Paralysis by analysis: the state of over-analyzing (or over-thinking) a situation so that a decision or action is never taken, in effect paralyzing the outcome.
I used to be paralyzed. In the paralysis by analysis sense, I mean.
While wrapping up my undergraduate degree and for several months thereafter, I had a variety of options — too many options. I cringe at this confession, but within one year’s time I considered pursuing vocational paths toward writing, academia, ministry, counseling, and higher education student affairs. Whew. Just recalling all that makes my blood pressure rise with anxiety.
Unable to choose, I thought a lot and acted a little. Very little. Paralysis little.
I worked part-time at a small restaurant for some months, job-searched in my free time, wondered about the purpose of life, waited for answers, and worried myself to sleep. So, actually, there was a lot happening internally (the wondering, the waiting, the worrying), and that took so much mental and emotional energy that it hindered much from happening externally.
I remember humming often the song “Jesus I Am Resting, Resting” and hearing a sermon on Isaiah 30 (“In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength”) and wishing it were true — wishing that rest was real and that it could somehow save me.
But here’s the thing I realize now: Rest is real. And, somehow, it saved me. Resting in Jesus’ goodness and guidance saved me.
There’s a passage in Mark 2 that often gets the heading “Jesus Heals a Paralytic.” And I’d like to say Jesus healed my paralytic-like self too.
Mark 2 goes like this:
Then some people came, bringing to [Jesus] a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” … “I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.” And he stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”
A couple things I notice about how this happened for the paralytic:
- It took friendship. The paralytic’s friends brought him to Jesus. When he couldn’t move, others could move him. In the case of paralysis by analysis, this can look like friends reminding us who we are, what we love, where we’ve been, where we’re headed. For instance, when paralyzed, I’ve tentatively suggested a possibility to a mentor and they’ve been able to affirm “Yes, that’s you! You’ve wanted that for years!”
- It took faith. The paralytic and his friends had faith that Jesus had healing power or else they wouldn’t have broken through a roof to get to him. Indeed, we’re told “when Jesus saw their faith” he responded. When paralyzed, I’ve been unable to see any single action as the best action to choose. Faith says to act anyway.
- It took forgiveness. Jesus addressed the internal (sin and forgiveness) before and while addressing the external (paralysis and movement). Paralysis by analysis can come with the guilt and shame of feeling lazy if we don’t act, crazy if we act indecisively, or wrong if we act incorrectly. Jesus addresses that internal experience by saying “your sins are forgiven,” thus addressing our external experience by drawing us out from stuck to standing.
I only realize this in hindsight. But, somehow, after a year or so of paralysis, I began to rest from figuring things out on my own and to let good friendships guide me. Began to rest from worrying so much about the future and let faith guide me. Began to rest from guilt over my paralysis and let forgiveness grace me.
It’s counter-intuitive. But the more I rested my mind, the more I took action in my life.
I still have choices to make. We all do. Every day. And, this time, I’m making the choices. Because, accompanied by friendship, I can take a faithful action and trust that even if it’s not perfect it’s forgiven. Thanks be to God.