A depressed young man sat down next to the grey-haired, stooped figure of his elderly grandfather.
“Why are you looking so sad and sorrowful?” the old man asked.
“Grandpa, I feel like I can’t find any rest, day or night. I feel utterly useless; that I’m a disappointment to all the people I once loved. I feel like I’ve messed up my whole life. When I’m around other people, I make them feel sad. I doubt if there’s anyone out there that still loves me,” the young man explained. “It’s as if my conscience is constantly accusing me of being useless and disappointing my parents and friends.”
The grandpa sat quite still for some time, pondering over his grandson’s dilemma, stroking his grey beard and deeply in thought.
“You must learn to correctly identify the voices talking to you and accusing you” the old man gently whispered.
“Let me tell you an age-old tale; a story that was carried on from one decade to the next one, as a story told by the wise old men from the tribe, to the children when the nights are cold and they huddle together around a small cooking fire,” he continued …
There was an old man who felt sad and useless; the love of his life could not give him a son for future generations. She remained barren despite the two of them trying everything they knew of, to conceive. They also fervently prayed for a miracle.
In total despair his wife told him, “Please take my slave girl for yourself; take her to bed and let her conceive your child. Her child will be my child, as our ancient customs dictate, under such circumstances.
The slave girl fell pregnant and gave birth to a son. But the she didn’t react subserviently as the custom dictates. She believed she was superior to her barren mistress, and mocked her. The mistress was deeply hurt, and got very angry. She banished the haughty slave girl, sending her into the desert. An Angel appeared to her and urged her to go back and to submit.
Years later the mistress fell pregnant as well; this was nothing short of a miracle. When her young son reached the age of about four, the family had a weaning festival as tradition required.
There were already hard feelings between the banished slave girl who had borne the husband’s first child, and her mistress; and this negative feeling spilled over into the older son’s attitude. He started mocking his younger (half) brother incessantly, and never let up.
Eventually the younger son was ready to explode with frustration. He ran to his mom and said, “My older brother keeps on belittling me in front of all the visitors, he keeps on mocking me, please help me,” he cried. “I can’t take it anymore!”
The old man’s love of his youth ran to him pleading, “Please tell your older son and his mother to leave us! Their attitudes are absolutely uncalled for! They’re turning our son’s life into a misery!”
The old man looked at her with astonishment. “You know I can’t do that! She is my wife by law! You told her I should take her and conceive a child with her! Her son is my own son … in fact, according to tradition he is your son, and I can’t send them away into the desert!”
This explanation did nothing to placate his real wife. She kept nagging and nagging as only a woman could do. “Send them away! Send them away! Tell them to go!”
When he couldn’t stand it any longer, in total despair he relented. “Alright then! If you keep on, and on, and on, pressurising me to send them away, why don’t we go and pray and ask God what we should do. Then you will hear God telling us that I can’t send them away; they are my family according to our tradition, and I have a legal responsibility towards them.”
So they went to a quiet place to seek God’s presence and to pray.
WHAT DO YOU THINK THE OUTCOME WAS?!
“It can’t be true, we must be mistaken, listen what God is saying” the old man cried. “God said, ‘Send them away, the son of this slave girl may not inherit anything from all your riches! There is not enough for both of them; only your real wife’s son may inherit.’ “
“But Grandpa, what are you trying to tell me through this age old story?” the depressed grandson was confused. “What is the connection between this story and my terrible fight with my conscience accusing me?”
THAT WASN’T THE END OF THIS AGE-OLD STORY … ALMOST 2000 YEARS LATER, ITS MEANING IS FINALLY BEING CLARIFIED.
“The slave girl and her son represent laws made by men to live by. According to the teachers of that era 2000 years ago, living by certain rules was the only way to attain inner peace and peace with God,” the grandpa goes on to explain.
“But these man-made rules are harsh and almost impossible to adhere to. Consequently, it is almost impossible to achieve that sought-after peace of mind, and peace with God.”
“The younger son, borne years later by the old man’s first love, symbolises something totally different,” he continues. “The last-born son stands for the fact that we can resist the accusations brought on us by man-made traditions (the older son, whom the slave girl gave birth to). We have the assurance that God allows us … wait, no; he actually orders us, to send that ‘older son’ and his accusations packing! He gives us freedom. He sets us free from all the mockery of the ‘older son’.”
The grandpa turns to his grandson. “You see, this ‘son’ and his mockery of you, is pretending to be your conscience. He wants you to believe that it is your conscience that accuses you of not being good enough; of being a failure. Of being someone you should be ashamed of being. But this is not true. This ancient fable reveals what God wants you to do when you’re faced with all these inner accusations and self-doubt: ‘SEND THEM AWAY! BANISH THEM!’ It’s not your conscience condemning you. It’s man-made rules and traditions that condemn you and bring you down!”
“The younger son of the old man’s first love, represents the freedom that God gives us. There is not enough energy in you to listen to both these voices, they will totally and utterly exhaust you. Distinguish which one is the voice of the evil one. The one who pretends to be your conscience. Chase him away tell him to keep quiet! Tell him that God gave you a new direction… to not listen to that voice, to banish him! Turn around. Listen to the other voice, telling you that the accusations are false … telling you that you are free, that you have endless value in God’s eyes, and that is all that really matters.”
“Ponder on this, my boy. It’s not your conscience accusing you, it is the evil who pretends to be your conscience. Send him away with the authority that God gives you. Instead listen to the other voice telling you how precious you are to God, and how much he values you, and that is all that matters. There is nothing of any higher value than God’s evaluation of you. Believe that. Keep telling yourself that, and you will be free!”
The young man rose from his grandpa’s porch chair, and straightened up for the first time in a long time. For the first time in many months, he had hope in his eyes. Against all odds, he decided to listen to the wise old man. To shut out the negative accusations. To embrace the freedom that was his; and by God’s grace, to live life seeing God’s worth of him.
Author’s note: This article was inspired by Dr Caroline Leaf, author of ‘The Perfect You’. In her book, she explains that the thinking of toxic thoughts can change gene expression in just the same way that exposure to chemicals and pollution does. Our DNA is developed to react to the language of our thoughts and the words following these thoughts. Recent neuro-scientific studies have shown that oxytocin, secreted by the brain, can literally ‘melt away’ negative thought bundles, thereby facilitating the ‘re-wiring’ of new non-toxic pathways. Dopamine works with the oxytocin to achieve this melting down of the negative thought bundles. We know that endorphin release makes us feel good, and also helps to ‘detox’ the brain. When we do good things, and when we reach out to others in love, endorphins are released, making us feel better. Broadly speaking, these findings collectively communicate the fact that our mind influences our brain. I encourage you to read this profound author’s work.
Author: Caroline Leaf
Year published: 2017
Book title: The perfect you
Publisher: Grand Rapids Division of Baker Publishing Company