The Cages We Build
During our most recent time in Africa, we had the opportunity to witness all sorts of wildlife across many different wildernesses and savannas. We have seen giant elephants roam, lions stalk, leopards prowl and all sorts of creatures in their natural state. These animals are free, unfettered and a regal sight to behold. So, recently, when we visited a game lodge for an afternoon in southern Namibia, we had the opportunity to witness these same types of creatures from a different perspective— in captivity. At this lodge, the owner had many different animals in fenced cages, but the most prized of all his beasts was a captive leopard. This leopard, however, looked skinny and unwell in comparison to the muscular leopards we had seen in the wild. When we asked the owner why this leopard looked so small he responded, “Captive animals always change. This leopard should be 40% bigger than it is, but because it is raised in captivity its nature has changed. Also the emotions of captive animals become erratic over time. This leopard is now violent to humans, even though it was raised by humans and cared for since birth.” We watched for a while longer and saw the leopard push against the cage in frustration, gnaw at some meat placed before it, and then plop back down under a bush. His cage was reasonably large, but still, it was a cage trying to simulate reality.
Cage Effects: After seeing the caged leopard, it brought to mind a story we had read about a polar bear in an Argentine zoo. This polar bear, named Arturo, literally went insane from years of captivity. He would lay face down for hours, act erratically and earned himself the nickname “The World's Saddest Bear.” Arturo, eventually passed away from what can only be described as insanity and sadness caused from captivity. In addition to Arturo, there are other stories of captive animals that have had complete mental breakdowns. For example, SeaWorld's captive killer whales have been well documented for their behavioral issues, as multiple trainers have been killed or attacked by the whales. These killer whales suffer mental breaks as a result of years of captivity, and thus, lash out in violent ways.
Now, the point of highlighting captivity effects on animals, is to draw a parable to the cage effect many humans find themselves in. However, unlike animals, which have no say in the matter of captivity, humans have not only created their own cages— speaking figuratively— but have willingly entered into them. We slave ourselves to a system of the world that traps us. We create debt to buy things we don't need. We pad our cages with stuff so we can make our captivity more tolerable. We make our cages look like we are free, but in reality we are not. Even the physical nature of people changes when they are caged. We suffer from physical health issues caused from a sedentary lifestyle. People are afflicted with depression, loneliness, sadness and lash out at loved ones or go through a midlife crisis. We cage our children generation after generation into the same system, making a heavenly reality difficult for them to comprehend. We go to church and hear the words of eternity, but are too busy running back to our cages that we forget there is another life beyond our captivity. We shun those who oppose life in the cage and tell them there is no reality beyond our artificial borders. We are pinned in and people are breaking down each and every day because of it. The irony is, while we try to create comfort in the cage, we dream of life beyond it. “If only I could travel to this place...if only I would have taken that risk earlier in life...if only I followed my heart...if only...if only...” These are the words of people who have convinced themselves they cannot exit the cage. Yet, you still have a choice. Your door to the cage is unlocked and you can leave at anytime. There is freedom beyond the desires of this world. There is freedom in Him.
Breaking Free: To break free of the cage you must first come to the realization that there is something worthwhile beyond it. “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid again; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls, and upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.” (Matthew 13:44-46) The day you start valuing the eternal things above the temporal things, is the day you will act in a similar way to these parables Jesus spoke. Once you live for the eternal, your reality will shift dramatically, and your purpose will become crystal clear. These are hard words to hear, but remember, the choice is always yours. If you are feeling sad, depressed, lonely, disillusioned or unfulfilled, then consider the cages you have built or those that you were raised within. Consider the possibility that you were brought into this world for more than captivity. Isn't it time to break free and live life? “For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them.” (Hebrews 11:14-16).