At the beginning of every New Year I make a list of behaviors and attitudes that I’d like to change. It’s pretty much the same list every year. One thing I’ve been working on for a long time is judgment. Even though I pray every morning before I get out of bed “to not judge others lest they judge me,” I still find myself critiquing and qualifying how other people act or look. I’ve made progress over the years, but some days are still better than others. I guess I’m a work in progress.
Reflecting on how difficult it’s been for me to change, reminds me of the chapters in the book of Exodus that describe how Moses and Aaron, with the help of the Lord, bring the ten plagues upon Egypt in order to get Pharaoh to free the Israelites from bondage and allow them to leave for the Promised Land. You’d think that any one of these direful occurrences (hail, flies, frogs, darkness, etc.) with their horrible outcomes (destruction, drought, famine, death, etc.) would have been enough to make Pharaoh happily send them on their way, but wasn’t. It took ten—with the tenth one being the death of all the firstborn in the land.
What happened after each of the plagues is that Pharaoh was moved to agree to Moses’ demand, but then his heart would become hardened and he would change his mind. Or God would harden his heart. What probably was the case was that his heart was already hardened and all of him was brittle and inflexible. So, if Pharaoh saw that his land and his people were being hurt why didn’t he allow the Israelites to leave?
Perhaps it was the fact that Egypt’s economy would probably collapse if all that cheap labor was suddenly unavailable, but more importantly, I believe it was his fear of change. He just couldn’t believe that if he let the people go that after a period of transition everything would be OK; that the nation would adjust to the loss of the enslaved people’s labor and talent.
What a great metaphor for us! We all have an inner pharaoh who is resistant to change, who wants to hold onto old ways of doing things because that is what is known and familiar; who resists change out of fear of the unknown. We don’t want to lose what we already have because we’ve become so identified with it that we can’t imagine there’s a better way of being or a freer way of living. We get comfortable with the way we do things even though we may suffer because of it.
Our inner pharaoh could well be our ego, which is so self-serving and with such little vision that it will do anything to keep from feeling powerless or no longer being in control, even if the results are calamitous. Our inner pharaoh wants to be served and worshiped no matter what the consequences.
In chapter 9 verse 17, God tells Moses to say to Pharaoh “You are still exalting yourself against my people and will not let them go.” How like our ego and our limited self, which don’t know anything other than the world of their own creation, to want to put themselves above all else. When we allow that to happen we are still at their mercy and will not be able to change—will not be able to free ourselves from unwanted behaviors and attitudes.
So, instead of allowing our inner pharaoh to control our lives, we need to ask the God of our understanding to soften us and make us malleable and pliable to God’s will for us and not our will for ourselves. We don’t have to continually be visited by the plagues of frustration, disappointment, unhappiness, and depression in order to overcome our fear and allow change to occur. God can do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. But we have to be willing. We must have faith! And then, and only then, will we be able to begin our journey to our own Promised Land.