We are all slaves.
Slavery is, apparently, essential to the way we work. We must be enslaved to something: we must obey something. Something must be our driving force and end goal. We must have something to adhere to, to follow, to be our identity and our touchstone. We must belong to something.
Some people are slaves of power, of success, of position.
Some people are slaves to an art, or to beauty, or to a skill.
Some people are slaves to a group, or a team, or an organization, or a government.
Some people are slaves to a family, to a parent, to a spouse, to a child, to a friend.
I am a slave to myself.
I am a slave to my fears and my desires. I am a slave to my weaknesses and strengths. I am a slave to my pride. I’ve been this way for a long, long time. I drive myself hard, expect a lot from myself, and am not merciful. And I’m driving myself into the ground.
I suppose I could blame my AD/HD for this: having a half-awake brain spurred me to spend a lot of time and effort and sheer will to compensate. I saw the way other people could concentrate, could buckle down and see one thing through to the end, and was ashamed. I would pray to God that he would give me discipline. Imagine my surprise when I got my medication and discovered that I had tons of discipline. It’s how I functioned. It’s how I got a bachelor’s degree and a steady job without the help of meds. I had a tight grip on the reins and I was liberal with the whip.
But if that’s a reason, it’s not an excuse. I knew it wasn’t right. I knew I was doing it out of fear: fear of what would happen if I “lost control”. I knew that I was all bound up, that I wasn’t letting myself take risks or branch out, or venture past the strict boundaries I’d set. And now I have meds and I don’t know how not to be a slave to myself. I drive and drive and drive and don’t know how to rest.
I suppose I can take comfort that everyone must be a slave to something. It’s inevitable. If that’s true, then the question isn’t how not to be a slave. It’s what it is best to be a slave to. What is it best to adhere to? What is it best to follow? What is it best to admire? What is our identity and touchstone? What should have the control? Where should we belong?
The only way not to be a slave to my fear is to believe that there is nothing to fear. That belief needs a base – all beliefs do. What’s the base? Where is the proof against fear? The only way not to be a slave to my pride is to believe that there is nothing to be proud of. Where’s the proof against my pride? The only way not to be a slave to my desires and needs is to believe that they will be provided for. What proof do I have of that?
And there’s the other side: nothing and no one outside of ourselves understands what we go through. Nothing and no one outside of ourselves can account for every situation, every weakness and every strength. Nothing and no one outside of ourselves can know us as well as we do, and love us as fully as we can. An ideal doesn’t tell me when to stop or how to compromise. A person can’t stand in my shoes. A desire will only grow until it consumes me.
I’ve been a slave to myself, the safest option, and it still doesn’t work.
The part where the Apostle Paul wrote that we should be slaves to Christ sounds horrific. We think of slavery as it has been in the world, of cruelty and dehumanization, of whips and hatred and chains. Slavery may have been less cruel in Paul’s time (less racist, anyway), but he saw daily what kind of horrors slaves endured, of their struggles and their pain. But if we must be slaves, could there be such thing as a good master?
The only good master would be one who knows what we know, who knows us better than we know ourselves. The only good master would be one who loves us more deeply and more truly than we love ourselves. The only good master would walk with us daily, and would never set us to a task we could not endure. The only good master would do anything and everything for the sake of our welfare. The only good master would be more than human, of a higher order than we are, infinitely gentle and infinitely just. If there were a master like this, I have to ask, why would this master have slaves to begin with?
Because I’m weighed down with everything I expect of myself, chained to fears and scourged with pride. The only way to be free of myself is to sell myself to someone else.
God knows me. He knows what I am made of. He knows what’s in my head, and what I’m going through. He knows how strong I am, and where I am weak. He knows my schedule, my responsibilities, my fears, and my doubts. He knows me better than I know myself, more fully than I am capable of knowing. Best of all, his slavery is temporary.
According to Mosaic law, slavery in ancient Israel was supposed to be temporary. “When you buy a Hebrew slave, he shall serve six years, and in the seventh he shall go out free, for nothing.” (Exodus 21:2) The exception was if the slave “plainly says” that he loves his master and wants to stay with him for life. And in the year of jubilee (every fifty years), all slaves went free. Freedom was in the plan from the start. The pattern reaches back centuries—millennia. Slavery exists because it’s the only way to break the chains that bind us anyhow, and to teach us to become something more than slaves: heirs.
A broken bone can be tied to a splint to help it heal: it’s a slave of the splint. A deep wound is tied shut with string: enslaved to stitches. A crooked thought can be stopped with the right words: enslaved to truth. We’ve got to yield to something, and I’m tired of being the slave of an imperfect, insecure, easily-distracted human being. I’d rather be a slave to God.