The history of every family is defined by a few decisive events: weddings, births of children, moving to a new home, taking a new job, matriculating to a college or university. Family histories are also defined by illnesses, crises, and other catastrophic events. What events shaped your life?

Suzanne’s and my good friend, the Honorable Bonnie McElveen-Hunter, former U.S. Ambassador to Finland, grew up in Bossier City, Louisiana with her brother, John, and sister, Tweed. Their mother, Madeleine, was a gifted teacher who never missed an opportunity to teach a “life lesson” to her children. So … when Bonnie, John, and Tweed came home from school saying, “I can’t learn chemistry” or “I can’t learn Latin,” or, “I can’t forgive,” Madeleine seized the moment to teach them an unforgettable lesson. One day, Madeleine instructed her children to get a shoe box, a shovel, a pencil, and a sheet of paper, and meet her in the back yard. Then, she told them to write the word, “can’t” on a sheet of paper. They put the paper in the shoebox, dug a hole, and buried the word “can’t” forever! That decisive event shaped all of their lives.

The decisive event that shaped the people of Israel was the Exodus from Egypt. It was the watershed moment in their history. Even today, Jewish people around the world understand their identity and vocation in light of the Exodus. Each time, they celebrate the Passover, the Jewish people remember, “we were pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt and God brought us out of captivity with a strong and mighty hand.”

As they recall the Exodus, the Jewish people remember that God heard their cry of help and acted in a mighty way to set them free. When they were leaving Egypt with the Egyptian Army chasing them from behind, and the Red Sea in front of them, there was no way out. But God made a way out! God led the Jewish people into the Sea and parted the waters so they were safe. But when the Egyptians entered the sea in hot pursuit, the water covered them over, and they drowned. God delivered the Jewish people from bondage in Egypt. Our Judeo–Christian heritage celebrates God, the liberator, who sets people free.

Every one of our lives is filled with “Red Sea places;” challenging situations in which it seems like there is no possible way out: an abusive situation; trying to move on after the death of a loved one; or feeling powerless to escape the grip of alcohol, or pain killers. The Bible is replete with stories of people who thought there was no hope for them (Abraham and Sarah, Daniel in the den of Lions, and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in a fiery furnace.) In every case, God’s surprising intervention reminded the people that God is a deliverer who sets people free. On the day of the Exodus, the people of Israel learned a life lesson…and they buried the word “can’t!” Have we?

Reflection Questions

  • Where are you facing a “Red Sea place” where it seems like there is no way out?
  • Where in your life right now do you need to bury the word “can’t?” Are you willing?