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Wanting an Exit

By Tracy Jessup

Gardner Webb
tracy jessup Gardner Webb


“Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.” (Isaiah 55:6-7)

In his book The Examined Life: How We Lose and Find Ourselves, psychoanalyst Stephen Grosz shares the story of how Marissa Panigrosso survived the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center. When the plane first hit the north tower, she was on the ninety-eighth floor of the south tower, talking to two of her co-workers. “She felt the explosion as much as she heard it. A blast of hot air hit her face as if an oven door had just been opened. A wave of anxiety swept through the office. Marissa Panigrosso didn’t pause to turn off her computer, or even to pick up her purse. She walked to the nearest emergency exit and left the building.

The two women she was talking to…did not leave…In fact, many people in Marissa Panigrosso’s office ignored the fire alarm, and also what they saw happening 131 feet away in the north tower. Some of them went into a meeting…In Marissa Panigrosso’s office, as in many of the other offices in the World Trade Center, people did not panic or rush to leave. ‘That struck me as very odd,’ Marissa said.”

Grosz continues, “What struck Marissa Panigrosso as odd is, in fact, the rule. Research has shown that when a fire alarm rings, people do not act immediately. They talk to each other, and they try to work out what is going on. They stand around. This should be obvious to anyone who has ever taken part in a fire drill. Instead of leaving the building, we wait. We wait for more clues – the smell of smoke, or advice from someone we trust. But there is also evidence that, even with more information, many of us still won’t make a move” (pp. 121-22).

Today’s passage issues a call for repentance and emphasizes the choices we face in the course of our lives. God issues an open invitation to be part of his redemptive purpose. This invitation – this hope – is extended even to the wicked and unrighteous. If we call upon the name of the Lord in repentance and return to God, God will freely forgive us and include us in the plans he has purposed all along. The question is this: Do we want an exit from every weight that slows us down and the sin that so easily trips us up (cf. Hebrews 12:1)?

Grosz states that he is not surprised at people standing around, unwilling to make a move. “We resist change. Committing ourselves to a small change, even one that is unmistakably in our best interest, is often more frightening than ignoring a dangerous situation…We want to know what new story we’re stepping into before we exit the old one. We don’t want an exit if we don’t know exactly where it is going to take us” (p. 123).

The season of Lent has a way of reminding us of aspects of our lives in which we need an exit. Rather than continuing to be stuck in our fears and complacency, we need to “seek the Lord” and “call on him,” taking the steps of repentance that lead to the exit, restoration, and renewal God offers to each of us.

Prayer:  Lord, we seek you, cry out to you, and forsake our wicked ways. Thank you for being the exit from our sin, guilt, and shame.


Dr. Tracy Jessup serves as vice president for Christian Life and Service and senior minister to the University. He is a graduate of Gardner-Webb with a B.A. in Music and earned his M. Div. degree at Samford University’s Beeson Divinity School. He completed his Ph.D. at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He also teaches in the undergraduate department of religious studies and enjoys the opportunity to serve the local church through interim pastorates, pulpit supply, and preaching revival services. he and his wife, Teresa, have two children, Christian and Anna.

Read more Good Christian News from Dr. Jessup HERE.