Definition of obstacle: a thing that blocks one’s way or prevents or hinders progress. In latin the word for obstacle is obstaculum from the word obstare (ob - “against” and stare “stand”). So, to stand against.
Before we get to listing all the people and things standing against us - let’s distinguish between excuses and obstacles. The definition of excuse is an attempt to lessen the blame attaching to a fault or offense; to seek to defend or justify or to release someone from a duty or requirement.
Why is this differentiation important? Because I believe many of us label our excuses as obstacles to make them appear as if they are independent of our control so we can divert personal responsibility.
For example, “I don’t have enough time” is what many of us tell ourselves (and others) for why we don’t have what we desire in life. Is time an excuse or an obstacle?
FACT: We all have 24 hours in a day and we cannot slow it down, speed it up or pause it.
We will be severely limited in our ability to achieve anything if we put the responsibility (or blame) on something that is constant and unchangeable. But we do this all the time. And what happens is this type of victim thinking becomes a default mindset. We lessen the blame on ourselves (it was lack of time) and defend our unhealthy choices (it was because I didn’t have the time) and ultimately release ourselves from the responsibility of making healthy decisions (because I would have chosen different if I had more time). Nope, sorry ladies. This isn’t a valid argument and it’s been holding some of us back for WAY TOO LONG. Time may be an obstacle that has to be dealt with and managed, but it cannot be used as an excuse so you get permission to escape the responsibility you have for change in your own life.
Once we see time for what it is - an obstacle that can be managed, maneuvered and mastered - then we no longer allow it to steal our power and we gain a fresh perspective that is more accurate and empowering.
Sometimes when we take a step back and ask God for a fresh perspective, we realize that what we thought was our obstacle, really wasn’t an obstacle at all, but rather a stepping stone to reveal and overcome the real obstacle. What if time isn’t the obstacle (because we can’t change it) but rather the real obstacle is our mindset around time. What if we went a step further and identified that it’s our lack of identifying and establishing our priorities that is really hindering our progress?
Let me elaborate. Priorities are not what we SAY are most important in our lives. But it doesn’t matter what you SAY is important. Priorities reveal themselves by how we spend our TIME, money and energy. If we spend four hours a day on social media, then social media represents a priority in our lives. The priority may be to feel significant, to check-out from situations and feelings, to reinforce how awful our situation is by looking at everyone else’s highlight reel, to get validation that people care about us or to feel superior about our lives. Whatever it is - it has a higher priority over other things in our lives. Time is not the obstacle. Time is simply the currency we are using to meet the need that has become a priority.
We can say your health is a priority, but if we spend most of our day thinking about how other people are perceiving us then most likely we are making a ton of decisions out of a fear of rejection or a need to be accepted rather than what is most healthy for us, physically and emotionally. We can make pleasing people a priority by saying yes to others even when it inferes with the plans we have made to take care of ourselves. Then we begin complaining that we don’t have any TIME to go to the grocery store, or make dinner or go to the gym because we had to help so and so - therefore deflecting the responsibility to the lack of time, when in reality is simply a failure to identify and properly manage our priorities.
Now, I don’t want you to think that I am advocating not helping people or being there for people who need you. What I am speaking to is the power in identifying the real obstacle which is the mindset that - IF I choose to make my health a priority, there are going to be certain things I am going to have to commit to doing and I take responsibility to protect and structure the 24 hours I have been given in a day to make these things happen.
Reflection Question: What are your top 3 priorities in life? Does your time, resources and energy reflect these same 3 priorities? (If it doesn’t, you may find that you have a feeling of an internal conflict within you or feelings of guilt, shame or anxiety.) Take some time to realign your time, resources and energy!
Obstacles are inevitable.
The truth about obstacles is that they are inevitable. Ironically, some of us were fed the belief system that the goal of this life is to have an easy, blessed, obstacle free life. Or perhaps you were taught to have an expectation that obstacles should not happen if we are on the right path with God. If we come into agreement with either one of these beliefs, then we are going to constantly question if we are on purpose. This feeling of not knowing if where we are at is where we are suppose to be is what feeds anxiety, indifference, depression and frustration in our souls.
I have discovered in my 40 years of life, that the greatest growth and most significant accomplishments came with the most resistance in the form of obstacles. Fear, doubt, people’s opinions (which was really my own insecurity about who I was), lack of wisdom/experience, lack of relationship with God, pride and ego were all examples of the forms that obstacles took on in my life. I can see these obstacles now for what they really were - but when I remember actually living through them, I would have named those obstacles much different. I would have labeled them as lack of
- Good, skilled people to help me
- Support from others
- Technology skills, etc.
What I realize now is what I initially thought was the obstacle, was actually an opportunity to draw out of me some things that needed to go and to pull forward what needed to grow. For example, I see in the season of raising my daughter, Berlyn, that all of the daily challenges are actually not the obstacles. When I view Berlyn and her behavior as the obstacle, I feel powerless, but when I choose a different perspective, I can see that the challenges are revealing the true obstacles:
- I give in to my tendency to compare instead of just loving and accepting what is.
- I try to control my environment for selfish reasons instead of surrendering to the season of life.
- I get prideful about how much I can get done and stop relying on the provision of God.
- I make it about me and nothing in my life worth accomplishing is about me.
- I give into anxiety and fear rather than trust and faith in God.
Reflection Question: What are the real obstacles you are facing?
Obstacles have purpose.
I had to create a belief system that the presence of obstacles does not indicate that I am on the wrong path, but rather that obstacles serve a purpose in the complete fulfillment of my God-created purpose. I have experienced obstacles designed
- to get me to shift and go a different direction
- to build my strength, courage or wisdom for what was beyond the obstacle
- to deepen my faith, increase my patience and experience total reliance on God
- to reveal to me someone or something within me that I had to leave behind in order to move forward
- to encourage someone else and give them power to overcome their own obstacles
- to make the victory beyond the obstacle that much sweeter to my soul.
Without obstacles, there is no growth and no progress. Without growth and progress, we live a life of stagnation and hopelessness. Obstacles provide the fire and refinement required for us to be all we have been created to be. Don’t dread them - embrace them. They are truly an unexpected gift.
- Think back on a situation that you had to overcome an obstacle. What was the gift?
Obstacles may be smaller than they appear.
When we are standing right up against an obstacle - it looks huge. I live in the Pacific Northwest. Mount Rainer looks completely different when you stand at base camp, versus seeing it in the distance as you drive from Seattle to Tacoma on a clear sunny day versus looking out from an airplane thousands of feet above sea level. And you know what? During the rainy season, you can look into the distance and not even know there is a mountain behind the cloud cover.
It’s all about perspective. What you focus on, you feel. The more you focus on the obstacle, the bigger it will look and feel. But if you choose to focus more on where you are going, then you can rise up from your current situation and with fresh perspective see that the obstacles start to lose their power when you look at the victory waiting for you on the horizon.
I want to leave with one last thought. I didn’t talk much about fear, although fear is probably one of the most identifiable obstacles people face when going after something. The reason I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about it is because I, personally, don’t give power to fear. You either partner with fear or you partner with faith. Fear is not a real barrier - it’s an illusion. And you only discover that when you step out and do something despite the fear and realize fear can only stop you if you let it. I use to think that I had to “wait” until the fear went away in order to do something and now I have adopted that belief that beyond that when I feel fear this usually means that something so amazing and transformational is on the other side - so I just do it anyway!
If you are looking for support in your own life and health journey to overcome your obstacles and live whole and free, I invite you to a free coaching session with me here. I would love to hear your story and support you in making progress towards the best you!