Elephants, chains and Mother's Day.
The training to break and train a baby elephant is brutal. It is tied up in restraints, beaten, starved and kept without water until it gives up trying to get free and submits and learns a new way of "living". A large chain, far heavier than needed, is tied around a hind leg and the elephant will exhaust itself trying to escape until it understands that there is no escape. It will give in to the chain. At that point the chain can be replaced by a rope. The rope could be broken with some effort but as soon as the elephant feels the familiar resistance on it's leg it remembers the former futility and doesn't try to break free.
The elephant has been conditioned to accept it's captivity. Later in it's life the power and strength of the full grown elephant is no match for the hopelessness in it's mind; and what it believes is true about what is around its leg. The rope could be as thin and breakable as clothesline but that small resistance is enough to forever keep the elephant from it's freedom.
I have been thinking and praying about the power of lies lately. I have gained so much insight into lies and how destructive they are and have been in my life. There has been great discoveries in these past weeks and great anger and shock as well.
"Wait a minute! This? This is what I thought was a chain? It was nothing more than a frayed rope."
I was kept by so much freedom and victory in my pursuits because of resistances that I thought were unbreakable chains. I am thankful for the hindsight that is currently being applied. To look back then and to look down now with new clarity and refuse to accept a frayed and dried out rope as being a chain anymore is huge. Elephant huge.
It is a beginning.
Around this time of prayer and discovery I heard about a very close friend whom I love falling back into addiction. For months he was making great progress in his sobriety. His health was returning, his sleep, his work, he was laughing again and hopeful and he had the community of his family again. Then someone gave him a car, with the freedom of mobility he hadn't had in years he went to a bar and blew his whole paycheck. He threw months of pain and success, love and possibility away to go back to his cage and his chain.
And to the familiar, hopeless dialog of addiction.
"I can't get free. I will never be free. I can't live without this drug." And then to greater misery of denial where he cannot accept the fact that one drink or one drug can destroy his life in totality. Life in his conditioned mind is about getting high only and without that high life is rather dull and meaningless. Insisting that he isn't that bad or that there are worse prisoners than himself, he proves himself wrong by destroying his precious life over and over again. Far worse than anything, and the greatest link in the chain that holds him bound, he believes he can handle it. Deceived as the elephant but in the opposite way, my friend sees the chain which goes down into a pit, not as a chain, but as a thread that he can easily break or untie and that he controls the tension. He doesn't yet see that chain in full clarity. He still believes from the moment the desire to get wasted comes into his mind, which will destroy his walk to sobriety and will break every heart around him, he still only sees that chain as sewing thread. And he goes back to the familiar chain until he wakes again in agony; more miserable than before because he has briefly tasted the hope of freedom.
Knowing more about myself and the many cliffs I threw myself off and the cliffs that are all around me still, I only feel compassion for my friend. To see what is a chain or a rope or a thread in our lives takes a renewal of our mind. It takes discernment. It takes wisdom. It takes honesty. It takes humility. It takes community. It takes tremendous discipline. It takes truth.
None of these elements come easy and so it takes great courage. Courage fuels perseverance. Perseverance fuels hope. Woven throughout those new and good substances that are more precious than gold is faith, trust and hope in God who will meet us in our weaknesses and make us strong. A God of compassion and total understanding that looses the bonds and sets us free. And sets us free not to go back to our chains but to walk in the place of victory. A victory that expands inward in our lives and outward to those we love.
Discernment gives us the ability to see what is a chain of doom in our lives that we must avoid at all costs or what is merely a thread that is telling us that it is an unbreakable chain. That discernment is outside of us in a fountain of unlimited power. A Higher Power!
"Oh, but I don't struggle with addictions," one might say. You still need a Higher Power.
Last Sunday afternoon we came home from church and a long Mother's Day celebration and went out at night to something completely different, an awards party sponsored by a men's magazine. Beauty, glamour, celebrity and awards, and awkward. My wife and I missed our son and our arms dangled next to us reaching for his hands. We don't get out much together. We dropped our son off for the evening with his aunt and uncle that he adores. My wife waited in the car as I carried him up in my arms to their apartment. He had on clean space man pajamas and his blue robe wrapped up against the spring air, his soft blonde hair smelled like baby shampoo. A ten pound bag of his toys and books slammed against the side of my thigh.
With his arms tightly around my neck he waved good-night to his mother. As we walked away from the car he asked me when we were coming home.
"We will be home as soon as possible son." As the words left my mouth I was already searching for a prayer.
I left him in the great love and care of his newly pregnant auntie and hugged him goodbye feeling the tug in my heart to hold on longer. The elevator ride down was very sober. I prayed we would get back home safe and alive from the Portuguese highway lunacy. When we were both in the car we just looked at each other for a moment. We already felt bad leaving him. I pulled the car out carefully and started for the intersection. From behind me a black sedan almost ended our lives right in front of his aunt and uncle's apartment. The car was cruising at over a hundred miles per hour on a city street. He didn't see me, or didn't expect me, but he almost killed a little boys parents. The driver missed us by the width of a layer of paint. He continued on through the intersection running two sets of red lights and up a hill where he almost hit another car.
The driver of that car believes because he has a fast car, an expensive car, he has power. He has power to do what he will. He has no power. He is merely but carefully kept by the grace and mercy of God just like the parents in a car he doesn't know. Parents that pray every time they get into a car for God's protection.
We all need that Power daily, hourly. Our lives are so fragile and challenged but it takes discernment to fully understand that. Or to appreciate it. Or to admit it.