Ruts happen. They’re part of being human. C.S. Lewis calls this the “Law of Undulation” – a series of troughs and peaks in every department of life, such as work, affections, friendships, and physical appetites (37). Lewis says, “As long as [man] lives on earth periods of emotional and bodily richness and liveliness will alternate with periods of numbness and poverty” (38).
Are you in a rut (or a trough) right now? Here are some of the signs:
- Loss of drive and energy. You’re not exactly a ‘go getter’ at the moment.
- Extra difficulty getting out of bed. The thought of waking up and tackling your responsibilities feels almost painful.
- A stagnant mind. You are running low on ideas and insights. If you’re a preacher, this is especially bad, because it means you’re probably struggling with different aspects of the sermon-writing process.
- Reluctance to take risks. “Things are fine as they are,” you think. “Why try to make things better?”
- Heightened temptation. At least it seems this way, because your desire to overcome temptation is lessened. If you’re a man, the temptation of pornography or other forms of sexual sin is at a peak. If you’re a woman, well, I don’t know (because I’m not a woman).
- An overall feeling of resignation. You have a general ‘whatever’ attitude.
Sometimes you find yourself in a rut. What matters is what you do to get out of it.
The most important thing to do is recognize when you’re in a rut. Like a lion, the devil tries to strike when you are the most vulnerable (cf. 1 Pet. 5:8). But when you realize you are weak, you have an opportunity to become more like Christ (cf. 2 Cor. 12:9-10) and to grow as a child of God (cf. Jas. 1:2-4).
I don’t like being in a rut. If you feel the same way, here are some ways to get unstuck:
1. Begin with prayer. When you recognize you are in a rut, acknowledge the fact with God. Make sure you talk to Him often (1 Thess. 5:17). For the Christian, we have the advantage of the Holy Spirit explaining to God what we are unable to adequately articulate and explain (Rom. 8:26-27), which is typical of being in a rut.
2. Spend time with God’s Word. Hopefully, you already read the Word every day. But when you’re in a rut, allocate an extra amount of time for Bible study. It is during spiritual troughs that you have the greatest opportunity to grow, and it is through the “pure spiritual milk” of the Word (1 Pet. 2:2) that you experience genuine growth.
3. Catch up on work & responsibilities. When I’m in a rut, I usually realize that I have been allowing work to accumulate. Are there some repairs needed around the house? Does your car have over-due maintenance needs? Do you have projects piled up at work? Carve our some time to tackle it all! You’ll feel great when the burden of pilled-up responsibilities is gone.
4. Make amends. Are you having problems with a friend, family member, coworker, or church member? Hurt feelings and built-up anger can wreak havoc on your emotions and cause unnecessary stress. Pay close attention to follow Matthew 5:23-24 and 18:15-17.
5. Read a book. When was the last time you went to a bookstore? If you don’t want to buy a book, pick one you haven’t read off your shelf. Read recreationally.
6. Do something for someone else. We often find ourselves in ruts because we have been thinking too much about ourselves. Reverse that by focusing on others. Don’t you like it when people focus on you (Matt. 7:12)?
7. Start a project. Build, make, contribute to, or practice something. Give yourself something to do and think about. Sometimes ruts are a result of stress, and projects can be a vacation from stress.
8. Exercise. A sedimentary and unhealthy lifestyle will create a loss of energy, which could be one of the reasons you are in a rut in the first place. At a minimum, stretch in the morning, try being on your feet for 10 minutes for every hour you’ve been sitting, and take a walk or ride a bike every day.
Life is too short to spend it in a rut.
Lewis, Clive Staples. The Screwtape Letters. New York: HarperCollins, 2001 Reprint.