A few days ago, as she was answering questions from one of my patients, she described how the patients in her part of the world are kept, sometimes for many years, in dark dungeon-like places where the odors of urine and feces penetrate everything. When she enters the facility to visit the patients, her eyes sting and gradually adjust to the deepening darkness as she descends into the stench-filled pits of human suffering. Surprisingly, when she offers the patients a new and different treatment that may give them hope and freedom, they are sometimes unwilling to accept it. They prefer to stay in the dark and keep their chains and locks. Others, once free from their chains, go back to them--out of fear of the unknown and lack of trust that they will be alright without them. They choose to be prisoners to their illnesses and their past and to hold on to that which is inhumane but familiar.
Last night our family watched the gruesome but moving movie, The Shawshank Redemption. Our daughter had never seen it and wept when the old man Brooks, who was finally parolled after a 50 year imprisonment, committed suicide because he couldn't bear to live in freedom. He had been locked up for so long, said "Red", one of the inmates, that he had "become institutionalized." Freedom frightened him.
The mentally ill "prisoners" in Africa have experienced much the same. They have become "institutionalized"--used to the chains and locks that make them feel safe., accustomed to the walls and the dark and the rats that enclose them. They cannot remember freedom and cannot imagine a world where there are no voices in their heads to torment them. They are frightened and reluctant to trust those who are wanting to give them a new life.
Don't many of us who are Christians do the same thing? We want to live free (or "live strong", as Lance Armstrong would say), but we are unwilling to believe that we actually can do it. We look at the path on which we have walked our lives, see the potholes and pits through which we have come, and cannot envision a life in the future that isn't the same. We are so limited in our vision (seeing "in a mirror dimly") that we live far below the level that God has for us. We live on the poverty level of life instead of in the riches God wants to give us. We live in the dark dungeons, like those in chains in Africa, rather than in the glorious light God is providing for us.
"For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I shall know fully just as I also have been fully known." I Corinthians 13:12
I sometimes tell my patients about the verse, "Lead me to the rock that is higher than I," especially when I am trying to help them see that it is time to trust a higher power. They may feel like they are in a dark hole with no way out, but God is above that hole and offering a hand up and a way out into the light. In Africa, my missionary doctor friend is offering her patients a way out of their darkness and chains. But, they have to choose to accept her help, to try the medicine that is offered. We, as Christians, no matter how long we have lived under the master of sin and slavery, need to trust that Rock that is higher than we are. That Rock can break those chains. He is offering us freedom and a victorious life. We need to get over our prideful thinking that "my wound is too difficult for Him to heal" or that "my sinful habit is too hard to break" or that "His grace isn't sufficient to cover me." That attitude is pure pride and is putting your opinion above that of Christ's
"From the end of the earth I call to You when my heart is faint; Lead me to the rock that is higher than I." Psalm 61:2 NASB
How do we do it? We have to let go of what we are holding onto to take hold of Christ. Those poor, suffering psychiatric patients in Africa must let go of their chains and locks to take hold of the new therapies that are offered to them. Those in my own practice who have continued to languish in depression and defeat while continuing in the same habits that put them where they are must let go of the old bad behaviors and embrace the new lifestyle changes and therapies that are offered to them. We Christians must take hold of Christ. We cannot do that while holding on to the past and to our sinful ways. We must trust Him to do what He says He will do for us. We must let Him take our hands and lead us out of our dungeons into His light.
And why should we trust him? Why on earth should we let go of the familiar and step out on faith to grasp His hand and move forward? Because He has the power to defeat our past. He has the power to defeat sin! He conquered death! He has resurrection power, and so do we-- in Him! That resurrection power means NEW LIFE. Take hold of it, because Jesus has taken hold of you.
"Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me." Philippians 3:12