Bottoming Out

I think most of us have heard the phrase “rock bottom” and plenty of witticisms about hitting it. I had a shift in perspective yesterday about this much-vaunted state of being, so I decided to share.

Most of the lines about rock bottom are something to the effect of, “When you’ve hit rock bottom, the only way to go is up!” While cheery, it seldom cheers anyone going through a tough time. It occurred to me to wonder: how do we know when we’ve hit rock bottom?

Doubtless many people would be able to recall at least one time in life where they thought they had hit the bottom, only to find themselves on a thin flooring that soon gave way to a deeper slide. It feels like you started to go up but then fell much farther down. Two steps forward, ten steps back, to trot out another cliche.

So how do you know that this is the bottom, that you’re not doomed to spiral ever downward, trapped in despair and misery?

When you start looking up.

Not when things start looking up. When you start looking up and stop focusing on the mess you’re in. It’s normal to look at the circumstances that are going wrong. It’s natural to work to fix the broken things. But therein lies a trap: what you focus on is what you order your life around, to paraphrase Bob Hamp. If you’re always talking or thinking about all the things that are wrong in your life, then that’s what your life will be about. All the stuff that’s going wrong, that downward tumble into the abyss.

Look up. Get your eyes off the problem.

No, this is not an excuse to ignore the things that need to be taken care of. If your ship is sinking, you need to either plug the leak or find another ship. I’m saying you need to think about what you’re thinking about.

When you change your focus and start looking up rather than down, you have given God permission to work in your life. Not that He was ever bound by our whims, but it’s a lot easier to set a broken leg when the owner of that leg isn’t trying to bite your hands off. When we let God work in our lives, we make it easier on ourselves. We also get to be active participants in what He’s already been doing.

This kind of realization could be called a BFO: Blinding Flash of the Obvious. “Oh, wow! If I don’t stick my hand into the electrical socket, I won’t get electrocuted!” When we purposefully put our eyes on the Solution, the problem becomes less consuming. When we are not consumed by our problems, bad luck, unfair treatment, and the wrongdoings of others, then we can start making real progress out of the pit. Yes, we will have days when we slide back. But since we’re not letting that have our attention, we immediately start back up again. And again and again, until one fine day we discover that we’re completely out of hole.

Altering the personal paradigm is simple, though it isn’t always easy. A standing lift of 500lbs is simple, but it’s not easy, which is why only serious weightlifters and fools who think they’re weightlifters attempt it. It takes a lot of effort and time to be able to lift large weights, and it takes much effort and time to lift our eyes consistently away from that which weighs us us down.

Sometimes, you have to bail out the boat, and sometimes you have to bail out of the boat. Each situation is a bit different. But every situation can be overcome if we change which way we look.

So, what are some of your looking up moments?

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