Have you ever felt caged or trapped in your work? What if I told you that it’s more likely that you created the mental cages? Breaking out begins with gratitude.
Many factors influence job satisfaction, but in general, over half of the American workforce is dissatisfied with their job. Those numbers increase or decrease based on workplace culture, opportunities for advancement, recognition, and benefits. (Here’s one study of many.)
One element most of the research I saw ignored is our mindset. If we have an abundant and grateful mindset, we are far more likely to find satisfaction in our work.
I can hear your voices now: “But Phil, you don’t know my boss.” Or, “My company has terrible benefits, and I feel stuck.” Or, “I haven’t had a raise in years, and my job doesn’t use my skills and abilities.”
You’re right. I don’t know what your situation is like, but I think there’s a different way to look at it.
Nelson Mandela spent the final months of his prison sentence in a luxurious halfway house that he called a “gilded cage.” He elaborates that while the authorities could keep him in a cell, they could not take away his inner freedom.
I fear that many of us walk around as if we’re free, but we live in a mental cage of our own making.
My Trip to Mental Jail
Just a few days ago, I woke up in the middle of the night, ruminating over an email I received from a coworker. The message stirred something in me that made me want to fight for my rights and attack the sender.
No longer able to sleep, I got up to journal. Since I like to listen to music while I write, I opened my phone to find some music. Mocking me were words I had just written the day before, “Do you ever wake in the middle of the night with a dreadful thought?”
My heart sank as I recognized the toxic thoughts that consumed me. That began a journey toward an insight that showed me the bars I built around my life that keep me from leaning into who I am.
About spiritual blindness, Jesus said, “I entered this world to render judgment—to give sight to the blind and to show those who think they see that they are blind” (John 9:39 NLT).
Some Pharisees heard this and asked, “Are you saying we’re blind?”
Jesus responded, “If you were blind, you wouldn’t be guilty, but you remain guilty because you claim you can see.”
I believe we create cages to protect ourselves from perceived threats. Growing up, I quickly excelled in music to the extent that I was one of the first seventh graders to play in the ninth grade band. But I started to self-sabotage at that point, and I stopped trying as hard so that I wouldn’t have such high expectations placed on me.
This self-protection works its way into my life subtly, so that I don’t want to take risks. I think I can be happy to let someone tell me what to do as opposed to taking responsibility.
For example, until my father passed away, I would ask him about almost every medical decision I made. He was a cardiologist, so it made sense. But I had subtly given him the responsibility for my health. Since he passed away two years ago, I have slowly removed that cage and am starting to fully own my health journey for the first time.
Thankful for Fleas
Melissa Kruger retells the story of Corrie Ten Boom and her sister Betsie that took place while they were imprisoned during World War II for hiding Jews. After reading 1 Thess. 5:18, which says, “Give thanks in all circumstances,” they started finding reasons to give thanks for literally everything—including their crowded living environment and the fleas.
They wondered why they had been given such freedom to preach and share the Gospel until one day a prison official admitted the guards weren’t willing to enter their room because of the fleas.
In faith, Corrie and Betsey gave thanks for the fleas and later discovered that the fleas protected them from rape and other potential dangers.
It causes me to wonder: If Corrie Ten Boom and Nelson Mandela can find freedom while trapped inside a literal prison, why do I feel imprisoned when I have my freedom?
How Our Cages Can Hurt Us
When I worked for a nonprofit mission agency, we sent teams around the country to speak on college campuses. One semester, a team leader started losing control of his team. We received calls daily that he wasn’t doing his job. I flew out to visit the team before they transitioned to their final leg of the tour.
What I experienced shocked me. I felt like I was trying to care for a wounded tiger trapped inside a cage. He wouldn’t let me get close enough to care for him, and he lashed out at every turn.
In retrospect, I see that he had retreated into a mental cage to protect himself from a lot of things that happened. He needed to heal before he could leave the protection of his cage. Thankfully, he eventually did and was even grateful that we let him leave the tour early.
How To Break Out of Our Mental Cages
Here are three ways to break out of mental jail.
#1: Identify the cages.
I have been responding negatively to emails like the one I mentioned for years. Inevitably, I find myself bristling when I feel disrespected. In retrospect, I see that I’m misinterpreting the signals I get from others because I’ve put myself in a cage. They haven’t done it to me.
My cage could be called, “I’m not enough.” I falsely believe that I can’t compare to others. Or that I’m not good enough or can never do enough. So any words that trigger this feeling make me want to flee, fight, or freeze. Sometimes all at the same time!
Now I see it’s affecting how I live and believe. I’m truly grateful to see this and looking forward to breaking out of mental jail!
#2: Identify a better belief.
“Where focus goes, energy flows. What you focus on, you feel.”Tony Robbins
If we focus on our negative belief systems, then we will feel trapped, stuck, and insignificant. What if instead, we focused on truths like these;
- “I’m more than enough.”
- “I’m more than a conqueror in Christ.”
- “I’m deeply loved by the Father and uniquely designed for all he asks me to do.”
This is part of what Paul meant in Romans 12 where he called us to renew our minds. The point is to identify a positive belief that can not only replace the negative thought but exceed it.
#3: Remain thankful.
Every time that negative thought pops up, give thanks to the Lord for even that. You might ask, “How can I do that?”
The same way Corrie and Betsey found a way to be thankful for fleas. In faith. In all circumstances. The benefits will astound you.
For me, I see the bars in my mental cage breaking. Freedom is coming. One bar at a time. One day at a time.
Whether you feel like you’re in a mental cage or not, identify one area of your life where you struggle to be grateful. Write down three reasons you can be thankful for that. Do that every day for the next week.
Father, I thank you for your amazing love and compassion. Thank you that Jesus came to give sight to the blind and set the captives free. I’m grateful for my salvation and the continuous ways you set me free. Help me to remain thankful and grow in gratefulness for my family, my job, and everything you’ve given me. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.