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Feeling boxed in?

From the July 24, 2017 issue of the Christian Science Sentinel

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In rereading the Bible story of Daniel in the lions’ den (see Daniel 6), I saw something I had not seen before. This is the story of a wise and faithful man who was appointed by the king of Babylon to be the highest president in the land. The king’s preference for Daniel apparently caused much jealousy, and other officials in the kingdom sought a way to discredit him. However, they could find nothing the man did that was wrong. 

Daniel prayed to God three times each day, and those attempting his demise conspired to use that against him. They tricked the king into passing a law that for thirty days no one in the kingdom could offer supplication to anyone but the king. Daniel continued to pray and offer supplication to God, and he was arrested for breaking this unjust law. 

When the king realized he had been tricked, he could find no way to prevent Daniel from facing cruel punishment—being cast into a den of lions. But even after Daniel was confined with the beasts, he continued to pray to God. When the king went to the lions’ den the next morning, he found Daniel safe, and he gratefully released him. 

Recently it occurred to me that there are many Bible stories with the theme of being trapped—from the Israelites in Egypt, to Jesus in the tomb, to Paul in prison. As I prayed to see what I could learn from Daniel’s story, I realized that many of us today find ourselves in situations where, through no fault of our own, we are boxed in and vulnerable. We might feel as if we are trapped in a hopeless work situation, a dysfunctional relationship, or a diseased or deteriorating body. 

Whenever we find ourselves in such a situation, we might ask, How would Daniel have prayed? There is a helpful clue in a painting by Briton Rivière, “Daniel’s Answer to the King.” It shows Daniel with his back to the lions, looking up to the light. He is clearly not focused hopelessly on his material situation, but rather is giving his attention to God, the one true source of strength and salvation. 

Mary Baker Eddy loved this painting and had an engraving of it in her home. She once wrote to a workman in her home: “Do not be disheartened or in the least downcast. God, the God of Daniel, is able to deliver thee. Come into my library and look at that picture if at anytime you feel like it. I often stand before it praying to the same God for grace to help me and all the sufferers and sinners of Adam’s race” (L10569, Mary Baker Eddy to John C. MacDonald, August 27, 1895, ©The Mary Baker Eddy Collection).

God, who made everything good (see Genesis 1:31), did not create walls to confine His spiritual creation, nor anything that could cause harm. There is no way that matter could ever confine or threaten divine Spirit or its expression. As Eddy states in the Christian Science textbook, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, “The determination to hold Spirit in the grasp of matter is the persecutor of Truth and Love” (p. 28). 

Since Daniel knew that God, Spirit, was the creator of all, he must have known that he could not be confined by matter and subject to limitation and harm. This truth applies to all of us. In the realm of Spirit, there is nothing that can box us into a dead-end job, an unhappy relationship, a health problem, or any evil that would claim to trap us. There is nothing to hold us back from being what God created—the free, fearless, and safe expression of His infinite goodness. 

God did not create walls to confine His spiritual creation, nor anything that could cause harm.

At one point in my life, I was feeling boxed in by a relationship that was no longer right for me. My boyfriend and I had been great friends throughout high school and college, and it was assumed by everyone who knew us that when we finished school, we would be married and live happily ever after. 

This man was very thoughtful and kind to me, and I was always being told by others how grateful I should be that he took such good care of me. However, I felt uneasy about marrying him. Although I loved him, I sensed that he saw me as dependent on him and not fully his equal. Sometimes the things he did for me made me feel as if he thought I wasn’t capable. 

Yet even though I was feeling stifled in the relationship, I didn’t know how to end it. I didn’t want to hurt this kind man or disappoint all the friends, family, and fellow church members who thought we were destined to be together. I felt trapped. 

Turning to God for guidance, I prayed deeply to understand that God governs us all and that our freedom is ensured by His omnipotence. I realized that because man is always at one with his Maker, nothing could interfere with my relation to God. In reality, I had no other binding relationship and could certainly not be placed in a box out of which I could not escape. 

I remember finding this statement in Science and Health: “Christian Science … shows the scientific relation of man to God, disentangles the interlaced ambiguities of being, and sets free the imprisoned thought” (p. 114). I saw I was free to use my God-given capabilities as I was divinely directed and could not be influenced by others—even well-meaning friends and family. 

Soon I was led to apply to a college program at a prestigious university in another country, and I was accepted. Not only was it a wonderful educational opportunity, but it also provided the space I needed to consider my next steps from a fresh perspective. I felt if this relationship was right, I would come back to it, but I also had new courage to follow a different path if I felt inspired to do so.

Ultimately I chose not to continue the relationship. Ending it wasn’t easy, and there were times when I wondered if I had made a mistake in forsaking something so familiar. But I did go forward, gained confidence in myself and my relation to God, and when I finally found my future husband, I married him out of strength, not weakness. Through the support I received in this marriage and my increasing closeness to God, I was able to do more than I ever thought possible in my professional career and other areas of my life. 

The story of Daniel reminds us that when we turn our backs to the lions of fear and look up to the light of Love, we lose the mistaken mortal sense of being boxed in, and realize our spiritual freedom. As Science and Health says, “God is divine Life, and Life is no more confined to the forms which reflect it than substance is in its shadow” (p. 331).

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