If you frequent this blog, you’ve read about a precious friend of mine who is currently serving a 3-year prison sentence.  If not, you can read a few posts that I have written about her here, here and here.  If you’ve ever known anyone in prison or have served in a prison ministry, you know that God can show you a LOT about life through the experience.

Because my friend is into her fifth month, and because there have been a lot of changes between facilities as part of the process, things are still in a transition-type phase for her and her family. Certainly, life for the prisoner is no picnic, but – make no mistake – it isn’t a walk in the park for the family either.  Often, the demands of a sudden drop in income, being thrust into single-parenthood, losing friends, dealing with shame that they did nothing to cause, and excruciating loneliness threaten to completely overwhelm.
This week, as I thought about and prayed for my friend’s husband, I was reminded of another friend with whom I was acquainted years ago.  At the time, their family was happy and all together, but she confided in me about the “dark years” that had threatened to destroy them a few years before.  Her husband served a prison sentence, leaving her at home to carry on with their four small children and the burden of shame that came with her husband having served on the elder-board at their church.  She told me that she put on a brave front for the few people that still reached out to her, but effectively refused their help.  She told them she was fine, but privately fell apart at home.  
Interestingly, when I asked her if she struggled with resentment toward her husband for putting them in this position, she said “no”.  She actually said that forgiveness for the crime itself came pretty easily.  What she was resentful about, was his joy.  You read that right – JOY. He told her again and again how he was walking closer with the Lord than ever before…that He was experiencing the “peace that passes all understanding” and able to praise God through His circumstance.  She said, “All I could think to say was ‘good for you’, in the most sarcastic tone I could muster.”  While her husband was holding tight to His Savior, she was holding tight to her shame and bitterness, and in the process, secluded herself from everyone but her kids.  
Then, quietly, she told me that she eventually came to the end of herself – a breakdown of sorts where she realized that she really couldn’t handle everything alone.  If it cost her the last shred of pride she had left, she realized that she needed help.  And then she told me something I’ve never forgotten:
“My husband was living more freely in prison than I was living on the ‘outside'”.

Wow.  What has struck me as I reflected back on that conversation is that, while you can really understand someone being “held captive” by these extreme types of circumstances, how often do we choose to live in our own “prisons on the outside”?  How often do we become paralyzed by our circumstances and live in prisons of our own making, cutting ourselves off from not only the body of Christ, but Christ himself?  The interesting thing is that we were given our release papers, the gift to live as free men, over 2000 years ago on Calvary.  If a literal prisoner can live with peace and freedom, like my friend’s husband and like my friend who is currently behind bars, shouldn’t we be singing songs of freedom in the “outside” streets?!
Years ago, my husband and I took a trip to San Francisco and took the popular Alcatraz tour.  I cannot find the picture or I would post it, but I took a picture of my husband sitting on the bed-shelf in a very small, ugly, desolate cell. Would he ever choose to stay in that cell if he were not locked in it?  Of course not.  The door was open and, after the picture was taken, he walked right out.  However, if he did choose to stay in there, even with the door open and no one forcing him to stay in, would he be any different than the multitudes of us that choose not to live out the freedom that we already have in Christ?  The door is OPEN.  We are the only ones keeping ourselves in there.
After my friend came to the realization that she was in a prison of her own making, she reached for God’s hand through the hand of some steadfast friends.  She let herself be ministered to and allowed the love of the Body to pour over her broken heart and heal it.  She began to see that God had not left her at all, but had made a path for the two of them to walk together.  And, amazingly, when she looked at her life, she saw that were no more bars.  There were, instead, songs of freedom being sung – not only by her husband in the literal cell of the prison, but by her, as well, in the streets on the “outside”.
If you are in a self-imposed prison, or know someone who is, REACH OUT.  Either way, God will use the out-stretched hand to pull His free people through the OPEN DOOR.