Are you a prisoner of your own thinking? Are you trapped in servitude to an idea or way of life that no longer works for you? Are you a slave to someone else’s thinking? Are you living your own life or the life someone else designed for you? Look no farther than to Moses and the story of Exodus for your own liberation.
We are all in some way imprisoned, enslaved to ideas that we’ve outgrown or ones that don’t fit us; we all have difficulty moving on from the past. I read the Exodus story as the story of a people’s or an individual’s journey from slavery to freedom in the Promised Land. There are three stages in the story: 1) leaving, 2) wandering in the wilderness and 3) arriving in the Promised Land. We can see God in every part of the story, helping us disengage, leading us to more freedom, loving us even we desert him, giving us new ways of being in the new land.
We are deeply attached to way our lives are, even when they are difficult or problematic. In the first stage, leaving “Egypt,” it is very hard to disengage from what binds us—be it thinking that is not helpful or toxic teaching or security—even though we are struggling under a regime that burdens us. So the first step is to disengage, to entertain the idea of leaving the regime behind. Mind you, this is not easily accomplished as contrary inner voices promote worry, probably accompanied by others’ opinions who may be trapped like you. So inner and outer voices can’t even believe that you are serious. They gather all their powers to persuade you to stay.
Sometimes it is not your choice to leave: you are wrenched from a way of life by outer circumstances–a job loss or a flood or possibly a divorce. No matter how you get past this barrier, this hurdle, –by choice or by circumstances–you’ll at least make the wilderness, but there you may find yourself complaining that it’s too hard, that you’re missing the ones who enslaved you, that you’d rather be back in “Egypt” than to be wandering in unknown territory.
In the second stage you find yourself between “Egypt” and the “Promised Land.” You may have left, but the ties that bound you in “Egypt” are still operational. And you seem far from any new life. You’re in limbo, never-never land, neither here nor there—in the wilderness. You wonder what you were thinking when you escaped or when the catastrophe happened; you complain about everything. Nothing is as it should be. The wandering takes such a long time. The territory is unknown and threatening. Your loyalty is up for grabs. Even though there is sustenance in the wilderness, you resent the loss of what you left behind. If “Moses” disappears for a few days, you turn to worship another god. Anything seems better than this wilderness.
When “Moses” reappears with tablets of 10 laws, you agree to follow them, but then you find it hard to do so. He proposes a new way of settling disputes and a new way of worshipping. Finally, very gradually, you begin to see some hope. You’re pretty close to the Jordan River and on the other side is the “Promised Land.”
Joshua, a younger man and a warrior, will lead you into the “Promised Land.” Finally, you are ready; the voices longing for “Egypt” have been stilled. You are well equipped to tackle the new land. You know the new law and have been well prepared to enter it. There will be problematic people there, too, entrenched interests that need to be thrown out, but you are hopeful and ready to cross the river.
Knowing these three stages—leave-taking, wandering in the wilderness and arrival in the Promised Land—helps you negotiate the tough times when you leave the known and embark in the unknown: the feeling of not belonging, the newness of everything, the longing for the known. Eventually, you are completely ready to enter the new territory, claim your place there and face the challenges. God, above all, wants our freedom, not any enslavement. So God offers this story as a metaphor for our own journey into freedom, being helped by God every step of the way.
Our lives are full of transitions from one way of life to another through loss or through our own choice. It is important to be able to move on from each phase as it ends and into the next. It is also important to let our thinking evolve as we mature. Egypt represents that place of stuckness where our thinking and feelings want to hang on to the old and to not let go. The movement towards maturity is a movement towards freedom, at every stage letting go of all that binds or limits so that we can be totally present in the next stage.