“Why is it that when I try so hard to walk in freedom and do what the Lord says is right, my life seems worse than before?” 

A very important observation and question that came up during a session. The young lady continued: “I am really tempted to just go back into denial, to put my walls back up; that seems so much easier right now.” The journey of healing was not going as smoothly as she hoped and she wanted to retreat to the coping techniques and protective strategies that she had used for a lifetime. Did she want to live in the freedom and abundance that Jesus promises her? Absolutely. But it was not an instantaneous change and when she came out from behind her walls of isolation and took some unexpected hits, she was tempted to go back to the life of bondage. At least she knew what to expect and how to react to it in a way that seemed adequate. Free? No. But familiar and predictable? Yes. A tough decision but one, I shared with her, that was not unique to her.

As a result of the Emancipation Proclamation, all the slaves in America were technically and legally released from their bondage and set free on January 1, 1863. Decades of prayers and soulful songs of petition were answered on that day. Once the Civil War drew to a close, thousands of black Americans walked off the plantations into a life of freedom – only to return to those slave quarters weeks or months later. Although they longed desperately to be free, sadly they did not know how to live free. It was not an instantaneous transformation from bondage to secure jobs, nice homes and brotherly love. Quite the opposite, it was a mystifying world where they did not know what to expect and did not know “the rules” for living. It was hard and scary and full of disappointments and struggles. And for some, even though they had longed all their lives to be free, when being free appeared to be harder than being a slave, they intentionally returned to slavery. Slavery was a life they knew and understood and, in a strange way, it seemed safer.

The Bible records the same kind of scenario in the book of Exodus. At just the right time, after four hundred years of prayers to be released from slavery in Egypt, God sends Moses to lead the people of Israel to freedom and the Promised Land. After the final plague, when Pharaoh finally tells them to go, they leave with great excitement and rejoicing. Little did they know that the path to the promised land would include being chased by Pharaoh’s army, eating manna, running out of pure water, wandering for forty years due to their lack of faith, and burying many of their sons and fathers as they fought to take the land promised to them. And as they encountered each of these unexpected challenges, they consistently responded the same way: “Lord, why did you bring us out here to die (at the hands of Pharaoh, by starvation, by thirst, etc.); we would have been better off staying in Egypt. At least there we had huts, meat and water. Lets go back.” They were sorely tempted to return to slavery because the path to freedom seemed unsafe and worse than their condition in Egypt. Thankfully, Moses and Joshua led them to look to the Lord in these times of trouble and God proved Himself mighty and faithful each time.

The path to the Promised Land was not easy…but it was the path to the Promised Land. And if Israel had given up and gone back into intentional bondage they would have missed the miraculous fulfillment of God’s commitments to them. The black Americans that succeeded in those early days following emancipation were the ones who said, “No matter how hard it is, it is still better than being a slave” and so refused to go back to the life they had known for so many years.

Dear friend, if the Son has set you free, you are free indeed. Please don’t give up and return to the old ways simply because you do not know how to live free. Keep going. Take His hand and walk with Him. He is still mighty and faithful and He will see you through.

Pastor Jim Groves