368 | Growing Pains

February 1, 2015
Sunday, 9:00 p.m.
Letter #368: Growing Pains


Dear Family,

Someone wrote me recently and asked me about who I’ve been working with in a discipleship relationship in the months since Joe left and I moved to a new compound. I appreciated the question, because it was phrased with the assumption that I am discipling someone, as we all must, the only question being, who?

Honestly, the incredibly disappointing finish with Joe (no letters or phone calls to my family or me once I confronted him on his stealing and drug use) dealt a severe blow to my ego. I had to face the painful truth that I don’t know everything about helping people. My family has been aware of this truth for years, as you watch me ignore warning signs while I think I’m helping someone. It turns out, I might be more of an enabler than a discipler.

Now, my intentions are grand, and I really do try my very best to sacrifice and give of myself to help someone else. In this environment, where discipleship isn’t just a weekly meeting at a diner but a daily encounter with the stress of living in a concrete box together, the norms of church-style discipleship are challenged. My flaws, of which there are many, become fertile soil for the seeds of discontent, annoyance, and pettiness that can drive wedges between even the most well-intentioned relationships. Add to that lovely mixture the poisons of poor character development from guys who never learned how to be nice to others, and you have a constant recipe for disaster. (Man, that whole soil-to-cooking analogy makes me hungry.)

But, just because my own shortcomings are exposed in the process of pouring into someone else’s life doesn’t mean I should pull back, slow down, or re-evaluate the whole commitment to disciple or mentor or whatever. Just as when you teach anything, you get so much more out of the process than your student, so it is when you are putting your entire life on display under a microscope for another human being to evaluate and emulate. Imperfections are magnified and shortcomings become not-so-short or insignificant. But isn’t that a good thing? God, I pray it is, because there has to be something good from this painful process.

Now, I know that everyone has their own bits of drama that come from various sources (usually other people), and I know that you could maybe even top some of my drama encounters, so I won’t even try to give you a taste of the bigger issues. Let me just tell you what is currently happening in my cell, right now.

I chose to let Duffy move in because he made a case for how much he needed to learn from me to be a man of integrity and godly character as he prepares to return to society in less than a year. I know he has significant anger issues (“if you go to prison because of your anger, you might have ‘significant anger issues’”), and he is a long-time friend, but I must have not remembered to take out the trash earlier today, because I’ve received the silent treatment all day. Knowing I’m a sociable guy makes not talking to me the best punishment.

I feel bad that my mistakes cause him grief, but for now he’s not open to working on our communication. We’re like an old married couple that never made much of an effort. So, needless to say, that discipleship-by-lifestyle thing is progressing rather slowly, though we still do daily devotions together.

In my new pod, I’ve befriended a few guys I’m able to have a positive influence on. Besides Richie, the guy who helps me with my music class projects and who has begun going to church with me, there are a few other guys I’ve had the privilege of talking to about their relationship with God.

Leo is a young man in his twenties whose gang lifestyle from an early age brought him to prison for twelve years. He is in the prison’s educational system so he can finish high school and get his GED certificate. His two children only know him by the occasional letter, thanks to the inexplicable reasoning of the California Department of Corrections to take fathers out-of-state to serve their sentences. I’ve been spending time with Leo whenever I can, and he seeks me out when we walk to the chow hall. Bit by bit, I see him opening up about who he is and who he wants to be.

Leo believes in God, as most prisoners do, but he isn’t (as he says) “into God one hundred percent right now.” Because I’ve found this to be caused by a false understanding of what a relationship with God could be, I have tried to encourage Leo along his path of discovery.

Many guys see the fanaticism of prison Christians, pressuring others to attend five to seven Bible Studies, prayer meetings, and church services a week, and decide that Christianity, in that form, isn’t for them. That’s when I get to tell men like Leo about the possibility of a personal relationship with a God who cares about every detail of their life, not just prayer meetings.

Leo has begun attending church services with me (once a week!) and has asked me to mentor him in his character development and spiritual understanding. He has ADHD, and I talk too much, so it should be fun.

With lots of opportunities and relatively little time, I pray God blesses my shortcomings and strengthens me for the harvest of souls.