). Are you okay with how He made you and where He placed you (Psalm 139:14-15)?
Encourage the fainthearted. – 1 Thessalonians 5:14
The word “fainthearted” in 1 Thessalonians 5:14 means “small souled.” How comfortable are you with your soul size? We’re not all rich, and we all do not have enormous Jesus-type or Paul-type souls.
Jesus and Paul had large soul capacities, which is not an odd thought. We’re all different physically, so why should we not be different spiritually? It stands to reason that God predetermined our internal wiring for specific purposes.
Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honored use and another for dishonorable use? – Romans 9:21
This truth is not a call for resignation as though you can’t change, grow, and mature in Christ. Christians never give up. We’re always seeking to be all we can be in Christ, to be all we’re supposed to be. To do otherwise would be unbiblical.
But some of us have specific personality types that can tempt us into rut living. The key for all of us is our focus. Our experiences, shaping influences, poor theologies, or their Adamic wirings do not control us ultimately.
Christ controls us. If you are stuck in a rut and can’t get out, you’re making a negative commentary about the grace of God and the power of the gospel. I do not mean to be harsh or uncaring, but God’s Word is true.
Christ is a more sure anchor for the soul (Hebrews 6:19), and if these other anchors of life are keeping you in a rut, the first thing you need to address is not the “rut things” I mentioned.
Will you become desperate enough, honest enough, transparent enough, and courageous enough to make a break to live in this new and better way? If so, please reach out for help today (Hebrews 3:7).
Also published on Medium.