Free from our Cages

March 12th, 2012 by Sarah Jackson

When I was in high school my piano teacher told me that the best songs “let the bird out of the cage.” When I heard my college roommate, Rachel, sing for the first time I understood what my teacher meant.

When Rachel sang she translated the beauty in her soul into sound waves. Her music often floated through our apartment, making my soul soar with the rifts and crescendos like a bird that has flown the coop. I can only imagine how Rachel felt when she sang like that.

I recently learned that Rachel’s singing doesn’t satisfy her soul the way it used to. She’s suffered some health problems over the years that have affected her voice, making it hard for her to control her dynamite rifts and hit notes with her former power. Singing is frustrating now. Like trying to fly but slamming into a ceiling mid-summit. The voice that has always sounded freedom to me now makes Rachel feel like a bird that cannot escape its cage. She is learning to live with the gnawing ache of unfulfilled longing.

I have never suffered the loss of a life-giving musical talent, but I know what it is to be growling with hungers I’m longing to satisfy and can’t.

We wake up in the morning hungry, and so we fill our tummies with eggs and orange juice. The fare is satisfying. But then, three hours later we feel the pangs of hunger again, and so we must eat. Our desire for bread is never quite satisfied. The same is true of our soul hungers. We desire sex, relationship, family and meaningful work, but life on earth is never enough to completely assuage these keen appetites. Sex and relationship don’t satisfy any better than bread.

In my high school youth group we sang about the God-shaped hole in us that only he could fill. My teenage self thought our God-shaped vacuum would stop sucking the moment we gave our lives to him.

But there is no off-switch on the God-shaped vacuum in our earthly bodies.

And this is good.

The gnawing ache of longing never feels good, though. The Israelites could attest to this. For forty years they wandered in the desert, hungry. Hungry for food, for home, for rest; pulsing with desires that God didn’t always satisfy. “He humbled you,” Moses later reminded the Israelites, “and let you hunger and fed you with manna…that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Deut 8:3).

God’s intention is that the strong current of desire would pull us back to him. The emptiness can turn us, once again, to him. Our soul hungers can teach us to eat daily the Bread of Life, rather than looking for fulfillment elsewhere, or even fantasizing about a life more satisfying than ours.

When our desires drive us to fantasize about a better life they ultimately drive us away from God. We see this with the Israelites wandering in the desert. “Remember when our bellies were full back in Egypt?” they moaned. “We would rather be slaves again than wander around out here!” (Ex 16).  Their fantasizing about a potentially more fulfilling existence distracted them from their new life of freedom and promise, and inhibited intimacy with the God who saved them from slavery.

This example of the Israelites’ futile fantasizing can teach us how to let hungers lead us to the Bread of Life. Wherever we are and whatever we feel we must learn to be fully present.

The best way I have discovered to live fully in the present is to notice things. Good things. True things. Beautiful things. The sharp smell of freshly laid bark mulch, and the flaming fuchsia of the bougainvillea cascading down the fence. The smile wrinkles framing the eyes of my cashier, and the infectious chortle of the child in line behind me.

These things remind me that God is good, even when the gnawing ache of longing makes me feel like a bird that cannot escape its cage. My desires may make me want to reach for fulfillment in all the wrong places, but the grace I find when I am living fully in the present makes me want to reach for the Gracious One. And his grace often reminds me to center my heart on his good promise that one day we will fly free from our cages. Very soon God will give us new bodies, and we will feast on the Bread of Life in the place where we belong.


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  • Becky

    You are quite right. As wonderful as it can be here sometimes, we are not fully whole or home. There is more for us. Thanks for the honesty and beauty in your writing.

  • Sarah Jackson

    Yes, Becky, so much more! One of my favorite “spiritual disciplines” is to imagine what heaven will be like. I think it would be marvelous to climb the highest pine tree in heaven, with Jesus at my side, and then jump off its tip and fly into the horizon… 🙂 What fun it is to dream!

    And thank you for your kind words.

  • Amy @ themessymiddle

    Another helpful spiritual discipline is that of tuning in. As mentioned above, there is so much going on that we fail to notice — I’m trying to grow in noticing small things 🙂

    • Sarah Jackson

      Amy, I like this phrase ‘tuning in’. What a shame to remain deaf to the world’s symphony because we are so preoccupied with worry, or distracted by wishing for a better life.

      I am learning that this ‘tuning in’ is like working out a muscle. It requires work and discipline, but becomes more natural with time. And before long, my soul starts craving it.

      Thanks for your thoughts.


      • C.J.

        Thanks for this article, really like your writing! I’ve been reading “The Road Less Travelled” which talks about the work of love being shown in the attention we pay to those we choose to love (spouse, child, etc). I think it really complements your thought on noticing the life around us! This is a way to express love to God – to see, notice, pay attention to the beauty the Creator has placed around us and it’s a way to get to know Him better (just as we get to know our children, paretns, spouses better as we attend to their lives). It is harder work to pay attention…it’s easier, as you said, to fantasize on how things could be better, easier. Thanks for this!

        • Dale Fincher

          The Road Less Traveled is a great book.

          And good point that loving God means paying attention. Paying attention is a way to receive a gift… receive love. Not just to get to know God better but by simply basking in his graces. This is the human side God intended for us that we skip over in our Christian talk. Thanks for bringing up the point.

        • Sarah Jackson

          Thanks for sharing, C.J.

          I haven’t read “The Road Less Traveled,” but you’ve whet my appetite! It sounds like a book I could really benefit from.

          I like this idea that we can know and love God better by delighting in his gifts. We are diving into his grace (and splashing around in it!) when we pay attention to the beauty and goodness in our lives. This is one way we enjoy God—and it is for this that he created us!


          • C.J.

            I recommend it Sarah, a great book, from your writing, there is much you would find interesting in this book!
            I saw that it’s on the Soulation reading list after picking it up at a thrift store! I see why you recommend it. It is saturated with really important thoughts on love and relationships.

            Thanks Dale, I hadn’t thought of it as also receiving love but makes sense. You’re right, in Christian talk, we often forget the reciprocal nature of our relationship with God, I’ve often felt the Christian people I engaged with forgot that there is much to enjoy and relish in loving God.

            I just finished the book “The Naked Gospel”, which has also left me with much to absorb, but also highlights the role of the Holy Spirit (often neglected in christian talk), as a presence always with us, a very vital way to be daily in the presence of God.

            Anyway…look forward to more writing 🙂 Thx again.

  • Bradley J. Moore

    This is so true- we will never, ever feel completely satisfied or fulfilled here on this earth. Only temporarily. And this does cause us to always wonder what it’s like “…if only…”

    I like your advice of noticing, and being fully present. As simple as it sounds, that can be strangely powerful – and spiritually enlightening!

    Thanks for this, I’ll be taking it with me today.

    • Sarah Jackson


      I recently read the list of the faithful ancients in Hebrews 11 and was struck that none of them ever saw the fulfillment of God’s promises to them and their people (Abraham never saw his family turn into a nation; Moses never entered the promised land). I was also struck that the thing that kept their faith grounded was a hope of heaven. This wondering ‘what it’s like’ in heaven can be a faith-bolstering activity…this is very cool to me!

      Thanks for your thoughts.


  • Sarah Jackson


    How fun to find the book in a thrift store! I will hope for the same. Discovering a good book in a thrift store gives me such a thrill. 🙂

    Thank you, also, for the reminder of the Holy Spirit’s role in helping us to abide in Christ daily. No amount of ‘noticing things’ can change our hearts without the power of the Spirit.

    Taking this reminder with me today.


  • Hoops

    “When our desires drive us to fantasize about a better life they ultimately drive us away from God.”

    Man, Sarah, that paragraph pierced so deep. “If only” is a constant temptation that steals my joy and appreciation for what God has for me and who I am now, today.

    • Sarah Jackson

      Hoops, I have to fight hard not to live in the land of “If Only.” I like your idea of also fighting to be thankful for who I am right now. Sometimes I work so hard to be thankful for what I have that I forget to be thankful for who I am, for the work the Spirit is doing in me, for his fingerprints all over me. Thanks for this reminder.

  • B.L.W.

    I yearn for the day that my door in my golden cage is left open. I want to fly with the unrestrained. I want to welcome each new day with freedom.

    Unfortunately my wings are clipped. I must wait patiently for my feathers to grow. While I wait, I will prepare for another day of hope.

  • Sarah Jackson

    I am yearning and hoping with you, B.L.W. 🙂

I want to be more human!
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