Dungeons and Dragons

Castles 054

It’s a strange dynamic.

Dungeons are dark, dank, and scary places. But sometimes the dark, the dank, and the scary can strangely morph into a comfort zone. As bad as it is ‘in here’, we fear the uncertainty of what might be ‘out there’ and so we accept where we are.

Addictions, compulsive behaviors, sins of our past, guilt and shame, false labels – these things tend to build formidable dungeon walls. Even as we detest them, we are fearful of what might happen if we step into the light. How will people react? What will our friends say? Our critics? What will become of our lives and our families?

And so we hunker down in our musty, cold, hopeless dungeon cells. Secretly relishing the chains that we despise. Appreciating the company of the occasional rodent that scurries by.  Telling ourselves that the meager light that filters in through the bars is all that we need. After all, there are dragons out there.

Much of the safety of the dungeon is protection from the fearsome dragons that we’re convinced are lurking outside. We appease the little dragons ‘in here’, because the really big and scary ones are waiting ‘out there.’ And they will certainly devour us and our relationships and our reputation and maybe even our careers if we so much as stick a limb outside.

There is this unspoken and often unrealized idea that somehow indulging our habit, or tolerating our flaws, or keeping the lid tightly shut on our shameful past, keeps the hovering gods of our secrets appeased.

All of this is completely illogical, but in the dark corners of the dungeon it makes perfect sense.

And so…imprisonment. Not willing to risk even a peek at what we may be missing. Only concerned with the imaginary or exaggerated dangers we’re protecting ourselves from.

Yes, imaginary or exaggerated…because one of the unique features of our self-imposed incarceration is that the isolation and inward focus allow our fears to build and become larger and intensified.

They’re not all imaginary. Many of us can say from experience that there are harsh critics waiting outside those walls. And sometimes we will feel the heat of the dragon’s breath.

But I can also attest that there is tremendous grace and support out there as well – grace and support that will completely outweigh the harshness.

However, it takes stepping out of the cell, and that’s not easy by any stretch. Fortunately, though, we’re not on our own.

“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound” – Isaiah 61:1 (emphasis added)

In Luke 4:18-21 Jesus personally applied these words to Himself.

He is the one who waits outside the door of the dungeon, and will stand with us, come what may.

Jesus came to empower us to shrug off the chains, to crash the walls, to get out of our prison cells, and to face the dragons.

It’s time for a prison break. Let’s do this.

Tough Love

Old West 253“If anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.” – Galatians 6:1 (ESV)

There are times when tough love is necessary. When the person is outright refusing to see the cliff they are approaching, or they are blatantly disregarding harm they are bringing to others and have ignored repeated warnings.

At other times, tough love is mostly counter-productive.

For the person who hasn’t really realized the gravity of their choices, tough love could merely trigger defensiveness, denial, or counter-attack. Once the walls go up or their sword is unsheathed in response, they are not likely to think very rationally.

For the person who is trying to do the right thing, tough love could cause them to recoil in shock and make vows to not be honest anymore because it only brings judgment, accusations and pain. If trying to bring their struggles or mistakes into the light only results in harsh responses, they’ll slam the lid back shut and nail it closed more securely than before.

In either case, what has been accomplished is the opposite of the stated goal.

We sometimes have this tendency to want to thump our chests and proclaim the necessity for tough love. Somehow it makes us more of a courageous Christian if we can say “I told them exactly what they needed to hear and I didn’t hold anything back.  I know it hurt, but it needed to be done!”

Actually, the truth is, it probably was exactly NOT what they needed to hear. And NOT what needed to be done.

Sure, we may feel good about our bold uncompromising grit in “standing up for what is right and telling so-and-so a thing or two.” We may feel an extra swagger in our step, like the Dirty Harry of Christian morality, bravely keeping our churches free from riffraff (“Do you feel lucky, punk?”).

But this is exactly what Paul was referring to when he said “keep watch on yourself.” It’s easy to fall into the harsh attitudes of religiosity and pride. And no matter how many times we lament outwardly “I hated to have to do that” it doesn’t change the pridefulness that’s under the surface.

The truth is, probably what the person really needs to hear is that they have someone who will stand with them and hold them up.

They need to hear that someone is there who will be brutally honest with them when necessary, but first and foremost will be there to love and encourage them. And when brutal honesty is called for, it will be with a heart of compassion and sensitivity, not a broken display of hubris disguised as fearless candor.

What they need to hear is that someone is there for them who will pull out the ‘tough love’ only when it is absolutely necessary, and then will only do it gently and prayerfully…and *always* with more ‘love’ than ‘tough’.

Because in the end, most situations don’t need a Detective Harry Callahan.

They need Jesus.

Stepping Out on the Ledge

Abraham Maslow established that at our core we need safety.  Just above the foundational needs for physical sustenance, there is that need for safety and security.

We build around ourselves networks of safety.  We gravitate toward friends who are safe.  We get an education and work experience in an attempt to ensure our safety economically. We seek out church fellowship in order to find spiritual security.  We arrive at compromises to make sure our relationships with the ones we care about are safe and secure.

Sometimes, those efforts and compromises result in construction projects to wall off parts of ourselves that we think are ugly or repulsive to others.  We have secret battles with things we know aren’t acceptable – sexual brokenness, hatred, anger, substance abuse, lying.  These things can’t be known because the exposure could undermine the work we’ve put into our safe and secure bubble.

Yet in many ways the masquerade itself gets in the way of true safety and security.  

Because even while we worry about what others would think if they knew, we are secretly wondering if they know anyway.  Is there something I have said or done that blew my cover?  Is there a chink in the armor I’ve so carefully woven?  Are people seeing the very thing I’m terrified they’ll find out about – keeping it to themselves out of kindness or fear of confrontation, yet secretly wagging their head at me over it?

Freedom comes when we stop clinging to that fear of what might happen, and take the risk of stepping out on the ledge and being open with someone.   

It comes because we find that when we turn on the lights, the looming shadow on the wall before us is only a harmless object sitting on the windowsill.   The lurking demons and threatening monsters disperse.  The consequences aren’t so overwhelming or unbearable.  The result is not disaster, but liberty!  

Oh, it’s not comfortable.  Trust me on that one.  Being out on that ledge is a very vulnerable place.  We wince a lot there, anticipating the fiery darts of accusers. And we can experience hurt.  But when we know it’s what we need to do, and remember that Christ is with us out there, there comes a point where we realize it’s all going to be okay.

Sometimes we’re pushed out onto the ledge.  That was me.  Looking back, I know stepping out there on my own would have been the right thing.  But the prospect was too frightening.  So God found it necessary to give me a nudge.  Because I hesitated on being open with someone, the walled off parts of me became exposed to a wider audience.  He did that so I would deal with them.  He did that so He could use me.  I know that now.  But it could have been different. I could have stepped out there myself.

One final word: nobody should step out on a ledge wearing a bullseye before the mob.  Stepping out on the ledge doesn’t mean that it has to be an act of public confession.  Because unfortunately, human beings are….well, human, complete with opinions and speculations and assumptions.  And therefore public confession can easily turn into public suicide.  So don’t go bounding out there with reckless abandon.

But do look for an opportunity to let someone – just one person – in on what you’re dealing with.  Don’t let those walls, built so sturdy with the bricks of guilt and shame, held fast by the mortar of fear and dread, hinder you.  Determine to be open.  Step out there, and discover freedom!