The cage sat on the floor of a dimly lit warehouse. Inside it was a prisoner, knees clasped tight against her chest, eyes downcast and face darkened by despair. A short distance from her feet lay an ornate, black key – large enough to fill her palm, perfectly sculpted to fit the lock.
Pick it up, my heart whispered. I sensed she knew it was there . . . yet she remained motionless.
Sorrow flooded through me, startling me from sleep. I dragged my eyes open, the vivid picture still suspended in my mind. That key was within reach of the captive but she didn’t pick it up. Why?
Many times I’ve been trapped in such a cage, imprisoned by my own dark patterns of thinking. Crippling fear, burning anger or deep discouragement have taken hold of my heart and built walls around my life. Sometimes the gloom around me has seemed so thick I’ve questioned whether the cage even had a door to escape through, let alone a key.
Yet it did – every single time.
In the early years of my adult life I needed guidance from others to push that key into the lock and turn it. Now the way of escape is so familiar to me, using it has become a daily habit.
In my dream, the key had two projections on its end – two ‘bits’ that would engage with the lock. Likewise, I’ve learned there are two steps in the escape process. Both are vital to finding freedom. Let me share them with you.
First we need to take an inside look, shifting our gaze from the oppressive strength of the cage walls to the struggle going on in our hearts. We become aware of the destructive mindsets and negative emotions we allow to traipse freely through our soul. Often, as we reflect, a specific memory comes to mind – a key event which first triggered the emotions.
Here’s an example from my life. Many years ago I realised I had an intense fear of being abandoned by my husband. His love for me was obvious so my emotions didn’t make sense. In time, we deduced the anxiety stemmed partly from a forced hospital stay when I was very young. The sorrow and fear I felt when my parents had to leave me and go home (as was done in those days) was a natural reaction for a little girl. However those feelings had remained with me through the years following, causing me to believe that people I loved may not always be there to support me when I needed them.
It was out of kindness that God brought this issue to the surface. His heart is for us to be free. From His lofty vantage point He sees our lives clearly and knows exactly what’s holding us captive. Oh-so-gently, He uncovers the triggers from our past and reveals the choices we made to let them control us. If we’re willing to stand in His light, admit our failings and turn away from those negative thoughts and emotions, He bathes us in grace, washing away the grime of our yesterdays and giving us a new perspective on our future.
That’s how the first bit engages with the lock. Now for the second.
To find complete release, we need to turn our gaze to the people who have caused us pain. Many times – most times – our triggers have come through others. Their words or actions have taken hold of us, distorting the way we see ourselves, the world around us and even God. Sometimes the littlest details can wound us deeply – a tiny phrase, a rejecting tone of voice, a nasty facial expression. The injury may have happened long ago but the emotion connected with it can still feel just as intense as when it first occurred, sometimes even stronger. Those emotions wrap themselves around us like a straitjacket, telling us there is no hope of escape.
But there is.
To engage the second bit on the key we need to confront the pain of the incident and forgive the person. Yes, forgive – no matter what they’ve done. It was easy to forgive my parents for leaving me in the hospital; they had no option. But sometimes the agony of an experience can feel so overwhelming that forgiving seems impossible. That’s when we need to remember the previous step – where we were forgiven our failings.
We choose to forgive others not because they deserve it but because we’ve been forgiven.
It’s confronting to pause and ponder how many times we’ve caused pain for another person, even unintentionally. How many times we’ve excused our own thoughtless words or harsh behaviour because we’re tired or busy or just plain unhappy.
The reality is we all inflict wounds on others – regularly. Think on this – if God, Who is perfect, gave up His precious Son so we could be forgiven, who are we to hold others’ errors against them?
When we hold onto a painful memory, that pain holds onto us, keeping us bound both to the trauma of the experience and to the person. Additionally, if we choose not to forgive, God’s forgiveness is not available to us either. We put ourselves in a position where neither of the bits on our key can engage.
On the other hand, when we choose to let go of the pain by forgiving, we release the person to God and the unhealthy ties are broken.
Forgiving can be very painful. Sometimes we need the support of others to help walk us through the process. Sometimes we need to forgive a person many times over for the same incident as we work through layers of pain. If we lift our eyes to God and remember His mercy to us, He will give us the strength we need to truly let go.
As we do, that key turns in the lock, the cage door flings open and we are set free to fly.
“He has sent me to . . . proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners . . .” Isaiah 61:1
“If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” John 8:36
Forgiveness is also good for our health! For further reading, see: