Once upon a time there was a little girl who lived inside an invisible cage. The cage was large, so it took some time before she even knew it existed. She spent her time walking around the inside, living her life without ever thinking about what the limits of that life were. As she grew older, though, she grew stronger and more curious too. She started to explore further and further from the centre she had been born into, until one day, she slammed into the invisible wall. She reached her hands out to touch it, and felt its cold, hard, smooth surface. She stood straight, ran her fingers along its inside, then lifted her other hand to the unyielding edge.
“So this is the boundary of my life,” she said to herself.
“This is where my exploration ends.”
“This is the limit of my greatest expanse.”
She walked along the wall, trailing a finger until she reached the corner, then turned, feeling her way around the limits of her life.
Then she began to build. She built her life, stone-by-stone, within the confines of the cage, but as she did so she grew ever more frustrated. Unable to see the wall, although she could feel its limits, she kept banging up against it, grazing her knee or stubbing her toe. She saw people on the other side, building different lives, drawing on resources she couldn’t reach, and envy grew in her heart. Worst of all, she was haunted, day and night, by a whispering voice that called her by name.
“Come on,” the voice urged her, “come out, come further out…there’s a place for you out here.”
Frustrated and angry, she would bang her fists against the wall, cursing and railing against the voice, sometimes even begging it to leave her alone. Other days, resigned, she would ignore the voice, telling herself that her best hope was to focus on what she was building. She talked herself into acceptance, listing to herself the many things she had within the walls. But there were still always the nights she completely lost control, screaming in response to the persistent voice “I can’t! I can’t! I would if I could!”
One night, exhausted from a full day of focus and commitment to building within the cage, she propped herself up against the wall and sat in silence. The voice whipped its whispers around her like the fingers of a breeze, seeming also to penetrate her being with its persistent calls from beyond the wall: “Keep walking, keep coming, there’s a place for you here.” She listened to the voice’s echoes within her, listened to the calling from without and within, and sank into the feeling that despite her inability to answer the call she felt that somehow, in some time beyond memory’s reach, she belonged in the place it was calling her to. She drifted off into sleep.
As she slept, she dreamt. In her dream, she was standing facing the wall, looking out on the view beyond. Off to the right in the distance, she could see a group of people, who seemed to be crying out for help. One of them with eyes full of pain turned and looked straight at her. His piercing, pain-filled eyes caught hers and across the distance she heard his cry, “Why won’t you come?” She leaned her forehead against the wall, agonised, and as she did so she felt a swelling sense of movement from her left. She turned, and saw a group of people rushing towards her, and in the instant she saw them she knew that it was with them she belonged. They were soon at the cage, which they didn’t seem to be able to see either, and as they ran past and onwards they called to her, “Come on, let’s go!” She pressed her face and her hands up against the wall, her heart joining their flanks, even as she watched them go. A man from the group slowed slightly, and turned to look at her.
“Why won’t you come?” he asked.
“I can’t,” she replied and as she spoke the letters of her words appeared in chunky, individual letters, light blue and made of heavy stone, hovering for a second at head height, before falling to the ground at her feet. She looked down at the letters, then up at him.
“There’s nothing there,” he said to her, and turned away again.
Desperate now, she reached down and grabbed the letter ‘c’ from her feet, determined to smash the wall. She lifted it with both hands, pulling its weight over her shoulder and planting her feet before twisting to swing the enormous letter ‘c’ through the air towards the invisible wall.
She swung, bracing herself for the resistance which never came and as the ‘c’ passed through where the wall should have been, she awoke.
We Live in Invisible Cages
We live in invisible cages – cages that we believe define the limits of our existence. Other people can’t see them, and nor can we, but they still enclose us, hold us back, hold us down. Like the girl in the story, there are things in my life – beliefs, really – that I bang up against, thinking that I’ve found my limit, and instinctively reaching for the words “I can’t.” Often, I don’t realise that these limits are even there until I bang up against them.
Do you have invisible walls around you? Are your beliefs caging you in?
You may be called beyond the wall of people-pleasing, and you don’t realise exactly how much you care about what other people think, until you feel called to do something that risks your reputation.
The Wall: “But, I can’t do that – what would people think of me?”
You may be called beyond the wall of finding your sense of security in money, and you don’t realise exactly how much safety you find in your salary, until you feel called to do something that looks financially different.
The Wall: “But, I can’t do that – how would I pay the bills?”
You may be called beyond the wall of false identity, and you don’t realise exactly how much you attribute your worth to status and prestige, until you feel called to something that isn’t socially significant.
The Wall: “But, I can’t do that – who would I be?”
You may be called beyond the wall of false humility, or low self worth, and you don’t realise exactly how much you depend upon not putting yourself out there, until you feel called to something audacious.
The Wall: “But, I can’t do that – who do I think I am?”
You Can Walk Through the Wall
At church on Sunday, the speaker said that when she was journaling and talking with God earlier in the week she had imagined an image of people in an invisible cage – trapped and separated by a cage that didn’t exist, held in a place of defeat and isolation because of the belief that a cage was there, but it really wasn’t.
It made me think of a mime artist hitting a wall that no one else can see. Like the mime artist’s wall, there really is nothing there. All it takes for the whole invisible-wall-mime to completely disintegrate before the audience’s eye is for the mime artists to bend one little finger past the supposed boundary. As soon as that happens, the whole thing is exposed as an illusion.
Our invisible cages are illusions too. The truth is: you can. You can do things that people don’t like or agree with, that aren’t based on a stable monthly salary, that aren’t prestigious, or that are audacious. It may not be right to do those things, but they are not impossible.
The problem is, when I bang up against an invisible wall and say the words “I can’t” to myself, I never ask myself whether or not it is right for me to keep walking, because I’m so convinced of the limits of possibility. The gutting thing is that I believe some people really know they are called in a certain direction, or to take a certain action, but their beliefs about their invisible cage prevent them from walking into their God-ordained calling.
The wall is not real, no matter how solid it feels. You can actually just keep walking right through that wall, because there is nothing there.
Walls Can Be Dismantled
I want to recognise that sometimes, simply knowing that the wall is not real is not always enough. You may believe, for example, that other people can’t be trusted, and no amount of telling yourself that there are in fact people successfully trusting people all around you changes anything. If the wall is made up of deep-rooted beliefs, then those beliefs have to be changed and replaced with other, new beliefs, and that may take some work and some support. Counselling, prayer ministry, therapy, accountability, study and experimentation can all be part of dismantling the invisible walls that, although they don’t really exist, exist in your minds.
Sometimes, though, all you need to do is step out and take the first step, to prove to yourself that the cage does not really exist.
What about you?
Does any of this resonate with you? Are you being called on to areas that would require you breaking through one of those very solid-feeling invisible walls? What beliefs are you banging up against that are preventing you taking your next step? What steps will you take to expose the wall as an illusion and then to break down its solid-feeling limits in your life?
It’s worth it – it’s worth exposing the walls as illusions and dismantling their power in our lives – because we weren’t made to live in cages.
We were made to be free.
This blog post was inspired by a sermon from The Bay Church in Whitley Bay (sermon previously linked but no longer available).
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