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Buried Too Deep in Problems? Can't See Your Way Out?

Updated on August 11, 2020
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A former university communications professor, Sallie, an independent publisher, also writes romantic fiction novels and short stories.

There’s a story about a donkey that I feel presents a good metaphor for how we have to view life and the problems that come along with it. It’s a good parable that sheds light for understanding how life can leave us feeling like we’re buried deep in some kind of dark pit, with no way out. The story is titled “The Donkey in the Well,” and I would love to give credit to author, but it’s one of those tales that get passed along so long and so much, no one really knows who first told it. Still, we’re all grateful someone told it, and we're even more grateful that someone else sent it to us. It arrived to me by email, and I’ve kept it and I'm offering it here because it is worth keeping and worth telling again.

The Donkey in the Well

One day a farmer's donkey fell down into a well. The animal cried out pitifully for hours as the farmer, his owner, tried to figure out what to do. After working hard with the animal, pulling and tugging at his head, then at its tail, the farmer grew tired. He finally decided the animal was so old he wasn’t worth saving, and that the well needed to be covered up anyway. He made up his mind that ... well, it just wasn't worth it to try to save the old donkey, so he decided to just bury him in the well. Getting on with the chore, the man invited all of his neighbors to come over to help him fill in the well, and each of his friends grabbed a shovel and began to shovel dirt into the well to cover the out-of-luck donkey.

As soon as the donkey realized what was happening, he cried horribly. Surely, if donkeys can think, he thought it was cruel for those above him to be piling dirt on top of him, shovel after shovel. The story says he cried and he whinnied, and whinnied and he cried with every shovel of dirt that hit him. But then, after a while, to everyone's amazement the donkey quieted down and soon grew silent. A few shovel loads later, the farmer looked down the well, and was astonished by what he saw: As every shovel of dirt hit his back, the donkey would shake it off and take a step up. Every time the farmer's neighbors would pour a shovel of dirt on top of the animal, he would shake furiously to make the dirt fall beneath his feet, and then he would take another step up. Pretty soon, everyone was amazed to see the donkey as he stepped up and out, over the edge of the well. And without even a nod to them, that old donkey trotted off to the pasture.

The Moral?

Life is going to shovel dirt on you, all kinds of dirt. The trick to getting out of your well is to shake off that dirt and take a step up. For anyone, trouble can actually be a stepping-stone. We can get out of the deepest pits of our lives if we learn to keep stepping, instead of stopping. It’s hard to do, but whenever you begin to feel overwhelmed by the stuff that rains down on you in life, do your best to shake it off, and to make it a foundation of knowledge beneath your feet, something you have learned in life that will now allow you to take a step up!

Troubles, I believe, are like the dirt was for that donkey. No matter what comes at us in life: big problems, little problems, long conflicts, short brawls, desperation, loneliness, grief, or strife—it doesn’t matter what it is, we can choose how we allow it to affect us. It can have either a good effect on our lives, or a bad one, and it’s up to us to choose which it will have. If we choose to look at it as a “lesson learned,” it can help us have the strength and determination we need to keep going. We all need a strong foundation, you see. And we get that by shaking off the dirt, and by remembering to keep taking those steps up.

The story of the donkey is a metaphor for handling any kind of obstacle that gets thrown or placed in your path. Sometimes people intentionally place obstacles in our paths, no matter how good or godly we are, and no matter how nice we are to others, or how kind or how smart we are. There is always someone there doing a bit of “player hating” ready to be the spoiler. They may be trying to take away your joy, or trying to make you feel “less than” them or someone else, or trying to make you feel that you’re not worth much.

But if we take a clue from the donkey that fell into the well, we will never have to worry or fear when people decide we’re not worth the effort. We will never have to be anxious about being “put out to pasture” because of our age, or our physical condition. We will never have to go through the pain of feeling no one loves us. Because that old donkey came to life in that story to teach us that we are worth the effort because God made us worth the effort. We don’t have to “do anything” or “become” anything in order to be worth the effort. We’re worth it, because God created us, and because He loves us. The donkey also shows us it doesn’t matter how old we are, or what is the state of our physical condition. His story demonstrates that when we tap into God’s love that is within each of us, any of us can become an “over-comer.”

Any of us can become buried in problems. The trick is to find a way to use the dirt as a foundation of knowledge about “lessons learned,” so that we can step up to the next level in life. Our relationship with God, and learning how to receive the promises of God so that they can become manifested in our lives, is our real challenge.

We all have hidden wells waiting for us around every corner, so when you fall into one, rest assured there will be circumstances waiting to be the dirt that is shoveled in on you while you’re in the well. When that happens, you can choose to whine and cry and live a tortured existence, seeing everything that falls in on you as further evidence that God has abandoned you. You can allow your troubles and setbacks to get the best of you, until you're buried so deep in darkness no light can get through to you.

But I don’t think God means for you or me to allow life’s problems to bury us. I think he means for us to see problems from a positive perspective so that we can learn from them, and become stronger as a result of surviving, in spite of them.

“And whosoever will not receive you, when ye go out of that city, shake off the very dust from your feet for a testimony against them.” --The Gospel of Luke, 9:5.


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