The Plough Diet: Escape Routes

October 25, 2016 by

“One thing you can’t hide is when you’re crippled inside,” crooned John Lennon. Tupac Shakur admitted, “Everybody’s at war with different things. I’m at war with my own heart sometimes.” Newly-minted Nobel laureate Bob Dylan wrote, “Behind every beautiful thing there’s been some kind of pain.” Artists from Caravaggio to van Gogh, from Palestrina to Tavener, and from Augustine to Angelou have been fueled by heartbreak, inner turmoil, and despair.

Most of us are uncomfortably familiar with such private hells; as the ageless, common currency of human life, they are, after all, often the reason art can speak across decades and centuries. Does this mean, though, that life’s pain and struggle must be stoically accepted or romanticized?

painting of a shipwreck
Andreas Achenbach, 1837, A storm at sea off the Norwegian coast

I’ve pondered this recently, having experienced again how fragile each human being’s existence is and how easily even small changes can set our little worlds adrift. While suffering may be unavoidable, resignation to it certainly is not: Even when you’re paddling along tolerably well, your flimsy craft might suddenly spring a leak. Bailing for all you’re worth, you fail to note the storm brewing on the horizon. Breeze becomes gale, and before long, waves of expectations and defeats, of self-doubt, sorrow, and regret are crashing over the deck. (Why is it that misfortune always seems to come in spades?) Unless you grab the oars and do something superior with them, or set out swimming, you’ll be fish food in short order. At such a time, resignation is deadly.

escape routes book coverBut what exactly can someone in dire straits do? That is the question Johann Christoph Arnold takes up in Escape Routes: For People Who Feel Trapped in Life’s Hells. In the book, he encourages the reader not to just pray frantically for a few minutes, limp back to dry land, plug a few holes, lay on a little more caulking, and cross our fingers on the next voyage. Now’s the time, he writes, for a dry-dock overhaul by a trained Carpenter. Taking our cue from Him, pain and fear must become catalysts toward complete transformation.

Recognizing the challenges of such renewal, Arnold coaches the reader by sharing real-life stories from people he has counseled through the years. Covering subjects such as loneliness, despair, success, sex, crucibles, and rebirth, he delivers his audience into a new reality, one in which Jesus can “turn our suffering into a pathway to life,” as the nineteenth-century pastor C. F. Blumhardt puts it.

Arnold also reminds us that humor is essential to human survival. “Perhaps this is why it is man alone who laughs: he alone suffers so deeply that he had to invent laughter,” is the quote from Nietzsche that prefaces the chapter on suffering. To that end, I’d suggest whistling “We all live in a yellow submarine” while you’re clinging to that last oar, waiting to sight land.

Escape Routes: For People Who Feel Trapped in Life’s Hells can be purchased here.

This post is part of a series highlighting books and resources available through, the Bruderhof’s publishing house. Read previous posts in this series.


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  • I am reading the book with my bad English. I found my inner life in the chapters of the book. It is reflection of our daily life and struggle. You will see the most important things in your life. The courage , The Love, The Forgiveness...I think you will also find something from you in the book.

    metin erdem