I’ve found the word stymied to be quite useful in life. The noun stymied means, from one source, “a situation or problem presenting such difficulties as to discourage or defeat any attempt to deal with or resolve it.”
As an aside, what I never knew was where the word came from until recently. This is what I found on-line. “It was in the 19th century that the word stymie entered English as a noun referring to a golfing situation in which one player’s ball lies between another ball and the hole on the putting green, thereby blocking the line of play. Later, stymie came to be used as a verb meaning to bring into the position of, or impede by, a stymie.”
Whether being impeded or encountering difficulties in resolving a situation, certainly most if not all of us have been stymied at one point or another. Times in which we simply don’t know what to do or how to fix something.
Over the years, I’ve been stymied by math problems, chemistry equations, how to get out of a plateau in my tennis skill level, travel cancellations in a foreign country due to labor strikes, and even how to ski down a rocky chute I somehow ended up at the top of. While none of what I’ve just mentioned are big deals, there have been other passages when I’ve been stymied in far more significant ways.
Sometimes I just don’t know what to pray for. When my dear cousin Madeline at age 34 was dying of cervical cancer, as I sat at her bedside and knew she was in pain and not going to survive, I remember the painful feeling of being uncertain what to pray for. It was the same when my dad nearly 18 years ago was in the same shape. Sometimes I’ve felt this way with people I’ve had the privilege of walking along side of as a pastor who were enduring beyond what can be described as catastrophic.
And 20 years ago, while in seminary and I did not know where I’d end up after ordination and was questioning my sense of call to begin with, somehow praying “Thy will be done” did not offer me much comfort.
The other day I was visiting a friend up on Missouri Heights in the mid-valley. It was extremely windy. As we sat and talked, I realized that one reason I’ve always loved the wind is that it reminds me of the Holy Spirit.
I immediately thought of some of the times I’ve been stymied about very significant things in life, like now not knowing what to pray for, for my 94-year-old mom who doesn’t remember I called 3 minutes after I hang up. Or what to pray for, for a teen close to my heart that has been to hell and back.
I’ve learned over the years that when we are stymied by something, it is vital to remember the Holy Spirit. Recalling what Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans, for me, is where the rubber meets the road with our walk with Jesus when we have either no idea what to do or what to pray for.
Paul wrote in Chapter 8 of Romans, “God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans.” Another version of the passage says, “The Holy Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.”
In other words when we don’t know what to pray for or even how to pray, it is precisely then that the Holy Spirit prays for us, on our behalf. When we are stymied, God does the praying for us.
This message from scripture is not only immensely comforting in trying times, but foundational to who Jesus is and what he is about, even in those moments in which he feels absent or far away or simply non-responsive to what we’ve been asking for.
Because the Holy Spirit intercedes for us, my friends, indeed we can endure all things through Christ who gives us the strength we need.