Envision, Plan, and Make Your Escape
(Before I begin, I want to make a very clear disclaimer: There are some, especially women, who are in extremely abusive relationships. The level of life-threatening danger is very real. The steps they must take for their personal freedom are incredibly risky and treacherous. Extreme caution is advised and understood.)
My Sophia series is the story of my soul feeling trapped on its journey to feeling free. Sophia, Greek for “wisdom”, is my treacherous but necessary journey to spiritual independence. I am pleased that so many people, especially women, identify with her because it captures their own journeys as well. Many feel trapped, not just in religion or its institutions, but in unhealthy relationships, bad jobs, or other unhappy circumstances. There are so many people who are sadly oppressed and living under the control, power, manipulation, and even abuse of others. Sophia is a young woman who makes her escape. It takes courage, good timing, luck, blessing, whatever… for things to work out. But over time I’ve noticed similarities in peoples’ stories of why they aren’t escaping. I know these intimately because I’ve experienced each one of these.
Here they are:
1. “I shouldn’t!” Maybe you feel like you have to stay in a bad relationship. Maybe you feel like you can’t leave the church because you shouldn’t forsake the assembling of themselves together. Maybe you feel like you can’t leave your spouse because it’s a sin to divorce. Maybe you feel like you can’t quit your job because it’s faithless to stop serving your boss as if you’re serving the Lord and turning the other cheek and suffering for Jesus.
When you go against what you’ve been taught in these situations, at first you will feel guilty. But in time you realize you were being handled by an ideology that was created precisely with the intention of keeping you subservient. Once you develop an attitude of defiance, you see that these concepts of staying in church, staying in a marriage, and staying in a job even if they’re bad for you were created to keep you there and maintain social stability. If you’re being hurt, controlled, or even overruled, then it is your right and responsibility to sue for peace, fight for freedom, and establish your independence. I now know that the rules the church used were fear tactics to keep me there.
2. “I can’t!” Perhaps you are so oppressed that you feel you’ve lost every ounce of strength it would take to set yourself free. You like the idea of freedom, but you don’t have the power to achieve it. You are tired, discouraged, and disheartened. You feel paralyzed and hopeless. You just don’t think you have what it takes to escape.
Yes, you do! You wouldn’t believe the strength that wells up within you once you set foot on the path of freedom. The depression and sense of paralysis your oppression gives you cannot be the gauge you use to determine what strength you have for your freedom. They come from different springs. As soon as you make the decision that you are going to be free, a new kind of energy will suddenly well up within you and give you all the strength you need to achieve it. I know this from personal experience. Feeling completely beat down by years of struggling against the machine and feeling like I didn’t have what it takes to be free, suddenly, one night in a flash of decision, I knew I was going to escape. I suddenly felt a renewed strength and had a vision of how I was going to do it. And I did! I was a new man with renewed strength.
3. “I won’t!” Some of you count the cost of your escape and realize that it might be too great. According to the biblical story, Israel pined for their slavery in Egypt again because at least there they had leeks and onions. Yes, they paid for their food with their very lives. Their bodies were grist in the mills of the Egyptian regime. But at least they had security! Like so many, you may stay in an oppressive church, relationship, or job because there are trade-offs. There are benefits. I understand this. For example, when I left an large, international ministry, I understood I was giving up a good salary, good friends, and a sense of purpose that I was heavily invested in. It was extremely difficult to give that up. The sacrifice was huge.
But the Israelites could trade up leeks and onions for milk and honey. I know this is true for so many people who give up the perks of an unhappy situation. What you get from your own freedom and independence is far greater and far more satisfying. There is something much richer about feeding yourself good food than being fed mediocre food. After escaping from several unhappy situations and relationships, looking back now I realize I did the right thing. Sure, I had to spend some time wandering through the desert to get here. But I’m far happier now than I’ve ever been. It was worth the trip! That’s because I took the risk of turning in a fair life for an amazing one.
4. “I wish!” You would really like to escape, but just can’t see how to do it. Like Sophia in this image, she finds a trap door underneath the straw in her cell. While her captors are playing their games, she makes her escape. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if a trap door suddenly revealed itself to you and you could slip away that easily? But your oppressed life is so limited, restricted, controlled, and confined that you simply can’t see a way out. Your oppressor has made you so dependent that you can’t even imagine a life without them. You would love a trap door to magically appear, but it sounds too good to be true.
In fact, if you look for it, often it will appear just in that way. Almost magically! That’s how it happened for me Every. Single. Time. Once, I felt so hopelessly trapped that I simply could not figure out what to do and fell into an overwhelming depression. Trapped! Then one night I had a dream in which a way out was shown to me. The next day I felt like a free man, started acting like it, and took the steps revealed to me in my dream. Within a couple of weeks it was finished and I had a new lease on life! Lisa and I look back on that time as one of the most exciting and adventurous of our entire marriage. But… that’s happened to me many times now because I believe freedom is my right, and often what is best manifests itself to us when we look for it, welcome it, and take it. Often, we have to want it bad it enough for us to see it. And see it we will!
5. “I’m scared!” It is very scary to be free. I know! It means being independent. Autonomous. It means no longer depending on your handlers for all your needs. It means being elf-reliant. Often, with some churches, relationships, or jobs, they carefully construct it so that you can’t imagine life without them. In fact, they share horror stories about those who’ve tried to escape only to end up in the arms of Satan, another abusive lover, or alone, in a worse job, or even unemployed and living on the street. The threats are always the same: spiritual, relational, and financial devastation and destruction.
DON’T BELIEVE THEM! They are lying. Just like the existence of witches concocted to keep you out of the woods, they are lies told to keep you compliant. It’s hard for the mind to dismiss these threats and monsters because we believed in them. They were very real to us. It’s terrifying! But once you get past the fear and travel over the land that was supposed to be haunted and you realize nothing is there but legends, then your courage will grow, your wisdom will revive, and you will enjoy your newfound freedom and independence. You will, as I have, find a new level of wealth in your spirituality, your relationships, and even your life, even if it takes some time to get there.
I hope this helps some of you who feel trapped and want to escape. Trust me: I’ve been trapped many times, and I’ve escaped every time. I’m free. I’m independent.
And you can be too!
(Our online community, The Lasting Supper, is entirely made up of escape artists: people who’ve escaped or are in the process of escaping from unhealthy churches, relationships, jobs, and other unhappy situations. Join us!)