I had been in a two year relationship with the man I was planning to marry. It wasn’t until I got out that I realized how bad it was. In many ways, he fulfilled the list of what I had been looking for in a husband: tall, dark, handsome, exotic (he was living in America on a green card), self-disciplined, and a Christian. Despite many warnings early on in our relationship, I fell for him and found myself living in an endless cycle of emotional abuse.

The thing was, I didn’t know it was abuse. My dream was marriage and this would fulfill my lifelong dream. I put up with a lot of things that my friends and family told me were wrong because I thought I was on my way to “the good life” I had always wanted. Pretty soon, what was obvious disfunction to anyone on the outside, became my new normal.

Things got really, really bad before I was able to break free from that relationship. And even after the relationship was over, I found myself wanting back in. I thought things like, “At least I wasn’t alone,” or “He did tell me he loved me”, forgetting how terrible it really been. It has taken me years to process and heal from that relationship and it is only recently that I can look back on it with some clarity to see how God had lovingly guided me out of it.

Lately I’ve been meditating on a passage in Exodus 5:1-23 were God sends Moses and Aaron to tell Pharaoh to free Israel from slavery to worship God in the wilderness. Pharaoh’s response is to laugh and increase the Israelites workload to more than double of what it had been before. The passage ends with the people of Israel suffering incredibly, and Moses crying out to God in confusion.

This passage has always been such a difficult one for me. Why would a good and loving God get the Israelites hopes up, only to allow Pharaoh to make their lives more miserable? If He was really powerful, couldn’t He have simply freed them from slavery without this suffering? The answer is that the suffering was to help them let go of the slavery they’d accepted as normal.

After they were set free we see that trusting and following God in the wilderness was the best place for Israel to be. God was providing and caring for them, yet the relational work of trusting God for everything was new. Israel soon started wishing they could go back to what had been their “normal” in Egypt.

God our Father knows our hearts better than we do. He knows that we are short-sighted and quick to forget His care. He knows that we have hearts that would prefer the slavery of the familiar over the freedom of trusting Him in the unknown. In His mercy, He allowed things to get really bad in my relationship because He knew my heart better than I did. He knew I wouldn’t want to leave unless it got unbearable. He knew I would want to go back to it because it was more familiar to me than the new wilderness season I found myself in after the break-up.

It is strange to think that humans would ever choose slavery over freedom, but we do….all the time. Thankfully, our Father loves us too much to leave us in slavery. As His children, He is working in all of our lives to free us from different forms of slavery we have gotten into.

One way for us to see His work, is to look at the current areas of suffering in our lives. Where are we hurting? How might this hurt be weaning me off of my hope in something other than God? The suffering of my abusive relationship showed me that, even though I would have never said it, I had put my hope and trust more in the idea of marriage than I had in my Father to provide for me.

What is your suffering today? Is it your job, your marriage, your singleness, your children? Consider how God might be calling you into the freedom of trusting Him.