Getting honest about life in Egypt – abuse, denial, and soul care
In this series, I’ve been exploring the Exodus narrative as a window into the spiritual and emotional journey. In this post, I explore the first lesson learned by God’s intervention (along with Moses!) among the enslaved Israelites – get honest, and take your painful situation seriously! The next two lessons will be explored in subsequent posts.
The first piece of wisdom we can draw from the early exodus account is that God, through Moses, makes it clear that Egypt represents something devastating, a tragic roadblock on God’s highway to the good life. In the infamous plagues, Moses is showing what happens (with vivid ancient animation!) when bad people attempt to mess with God’s good creation. The plagues represent this animated object lesson. In full color, the witnesses see God’s grand display of un-creation. It’s a wake up call not just to Pharaoh and the Egyptians but to the Israelites, too. It’s God saying, “Wake up, Israel! Bondage is not merely a minor inconvenience. It’s un-creation. It’s the greatest obstacle to you becoming who you were meant to be!” Moses, like a good counselor, draws a line in the sand and declares the ugly truth of Pharaoh’s abuse, manipulation, and slavery.
Though it might sound like an exegetical stretch, I’m convinced this is what God is saying to the broken men and women I meet with every day. Often through the Moses-like voices of friends and counselors, we’re awakened to the reality of un-creation in our own lives. In my counseling courses, I’ve often told my students that we have the privilege of calling evil what it is, even when others have shut their eyes and ears to the truth.
Now, counselors are often accused of dramatizing things that are not really that bad. More than once, I’ve had a pastor call me after referring someone for counseling saying, “When I sent Joe to you, I just wanted him to be able to cope a bit better with the job loss. But he told me you’ve got him looking at his childhood abuse!” Listen, I’m sympathetic. I do believe counselors have the tendency to over-dramatize. However, I see a bigger issue. People have a tendency to under-dramatize the extent of their problems. We simply don’t want to see how hurt we’ve been, or how broken we are.
Thus, those of us who find ourselves in painful and broken places need to take it seriously and get honest about it. And in some cases, we need to see the extent of how we’ve been hurt or victimized more seriously. Deb illustrates this. She was sexually abused on two occasions by her stepfather.
“It wasn’t that bad,” she told me. “I probably asked for it, anyway.”
I responded, “Deb, you were 3 years old! You didn’t ask for it, and he shouldn’t have done it. I’m so sorry that happened, but you need to know – it was NOT your fault.”
Now, Deb needed my voice to amplify the extent of the abuse, to reflect back to her the reality of the evil perpetuated. Let me be clear, though, especially to those who’d quickly respond, “But this only creates victims and fails to invite Deb to take responsibility for her self-sabotage since.” The Exodus narrative eventually navigates to Sinai and sin. But, in Egypt, the focus is on Israel’s slavery at the hands of a monster. The narrative gives us permission to focus on the sin done to us. This is an especially important principle for those of us who tend to want to tie a counseling session in a neat theological bow, rather than respecting a very human process which is often less tidy and more messy.
Those of us who practice this delicate art of soul care need wisdom in our practice. We need to learn the art of animating the extent of the problem without needlessly over-dramatizing. We need to be able to speak courageously and honestly when we see legitimate bigger problems. We’re not looking to make mountains out of molehills. We are, however, compelled to put a voice to acts of “un-creation” when we see them.
Every day, countless numbers of young women are enslaved by Pharaoh-like sex traffickers. But if this seems too distant to those of us who have the means to avoid these harsh realities, consider some examples from the middle-class families I’ve seen for counseling over the past 11 years. Consider the young kid seduced by the teenage paper-boy. The little girl raped by her biological father for years. The kindergartner fondled by his grandfather until he was in third grade. The middle-schooler seduced by her youth pastor. The young Mom raped by her masseuse. And, the boy cornered by his coach, and made to do inexplicable sexual acts. These are all examples of un-creation, real acts of evil perpetuated on people of all ages requiring clear acknowledgement. Any attempt to minimize or deny (“Oh honey, he didn’t mean to”) only perpetuates the evil, further sabotaging the soul’s chance for life and redemption.
Lesson 1 in Egypt – Let’s get honest. Call evil what it is. Take the risk of speaking truth even if some call it “over-dramatizing.” Take your woundedness seriously. Anything less is a denial not only of our own narratives, but a denial of the master narrative that makes sense of our broken lives.