February 24, 2011
Thursday, 3:00 p.m.
Letter #167: Letting Go of the Past
Greetings! I’m writing to give you an update on a recent prayer request I gave you. God is at work in the lives of the men in our pod of 40 guys, and I wanted to give you a close-up look at what is all-too often a very serious spiritual battle for the souls of the incarcerated.
It is an undisputed fact that God will allow a man to fall so that he might admit the foolishness of his ways and turn to God (or turn back to God, as the case may be). Many of us had many gentler “falls” before the severity of prison came as the bucket of sobering ice water thrown as a wake-up over our drunk-with-sin lives. It often takes that rude awakening of jail time or a prison sentence before we are willing at last to entertain the silly notion that perhaps our way is not the best way.
Some take years to figure this out, spending years putting in time with prison gangs, amassing additional charges and lengthening their sentences before the light comes on inside and they realize something is wrong. At this point, many “drop out” of the prison gangs and opt for the life of Protective Custody on a Sensitive Needs Yard. Others hit the floor of the reception tank in county jail and cry out to God. Either way, the general acknowledgement of wrongdoing has usually occurred for most of the men I live with.
Most, though not church-goers, have a healthy view of God, thoughtful and reverent even at times. But, it is often the fear of what others would think of them that prevents many prisoners from perceiving a need for a relationship with their Creator. If only they had a true knowledge of hellfire, how drastic would their change be! For men rushing from a burning structure give no thought as to how their crazed run may appear to their fellow citizens.
No, survival at all costs is paramount on the brain, such is the fear of the flames. And, very often, it is inmates in total isolation, away from peer influence in “The Hole” that turn to God in a significant way, for there is no thought about if anyone else cares in that place. Only God cares, and only He is left as One who hasn’t forsaken or rejected a man who is at the end of himself and ready to look up into the face of Love.
So, the task facing me is not convincing someone he needs to change, for nearly all feel as if they could use some life-betterment. No, the real task is convincing a man that his need for change is greater than his need for peer acceptance, that his eternal destiny shouldn’t be jeopardized by a fear of what others may think.
Robert, a young man from San Jose whose mother and two brothers are in prison and who has been incarcerated multiple times since age 13, has made an effort to spend time with me over the past couple of months. Originally hostile toward me, God has really changed his heart, and he’s told me how much he enjoys talking with me. He paroles in three months (lucky you, people in San Jose!) and claims to want to live differently.
At the same time, there are plenty of worldly activities that he doesn’t want to give up. He is stuck with his only memories being of the world, and no concept of the rich life of joy that God gives to His children who love and obey Him. He is the person spoken of in the phrase, “The Christian life has not been tried and found lacking—it has been found difficult and never tried.” He wants a successful life, a “church-girl” wife (read: loyal), and yet faces a whole litany of things he’d have to “give up.” Such as, I point out, Hell.
Robert originally wanted to come try out the Self-Confrontation class I lead on Tuesday evenings at the chapel, but God gave me insight (thank you for praying!) into his needs, and I suggested he read The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren.
I brought him back a new copy from the chapel, and he’s begun reading a section per day for the next 40 days. He claimed, glancing at it, that it was a book “all about religion,” but I assured him that it was far deeper than that and that I wouldn’t ruin our friendship we’ve developed by “tricking” him into reading a book. He now is excited to tell me he’s been reading it, and it seems to be hitting home for him. We’ll be scheduling time to sit and discuss it, and I’d appreciate your prayers for him. Satan has such a grip on the guys here, but God is so much greater!
Please also pray for a young man named Michael—more later.