In the movie The Shawshank Redemption, Andy finds himself imprisoned among men who have lost the ability to dream about life outside of the prison walls. Yet, he is a relentlessly hopeful man. If you’ve seen the movie, you were likely moved to tears when, at the end, Andy’s relentless efforts to chip away (ever-so-slowly!) at freedom are revealed. Not unlike the Israelites in Egypt, he had a dream of a beautiful place and a noble purpose. That dream fueled his relentless quest for the better life, the land flowing with milk and honey. It is this hope that must grasp our hearts if we’re going to make it through the Red Sea, and get on the way to our Promised Land.
“Bondage” or “imprisonment” characterizes the reality of a woman in depression, a man in a mid-life identity crisis, a teenager who cuts, or a married couple that lives as roommates. It’s true of most people who walk through my door for care. Life isn’t working. Relationships are failing. Purposelessness reigns the day. And hope seems silly. In fact, people who come for counseling are not often looking for hope; rather, most simply want relief from pain. And most counseling strategies are aimed at just that.
Sitting with people in these places can be difficult. I’ve found myself listening to many stories of bondage and imprisonment over the years. I’ve sat with a pastor and his wife who were complete strangers to one another. I’ve mentored seminary students who were trapped in the dark cavern of sexual addiction. I’ve watched powerful businessmen cry like babies because of their utter emptiness. I’ve ached for stay-at-home mothers who haven’t had even a few hours of un-interrupted rest in years. One man stated it bluntly: “prison sucks.” Deep down, no one wants bondage. Yet, many of us tolerate it.
Yes. The reality that most of us have chosen to stay in bondage. We’ve made Egypt palatable. We’ve learned to live in the dead marriage. We’ve accepted the decade long depression. Despite our best efforts, we’ve gone back to the dead-end addictions and idols that have long been our oppressors. I see it on counseling “Intake Forms” all the time, as people answer the question “How long have you experienced this problem?” with “as long as I can remember.” Sometimes I’ll ask what kept them from addressing the issue earlier. “Life just got busy,” they might say. “I guess I just accepted that this is the way life is,” one woman told me recently. Egypt became home.
What do you do with someone in this kind of bondage? How do you help? Sadly, many of the ways that we try to help amount to bandaids over wounds that require surgery. Think about the many ways that we try to help:
- “It does no good worrying about it.”
- “Try to remember all the good things you have!”
- “Just get back into Scripture regularly and you’ll feel better.”
- “When life throws lemons, make lemonade.”
- “Rejoice in the Lord always!”
- “Maybe there is a lesson to learn in it.”
While there may be truth in some of these things, they often fail to speak deeply to someone in pain. I’m reminded of Job’s response when his friends failed to consider his great need. “My friends are as undependable as intermittent streams…who have proved to be of no help” (from Job 6, NIV). Sometimes we spend our time trying to fix people instead of listening carefully to them.
The prophet Jeremiah tried to get this message across to a hard-hearted generation of Israelites who had abandoned the “ancient paths” (Jer. 6:16, NIV) for the quick fixes and brief therapies of the day. Even the most respected among them – the pastors – had bought into a theology of pain minimization and management. Eugene Peterson’s translation is priceless: “Prophets and priests and everyone in between twist words and doctor truth. My people are broken—shattered!— and they put on Band-Aids, saying, ‘It’s not so bad. You’ll be just fine.’ But things are not ‘just fine’!” (Jer. 6:13, MSG). The NIV translation is just as clear: “They dress the wound of my people as if it were not serious.” Indeed, in countless places God seems to indict those who fail to minister to the broken. God’s heart, it seems, is with those who are too broken to put themselves back together.
So, consider this:
What is your prison, and how have you made it palatable?
How the “band-aids” of friends, family, or pastors only added to your stuckness?
How and why have you chosen to stay stuck? How does life in Egypt “work” for you?