As Pharaoh drew near, the Israelites caught sight of the Egyptians advancing upon them. Greatly frightened, the Israelites cried out to the Lord. And they said to Moses, “Was it for want of graves in Egypt that you brought us to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, taking us out of Egypt?” … Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why do you cry out to Me? Tell the Israelites to go forward. And you lift up your rod and hold out your arm over the sea and split it, so that the Israelites may march into the sea on dry ground.”
—Exodus 14:10–11, 15
If you look carefully at what happens before the Israelites cross the Red Sea, you’ll find that it’s not about people passively waiting for a miracle. God expects the Israelites to take action. At the critical moment, when the Israelites stand between Pharaoh’s army and the sea, God rebukes Moses for failing to act. “Why do you cry out to Me?” says God. Instead, God tells Moses that he must act, that he must tell the Israelites they should go forward, that he must raise his rod and split the sea.
What happened here? The Red Sea was still the same Red Sea, the Israelites the same Israelites, but, “They did not know it was impossible, so they did it!”[i] They looked for a solution and found one. (You can think about God’s actions as revealing the new possibilities you can discover once you are willing to act on your own behalf.)
That’s the beauty of taking action when you face an “impossible” situation. Your actions can lead to most unexpected results. Who Moved My Cheese, a parable that has sold millions of copies, humorously describes how four mice cope with a sudden change. They wake up one day to an awful discovery. Their ever-reliable cheese-dispensing station has run dry. Each one of them reacts, some more successfully than others. Haw, one of our heroes, is among the last to overcome his fear, tendency to procrastinate, and Pollyannaish hope that one day he’ll wake up and the cheese station will be full again. When he finally accepts the fact that it’s time to act, he puts on his running gear and ventures forth: “Haw realized he had been held captive by his own fear. Moving in a new direction had freed him … He took in some deep breaths and felt invigorated by the movement … He had almost forgotten how much fun it was to go for it.”[ii]
Always look for an alternative; you’ll find more than one.
[i] Widely attributed to Mark Twain.
[ii] Spencer Johnson, Who Moved My Cheese? (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1998), 56.