This is an excerpt from a Theology paper I wrote in grad school, but feels relevant to the ongoing struggles to live a fully alive life in Christ. I struggle, my clients struggle… do you? Maybe this will encourage you. Update: I found this video in 2011 of the box that sat on my office shelf and inspired this story)
*“Excuse me!…Excuse me!…Could you let me out of here!” echoes in the hall as the weary travelers rush through the train station.
*“Excuse me!…Excuse me!…Could you let me out of here!” None pause to hear the frantic cry, as each is self absorbed and intent on their destination. Sighs, and grumbles, escape from the same lamenting voice as Bob resigns himself to not being heard, again. “If only someone heard me! If only these people would listen! Then I would be free,” mutters Bob. Slowly he sinks into his leather lazy-boy grabs the remote and begins to surf the movie options on his home theater TV. Captured by an action film he quickly numbs his deep desire for freedom. Mesmerized by the violent sequences he silences his own inner voice.
Bob is the man in the box. Comfortably furnished with the latest technological equipment, luxurious leather furniture, and a gourmet kitchen, Bob’s box is enviable. Except that he is incarcerated. At first glance, the box appears ideal. Constructed with quality craftsmanship and equipped with a peephole should Bob ever tire of his audio-visual world. A quick glance out reminds him of the tension between his desire to live outside the box and the accompanying dangers if he leaves. Isolated in his world, Bob is king, master, ruler of the universe, albeit a small one. “Why I’m glad no one heard my cries for freedom,” he reflects. “I am happy to stay right here. What could possibly be better.” Yet, even as their persuasive tone echo in his ears, Bob cannot ignore the gnawing suspicion that he is fooling himself. The commercial ends. The movie score soars to a frenetic pitch as good and evil clash in Technicolor, and Bob thwarts the prodding of the Spirit again as he loudly proclaims, “This is the Life!”
Dozing in his leather lazy-boy, the din of a fuzzy screen in the background, Bob awakens with the echoing words, *“excuse me, could you let me out of here!” Betrayed by his unquenchable desire for life, Bob must face the truth. It is growing increasingly difficult to convince himself that “this is the life.” Abundance of electronic toys, the exquisite cuisine he routinely makes and luxurious surroundings cannot fill the ache in his soul. Bob turns off the TV and purposely allows the silence to envelop him as he contemplates his life. His peeks outside, through his eyehole, are increasing in frequency and length. The pleasure of his material possessions is fading. His feeble attempts at being rescued have failed. Concerned, unsettled, and contemplative Bob searches his soul for answers to the unyielding questions. “This can’t be the life, there must be more, if not, why am I discontent?”
Hope for redemption and living with purpose are surfacing in Bob’s heart, mind and soul. He is awakening to the call to actively bear the image of his Creator. The challenge to recognize see and embrace the truth regarding his choices is preparing a frontal assault. Bob’s desire to be free is revealed in his attempts to summon help. Before freedom can be his, Bob must understand the core convictions keeping him a prisoner in the box. Slowly, gently like a spring rain, truth begins to dawn on Bob. His growing awareness of his volition and sorrow fuel his deep desire for relationship and impact. His thoughts tumble backward as illuminations comes…
“How did I end up in this box in the first place,” he wondered? Thinking back, Bob couldn’t remember a time when he didn’t seek safety in the confines of his box. The world was unkind, scary, downright mean at times, and he had chosen to hide away. Self-imposed incarceration was losing its charm. The protection of the box was growing into suffocation. No dangers, or damages from others, but no interactions, love, life or laughter either. A growing longing for people, joys, interactions, and encounters, enticed Bob to consider life outside his box. He missed the sensual quickening resulting from the wind blowing through the trees, the fragrance of the flowers, drops of rain on his face. His plethora of techno-toys couldn’t duplicate the beauty outside the box. Surely, the Creator of these beautiful living things would be present outside the box. God must enjoy these same joys amidst the sorrows of the world. Neat, meticulous, controlled, Bob pondered living in the paradoxical world of order and chaos. Paradox revealed with each look outside.
Risk, that was the problem. Now he remembered. Risking highlighted the tensions between failure and success, laughter and tears, joy and sorrows, no wonder he retreated to the predictability of the box. God might not be visible within the box, but neither was all the sorrow and struggle that He had allowed. Bob had entered the box in hopes of creating a better world. His small world would have none of the unpredictability of God’s world. The Sunday school teacher of his youth had deceived him when she declared “God is Love.” God had disappointed him too many times to be counted on. Yet, for all the safety and seclusion of the box, Bob was withering away, bored and empty. “Perhaps, there were benefit to living with risk. His attempts to create a better world than the one created by God had failed. Was another attempt at life worth the risk?
Labels on the exterior of the box communicate Bob’s inner fears and his demand that others either treat him with kid gloves, or keep their distance. Labels decorate the exterior declaring: ‘handle with care’, ‘do not drop’, ‘hold for pick-up’, ‘wash your hands’, and ‘keep dry’. Each label proclaims that the inhabitant is frail and unable to face the rigors of life. Conversely, warning labels of ‘flammable’, ‘poison’, and the ever present, vigilant eye attest to the harm that will incur should anyone trifle with the box, or its’ inhabitant. Secluded, uninviting, demanding and fierce, the man in the box has preserved his distance. He refuses to give or to receive, to engage in relationship with anyone. Consequently, he is miserable. Created to give and receive, for joy and sorrows, for risk and contentment, the man in the box has denuded his created-ness by escaping relationship with God and others. Evidenced by his warning labels, his experience and reason are the foundation of his withdrawal.
Behind the bookcase adjacent to the footstool he climbs in order to peer out into the world, is the latch that opens the box. Long forgotten, conveniently buried, the route of escape is out of his control. This delusion of helplessness and victimization feeds his cries for someone to *“let me out of here!” Choosing to ‘remember’ the latch and boldly leave his box, amidst trepidation and excitement, would signify repentance for Bob. Grace abounds, tangled in the web of unpredictability outside the box. Engaged in the chaos of the world, Bob can experience the satisfaction and exhilaration as he faces the inevitable challenges of life. Hibernation has resulted in a lack of maturity formed in the crucible of struggle and sorrow. Bob cannot silence the desires inherent in his being an image bearer.
Betrayed by the stirring in his heart, he acknowledges the emptiness of his seclusion. Faces of friends, memories of laughter, words of gratitude swarm his mind. Mingled with these are memories of pain, disappointment, and shattered illusions. His final journey into the box replays itself as he remembers locking the box from the inside. He had retreated to his lazy-boy and stared at the latch for hours before moving the bookcase to hide the latch. With angry conviction, assured that no one could understand his fear and pain, he removed himself from life. Living in the box had become a habit. Denying that God is good was the poison sustaining his resolve. Yet, through his eyehole, Bob recognized evidence that his conclusions might be wrong.
Bob reflected on the glimpses of what must be of God that passed before his peephole. Hungry, thirsty, weary of soul he lingered longer and longer reveling in the tastes of life. Images filled his mind and softened his heart. The smiling faces of mothers as they tenderly held their children. The young couple whose kisses, tears and embrace revealed their love as one boarded the train and one waved goodbye. He had chuckled with the laughter of boys as they played tag in the station. Surely, these revealed a Creator who was good and trustworthy. But…what about the pain he saw? He had recognized the lonely, defeated look in the eyes of the passersby. The angry soul searing words from the mouths of friend. The unrelenting pressures burdening single mothers as they struggled to make ends meet. Undeniable was the pain that had eaten away at the hope in his own heart. How could both exist if God was good?
Bob’s eyes settled on the bookcase. Among the volumes sat his collection of the Chronicles of Narnia, his favorite boyhood stories. Years ago, as he read them, he resolved never lose his beliefs, his courage, his hope regardless of the trouble life might bring. “Silly notions of a boy,” he scoffed. “Or were they?” As a man, he struggled with doubt, questions, and sorrows deeper than he had imagined as a child. Could doubt coexist with belief? Did questions deny certainty? Had the pain and fear obliterated the love and courage he had known? Grieving, Bob settles back in his lazy-boy closing his eyes, unwilling to flee from the wrestling within. Evening passed, the dark night of the soul descended…and even as the sun split the horizon, the battle ensues.
Turmoil rages within his heart. Bob walks to the bookcase and begins to unload the vintage volumes of literature obscuring the exit latch. Choice is clearly his. Staring at the latch, he imagines entering life with courage to hurt mingled with his desire to love. He pictures himself, clad with a tool belt, among a crowd of friends celebrating his choice to live as they dismantle the box. Reaching out he dusts the cobwebs off the unused latch. Tears stream down his face as he ponders his next move.