lions do not belong in cages

Last Thursday we had a special time of prayer lifting up young people facing exams and their surrounding pressure, inspired by the time of year and this deeply concerning headline in our news. One of our pray-ers, Lisa Debney, shares the richness of that time and its insights through these powerful reflections and written prayers which gather some of how we were led to pray in order to fuel more. (You can also download the written prayers separately from our resources library)

lions do not belong in cages

Lions do not belong in cages. The majority of people would agree with this. They do not thrive, they lose interest in life and sometimes to relieve their boredom or express their frustration they will damage themselves against the bars. Their desperation leads them to harm themselves. The joy of their existence is gone.

Sadly exam stress places many of our young people in a similar position. Instead of metal bars their cages are formed and created by a structure of lies that masquerade as truth “just one grade higher and the world will value you that little bit more”, “work harder and you will be a better person”, “look how well your friend/cousin/sister/brother did!”, “success in exams leads to a successful lifestyle” etc.

These lies can seem well-meaning, some can even be meant as encouragement, but the underlying message that your worth lies in your academic achievement and your identity is bound directly to your CV is corrosive, not to say wildly misleading, assaulting a young person’s self-esteem.

Unfortunately the assault can come as a bombardment from all sides, family, school, social media, and headlines in the newspapers. A lot of our young people would probably relate to these lines from Psalm 62:

“How long will you assault a man?
Would all of you throw him down…?
They fully intend to topple him…
They delight in lies.
With their mouths they bless,
But in their hearts they curse.”

These curses disguised as blessings close around some of our young people until like caged lions, desperation causes them to harm themselves and in extreme cases makes them wish to leave life altogether. Last Thursday (26 May) headlines across media sources cited exam pressure as one of the major causes of suicide in teenagers. As we have already said, lions do not do well in cages…

So how do we help them break out? How do you begin to destroy a cage of lies?

Perhaps simply with truth. The truth spoken by another Lion who is wild and abundant in his love and delights in bringing freedom to his children. The Lion who comes to ‘give life with joy and abundance’ (John 10:10). The Lion who seeks to play with his children, who are his pride (pun intended) and his joy.

He doesn’t brand his children with labels, our worth is born out of our relationship with him and that is given to us freely even before our birth. It is certainly not related to our academic achievement – it is unlikely there will be CV check before we are admitted to heaven. The idea is wonderfully ludicrous and yet we still place such importance on it and even as adults look to our work credentials and accolades to define us and give us worth.

We all desperately need to hear the following put so succinctly by Philip Yancey:
“There is nothing we can do to make God love us more and there is nothing we can do to make God love us less.”  (What’s So Amazing About Grace? 1997, p71)

Let’s find ways of sharing this with those struggling with exam stress and academic pressures at the moment. Through thought, prayer, conversation, action, whatever opportunities are given to us.

During our prayers at the Sanctuary it became evident that Psalm 139 was such an important key in the cage unlocking process. Here is a reflective reworking of it thinking particularly of young people at exam time.

Psalm 139 (sort of)

Lord you know me,
everything I am and think.
You know when I sit down to revise
and when I get up out of the chair
because I can’t take in anymore
and I need a break.
You know what I’m thinking,
all the ways I try to cope,
the words on the end of my tongue,
the ones I bite back and the ones I don’t.
When I feel on top of the world you are there,
when the lows hit hard you are there too.
Even when I walk into an exam room you are there,
you are the hand I can hold on fast to
even though I like to think I don’t need one.

On the days I want the dark to close around me
and wish away the light, you’re still there
because my darkness isn’t darkness to You.
When I wake anxious in the middle of the night
you can choose to make the night shine like day.
The light and dark are the same to you,
knowing that helps me feel calm.

You created my innermost being,
you put me together in my mother’s body.
And even though I doubt it
after a day of scrolling through picture perfect faces,
I am fearfully and wonderfully made
because I’m made by you and that’s enough
to give me worth. Please help me to believe it.

Every day of my life is precious to you.
You cared enough to think about each one
of them before I was even born
so on the days when tomorrow is too
much to think about, I don’t have to.
Thanks, it makes it easier.

Sometimes I wish you would
come and slay this enemy,
the one that calls me worthless
and makes me doubt your name.
I hate it, but you know that already.
I’ll leave it in your hands.
Help me see beyond this moment
to the future. Though most of all
right now I’d just like you to lead
me through the next few days
Which way do we go? I’m glad you’re here.
Could you just keep holding my hand?

And here is another prayer inspired by that special prayer time last Thursday from Lisa and one of our other pray-ers. But it’s not just for our young people. It is for all of us.

An unlocking prayer

Lord Jesus, how we need you.
You came to set us free
but we keep building cages
around ourselves
and around each other.

We raise the bars so high
– again and again –
demanding the results we want
and grading each other
on our own, faulty, definitions of success.

Lord Jesus, how we need you.
Come and show us what we are doing
when we set standards which lock and enslave
even those we are so desperately seeking
to most protect, nurture and release.

Lord Jesus, you know how each unique one is made
and the purpose and context in which their gifts will thrive.
Show us how to dismantle the lies we have raised up.
And how to set each one free to reach your potential for them
with your glorious, life-giving, character-building truth.

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