“We’re going in circles! We’re going in circles!” That was the sing-song cry from the backseat when our kids were young and we were lost, trying to follow directions, turning, turning and ending up back where we started.
Not long ago I was suffering through a difficult passage. Fears I thought I’d dealt with were back. Old tapes I thought I’d discarded were playing again in my head. After days on the rack, I realized what was happening, but I couldn’t stop it. I felt caught in a loop, baffled by my own paralysis.
At breakfast with a trusted friend, I was spilling this story all over the diner table. My friend listened carefully, then asked me to think of this passage as a spiral staircase. If you’re growing and changing, he said, you’re circling and wheeling, moving upward. When you suffer reversals, he said, it may seem like you’re just ‘back where you started’, but in fact you’re reflecting on the situation from a new, upper perspective. You can bring experience to bear on the moment. You can remember what you learned in times of suffering and how not to lose hope. If you stay aware, he said, you can say, ‘That was then, this is now.’
It helps to remember that our lives move not in straight lines, but in looping spirals. If we trust that God is leading us, we may wonder why we’re going in circles. I imagine this is exactly how the children of Israel felt in their forty-year wandering in the wilderness. But as my friend reminded me, we’re not going in circles—we’re going in spirals. Our days take us through cycles of sunrise to sunset, seasons recur, but the arc of our lives is moving. Most of what we do today…we do again tomorrow, and the day after that. It’s easy to see only the circle, and not discern its gradual, spiraling movement. Yes, I’m struggling with that same issue again, but I’ve been here before. I have resources to draw upon. Help is available.
What I’ve learned from this last, trying cycle is that, instead of white-knuckling it, I need to talk to people I trust. I wish I could say this is a brand-new insight but, alas, I’ve realized this quite a few times in my life. Am I going in circles? Not a chance.