May 15, 2016
Sunday, 11:30 a.m.
Letter #435: Weep with Those Who Weep
About four years ago I met a guy housed in my pod whom I took an immediate liking to. Similar interests in business and charity work fueled our friendship, and soon David and I were inseparable. Except that the Powers That Be within the prison system can easily separate even the closest of friends, and it wasn’t long before David received word he would be transferred back to a California prison. With the time we had left, we talked as often as possible, and David soon confided in me about the circumstances leading to his incarceration, the first time he’d unloaded his internal heartache to anyone. God gave me wisdom to counsel him, and his renewed hope for his future and renewed faith in God was a joy to see. I hated to see him go, but we made a promise to always keep in touch.
Many guys who say they’ll write, do not, but David has faithfully corresponded with me these past few years. Thus, I was pleasantly surprised to see his face in our chow hall just a month after I arrived here. He was shocked to see me, and we made plans to visit with each other during the next yard time. He has gone through some rough prison experiences since I last saw him, involving aggressive inmates who have caused problems for him, but he has grown from it. He paroles this November, and I’m excited for him. We made time to talk through his “Exit Strategy,” and I will be holding him accountable for the tasks he must do prior to leaving prison, by meeting regularly at yard.
Then, just a couple of days ago, I was playing basketball. The team I was on had a four-game winning streak going on and had just begun our fifth game when I noticed David gesturing to me from the edge of the court. I ran over to him, and he said he needed to talk to me when I was finished. I sensed it was urgent, so I asked him what it was about. “I just found out my dad died,” David said, voice breaking. I told him I’d have time as soon as my team lost, which was unlikely to happen anytime soon.
Kidding, of course! Sheesh, you people have no faith in me, do you? No, I just walked off the court, signaling to my team I was done, and put my arm around David’s shoulders. “Aww, I’m so sorry, Brother,” I told him. His tears started rolling down his face as we walked. He’d just called home and found out, then immediately had come out to yard, looking for me. He told me that I am the only one here that he felt he could pour his heart out to, and yet I felt myself unable to answer his repeated “Why? Why did this happen?”
While saying what little that came to mind (“I’m so sorry,” “I don’t understand either,” etc.) I was pretty blunt with God and told Him that whenever He was ready to give David some real comfort, I was listening and would convey the message for Him. Minutes that seemed like hours went by with nothing. I felt the weight of inadequacy, of my humanity apart from Christ. There could not be a clearer picture of what I lack, for I had all the compassion necessary but none of the power behind it until God loosened my tongue for the ministry at hand.
I reminded David that we live in a fallen world in which sickness and death are common and even inevitable. Our length of life and even our so-called quality of life are not guaranteed, no matter how great of a life, how holy of a life we lead. God just promises to give us what we need to love Him and serve Him through it.
“But I’ve been in prison eight years. I’m just about to get out. Why now? This is the punishment I get for my actions, right?” No, I told him, the state separated him from his family, as his punishment, but the penalty he deserves for sin is death, which is paid for, because he accepted Jesus’ payment on the cross. God doesn’t use the circumstances and events in our lives to punish us but rather to build godly character in us, to train us for future ministry, and to remove our attachments to this world so that we look forward all the more to our forever home in Heaven.
The truth in what I was saying began to sink in to David’s heart and mind. I asked him to tell me about his father, a godly man who taught David the value of hard work, honesty, and faithfulness. A smile soon grew on my friend’s face as he recounted to me the years his father had invested time in him, inspiring him to be industrious and give generously to others.
God brought to mind a little phrase He’d given me years before as I tried to comfort friends of mine, and I shared it with David: “You know, Brother, that your father has just moved away; he’s gotten a change of address is all. And, the best part is, you’ll be moving to the same City where he’s at someday, too!” I told him that though we don’t see God’s purposes or reasons for the way He allows circumstances and difficulties in our lives, we can be certain that his father does not miss life here on earth in the slightest, and he’s grateful for the promotion to glory!
That image of his father moving really struck David, and he began to laugh as he thought about it. Then, without saying a word, he hugged me. Not much older than me, we are very much like brothers, and for David, I’m the only family he’s been able to hug for the past eight years. I prayed with him, for his extended family, his children, and all those he loves, for comfort.
The Bible doesn’t say that our loved ones “watch over us” as many would like to believe, I told David. However, it says that as we walk with God, we are “surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses,” and those “witnesses” are the saints of God, believers who have left this world before us, great men and women of faith, which could very well include his dad. By the time we parted, David’s whole demeanor had changed from sorrow to rejoicing. There will surely be difficult days, but praise God, “we sorrow, but not as those do who have no hope!”