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In one way or another we’ve all been in a pig pen. A prison of our own making. An unpleasant place in life arrived at via our own faulty, even foolish, navigation. Many of us feel like we’re in such a place right now in at least one area of our lives, and have no idea how to bust out of it. What if I told you there is a blueprint for busting out of your pig pen?
Busting out of a pig pen is not as easy as it sounds. By the time we arrive there we’re so resource depleted that it would seem like the only way out is to be rescued by some good Samaritan. Which makes the story Jesus tells of the lost son even more remarkable. This dude didn’t wait on a rescuer. He got himself out! And in so doing he created a blueprint for you and me to follow.
Warning! It’s not easy to follow this blueprint. But it works.
The blueprint reveals that there are no items to acquire to bust out of this pen, no metal files to steal, no bed sheets to turn into ropes, no tunnels to dig. The only thing needed is something even the most bankrupt person has in abundance. Thoughts. How a prodigal thinks about and views his pig pen determines when and how he gets out.
The blueprint is really a thought map with seven points of interest, like seven stops on an underground railroad. The points are sequential, and each stop is necessary.
1. Blame. When a prodigal first arrives in the pig pen, in the place of want and desperation, he immediately looks for somebody to blame. After all, this is the behavior of the powerless. The prodigal will blame the father who gave him the requested goods, the fake friends who helped him waste them, the people who refuse to give him anything when he extends his palm for a handout.
2. Critique. When prodigals realize that blame won’t change their circumstances they move on to system critique. It’s not people specifically that are responsible for the mess they’re in, it’s the system of life we’re all enslaved by. The economic system is unfair. Helping those who don’t have anything should be built into the system. Sharing should be required. It’s not fair that some have so much, way more than they need, while others have nothing.
3. Comparison. Critique failing to move the needle gives way to comparison. Prodigals soon begin to measure their circumstances against those of other prodigals and conclude that maybe things aren’t so bad after all. There are pig pens everywhere, in every city of every state in every country. “There are plenty of others in pig pens so maybe I’m really just a victim of unfortunate circumstances like them.”
4. Permissiveness. It’s only a short hop, skip, and jump from comparison to permissiveness. “I’m young, I’m supposed to go through this now. This is what young people do. This is the time of life to make mistakes and recover from them. I’m gaining valuable life experience. The pig pen is good for me right now. It’s teaching me character!”
5. Despair. Hunger pangs have a way of diminishing the immediate value of character. When prodigals begin to realize that they can’t eat intangible qualities forged through suffering they begin to take inventory of their ability to meet their physical needs and find the cupboard empty. That’s when despair sets in. “What am I going to do? How am I going to eat? No one’s trying to help me and I have no skills to help myself other than feeding pigs, something anybody can do. I’ll never get out of this pig pen!”
6. Depression. There’s only one place to go from despair; deep into the valley of depression. This is where the anger that was aimed outward in blame is now directed inward. The prodigal finally becomes angry with himself for helping to create his unpleasant predicament. This is absolutely the most important coordinate on the prodigal’s thought map, because this is the point where he finally begins to accept responsibility for the shape and circumstances of his life, and begins to reject blame.
7. Determination. From depression there’s nowhere to go but up. And that’s what happens when prodigals arrive at this final stop. They’ve finally made up their mind to arise, to get up out of their circumstances and move on. Along with determination comes vision, and a plan. These three working in concert propel the prodigal out of the pig pen. “It’s better at home. Even the servants have more than I do. I will go home and apply for a serving job!”
The blueprint for busting out of pig pens takes prodigals on a thought journey back to their source. It can be a quick trip, or it can take a lifetime. However long it takes you, happy travels.