A rotund beast stands, casting a lazy shadow to the burning ground. Powerful but tame, the brute cautiously sways from side-to-side. When the beast was young, it would fight the worn shackle that bulges from its left leg. It used to tug at the pole. There was a day it would wrestle the taut fetter. Every attempt of freedom ended in futility, but the determined creature would grapple the idea of freedom — each time being held back. The firm chain won every fight. Worn marks in the dirt beneath its feet stood testament to the range of its freedom. It was free to play and move, as long as it was within its 20ft radius mandated by the length of the chain. Day after day the growing heart grew more and more weary until one day the beast stopped. Conquered by a chain that had wrapped its way around its brain, the animal ceased to fight. Neurons grew stronger than the gauged strength of the chain itself and dreams that once were entertained of adventures beyond the chain have been tossed aside.
A 12,000lb elephant stands captive to a chain. No longer held by the chain itself but now a hostage of itself. Tethered to memories. Tethered to failures. Tethered.
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It is incredible how sly and entrenching social media can become in our lives. A creature of our own creation works its way into entrenched corridors of our lives. If we are not careful, we can become tethered to a chain that we have devised. Attention seeking, self-promotion, affirmation from distant individuals who prop us up with mere buttons, a tool can become a crutch. Spending so much time and energy to get the perfect picture or think up the wittiest comment — fleeting approval. Obviously, there is nothing innately wrong with social media, but every once in awhile it is good for us to take a step back and ask ourselves what our motives are in our posts. My quest here is to simply challenge us: when was the last time we paused the collective unconscious that rests on the other side of our social media posts? Have we allowed the tether of apps and connectivity to remove us from the moment? Test the tether today.
In Exodus, we read the account of God freeing the captive Israelite nation from the whips of their Egyptian overlords. They walk through a sea and to a mountain where God gives them a direct set of ten words — the Decalogue. These Ten Commandments, as they have come to be known, are quite restricting in some ways. Despite cultivating a moral framework that would keep the Israelite nation secure, one must admit that the commandments are intentionally designed to place a boundary by God (Baker, 2017, p. 30-31)). The key here is that there is freedom to be found in the protective boundaries place by God.
Yes, I am aware of the perceived oxymoron. How can I be free by living in boundaries? Proverbs 3:1-3 provides us with an excellent framework:
“My son, do not forget my teaching,
But let your heart keep my commandments;
For length of days and years of life
And peace they will add to you.
Do not let kindness and truth leave you;
Bind them around your neck,
Write them on the tablet of your heart” (New American Standard Version).
That second to the last line has intrigued me since the very first time I read the passage, “Bind them around your neck.” Solomon uses the same language of chains around the neck of his son in Proverbs 1:9 and Proverbs 6:21. Certainly, there is a reference to ornamentation, that obeying the instruction of his father is something of value to the prized, but we must not look past the fact that there is an aspect of loss of mobility here. Much like the Shema we read about in Deuteronomy 6:8, 11:18, we understand that the law of instruction is designed to intentionally be restrictive for the purpose of protection.
Think about it like this, you place a fence in your backyard to protect your dog from running away or connect a leash to its collar when you go for a walk. Obviously, the leash is annoying for the dog, but we understand that the leash protects the dog from the dangers it could possibly get into if it went off on its own. Likewise, this is the principle we find in Scripture in regards to following the principles given to us by God. The restricting aspects of boundaries are measures of protection to liberate us from the danger of ourselves. Here we find the difference between the boundaries placed by the Word of God and chains of bondage that we can get ourselves into with sin. God’s protective barriers are always there to liberate us, whereas the tether of sin holds us from true freedom. Now that we understand this aspect of being tethered, we can return to the discussion of its dangers.
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In our fast-paced lives today, we spend so much time connecting through social media, text messages, group conversations, and light-hearted times of hanging out. Bearing this in mind, Kirk Bingaman (2007) has coined what he calls non-places which are these means of communication or meaning making that have no intrinsic value. He explains that unlike times past where the quest for meaning was the predominate quest of so many lives, today, we must pause and ask ourselves what avenues of meaning are worth our time (28-33)? We have too much going on in our lives and therefore it is easy to get tied up with trivial pursuits. Pulled in so many directions, we run the danger of coasting through important moments and life decisions. The point here is that we often invest much time and energy into endeavors that have no value or meaning.
The beauty of the kingdom of God is the fact that we are investing ourselves into a cause that is bigger than each of us. My challenge for us today is that we would examine our lives and pause to ask what we investing our time and energy into? Are we simply tethered to the expectations of others? Are we tied to the past victories or caught in the vacuum of future possibilities? What is important to you? What gives your life meaning?
A few years ago, I read the account of the Stanford Prison Experiment in 1971. The most profound psychological aspect of the experiment for me was the fact that the volunteers wore a chain around their ankle. Here is the reason:
“The chain on their foot, which also is uncommon in most prisons, was used in order to remind prisoners of the oppressiveness of their environment. Even when prisoners were asleep, they could not escape the atmosphere of oppression. When a prisoner turned over, the chain would hit his other foot, waking him up and reminding him that he was still in prison, unable to escape even in his dreams” (Zimbardo, n.d.).
The chain that was tied to nothing was simply there as a reminder “of the oppressiveness of their environment.” The point reminds me of Lazarus who emerges from the tomb, after being in there for four days, still bound with grave cloths (John 11:44). He had been resurrected from the dead, but the man emerged from that tomb still bond. It took the disciples going and helping him remove the grave clothes before he could truly walk in the freedom of life again. Jesus literally tells the disciples, “Unbind him, and let him go” (John 11:44, NASB). Lately, I have felt that God is once again telling us to unbind the hurting and the broken that come to our churches.
The more I study counseling and psychology, I come to the realization that there are too many Christians that come to church and are touched by God, but leave still bound by the shackles of their past. They are touched by the Holy Ghost and feel the overwhelming nature of God’s mercy and his grace, but they cross the threshold of the church doors to return home to the same cycle of behaviors. Like the subjects in the experiment, too many set out on their walk with God still dragging the chains of hurt, brokenness, and despair. Chains still tethered to memories of mistakes irritate us with every step we take towards God.
This is the exact place the poor elephant finds itself in. While it was young, the elephant was not strong enough to prevail over the chain. So it wrestled and wrestled, failing at every attempt of freedom. But as the elephant grows older, there reaches a place where it is physically able to snap the chain accidentally, but because of the failures of the past it gives up. A 12,000lb beast stands captive to the memories of its mind. And such is the same with living the Christian life. In the power of the name of Jesus, we have been given authority to live beyond the chains that have sought to hold us back from God’s will in our lives. You can break the bonds of addiction and shatter the shackles of sin. The Christian life is a life of daily overcoming.
I have referenced a lot throughout this post: social media, the Israelites and the benefits of being within he protective boundaries of God’s grace and mercy, the non-places we so often invest our time into, but the most important point in this post is the simple reminder that you are not a captive. You do not have to be held captive to the mistakes you have made. You do not have to be held hostage to expectations or personal shortcomings. You do not have to remain in the same cycle of despair. Despite the chains that might feel so real in your life today, you can take another step this very moment towards the liberating power of the name of Jesus. The Holy Ghost was given to empower us to live beyond the past, with eyes fixed on eternal glory.
Baker, D. (2017). The decalogue: Living as the people of God. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic.
Bingaman, K. (2007). Treating the new anxiety: A cognitive-theological approach. Lanham: Jason Aronson.
Zimbardo, P. (n.d.). Stanford prison experiment. Retrieved June 14, 2017, from http://www.prisonexp.org/arrival