I sit on the floor of my prison cell staring at the open door. That statement would sound a little corny if it did not express a sad truth. I have been sitting in this cell for so long, I cannot remember life outside the walls. Innumerable times I have attempted to force myself up and out of this cramped space. I want more than anything to walk through that door. Yet time and time again, I feel the tug of the familiar voices of fear, anxiety, and condemnation. Notice I said that I feel the voices. I no longer hear them, I feel them. I have listened to those voices for so many years that they have taken the form of chains. Chains that keep me bond in the darkest corner of this cell.
There are other cells within this prison. Many of the cells are now empty. I have a small sense of pride in the fact that I have actually encouraged others to walk through their open door. Only recently have I contemplated the irony of my situation. I have encouraged others to accept freedom from their bondage. I have cheered when they walked through the door and into the abundant life.
Yet, here I sit, bruised from all the pulling and tugging against the chains. Frequently, familiar verses come to mind, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and the regaining of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed . . . “ (Luke 4:18).
Why am I not free? I longingly stare at the open door again. This time, I not only feel the
voices, I hear them snicker. “He has set others free, but you are not worthy.”
There are times when I wonder if I am losing my mind. I receive encouraging cards and letters from friends. Many arrive when I have almost lost all hope. I read my Bible and pray. Psalm 23 reminds me that “[t]he Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.” I wish that were true. Again, I stare longingly at the open door.
One night, I lost all hope of freedom. The voices had become so loud and strong that I honestly believed I would never escape their grasp. I was drowning under the weight of their condemnation. I felt as if the whole world was ruled by their shrill obnoxious clamoring.
I was ready to surrender. Instead, I just reach over and sweep away a little of the dust and clutter that had accumulated around the chains. I notice a flicker of light in the corner of my cell. It was only a flicker. At first, I thought I had imagined it. I swept aside a little more of the dust and clutter. I could barely make out a beautiful little light. It was faint but it was real. The light was soft and inviting but just out of reach.
I began to tug and pull at my chains again. The flicker of light disappeared. When I stopped tugging and pulling, the flicker of light would reappear. I swept away a little more clutter so I could get a better grip on my chains. I tugged with all my strength this time, but the light vanished again. How can that be? I continued to repeat the pattern of behavior. I would tug and pull at the chains for hours that would turn into days. Incredibly, every time I would stop tugging and pulling, that flicker of light would come back. Frustration was becoming an overwhelming reality.
I cannot tell you how long I continued this cycle of tugging and pulling in my own strength. I guess I fear you will question my sanity if I am honest with you. Yet, one morning, I completely surrender. I stop tugging and pulling at the chains that hold me in the corner of my prison cell. I finally accept the fact that the harder I pull and tug at the chains, the more secure they become. I sit and face the reality of my situation. Slowly, I start to realize that the voices of fear, anxiety and condemnation are all lies.
That flicker of light that appeared each time I stopped trying to escape on my own was the light of God’s Word attempting to start a fire in my soul. His Word was attempting to break through the lies so that I would finally accept completely that Jesus had come to set ME free. The price of my freedom had already been paid. He had unlocked the prison door. Years ago, I had accepted His sacrifice and had lived outside these gray walls.
Unfortunately, like too many around me, I had fallen prey to the lies of condemnation and fear. At some point, I had actually crawled back into that prison cell and curled up in a ball. Instead of accepting the truth of God’s Word and allowing it to cleanse my wounds and bind up my broken heart, I had continued to listen to the lies of those who would steal my joy. I had fallen into the lie of perfectionism, people pleasing, and never feeling that I was worthy of God’s love. I had tried so hard to prove to my Creator that I had been worth His sacrifice.
I was beginning to realize that only Jesus knew what I was facing. I would try to share my fears with other prisoners, but many would just tell me to get over myself. Some told me I just needed to try a little harder to break the chains. Others told me to just accept my situation and learn to be more thankful for my cell. After all, it wasn’t that uncomfortable, and it really wasn’t as bad as some of the other cells in the prison. I began to realize that I was allowing those voices to enter my cell and become additional chains of despair.
I had to make a decision. Was I going to continue listening to the familiar voices of fear and condemnation? Keep in mind, I have heard these voices for most of my lifetime. They have become a part of my very soul. Those voices had become my truth; they were part of my DNA.
I made a decision. I must accept that the only path to complete freedom is complete surrender, not to the voices of my past, but to the freedom found only in the blood of Jesus Christ.
“Examine me and probe my thoughts! Test me, and know my concerns. See if there is any idolatrous tendency in me, and lead me in the reliable ancient path!” (Psalm 139:23-24). The voices within me had become idols. I had allowed the voices of my past to kick God off the throne of my heart. I had voluntarily crawled back into that prison cell. I had allowed all the clutter and noise of this life to drown out the Only One who had paid for my freedom with His very life.
“For freedom Christ as set us free. Stand firm therefore, and do no submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1).
“Praise the Lord, O my soul! With all that is within me, praise his holy name! Praise the Lord, O my soul! Do not forget all his kind deeds! He is the one who forgives all your sins, who heals all your diseases, who delivers your life from the Pit, who crowns you with his loyal love and compassion, who satisfies your life with good things, so your youth is renewed like an eagle’s. The Lord does what is fair, and executes justice for all the oppressed. . . . The Lord is compassionate and merciful; he is patient and demonstrates great loyal love. He does not always accuse, and does not stay angry. He does not deal with us as our sins deserve; he does not repay us as our misdeeds deserve. For as the skies are high above the earth, so his loyal love towers over his faithful followers. As far as the eastern horizon is from the west, so he removes the guilt of our rebellious actions from us. As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on his faithful followers. For he knows what we are made of; he realizes we are made of clay (Psalm 103:1-14).
With a tear-drenched face, I rise from my knees. My sight is blurry from my tears. As I stare at the open door, I gasp when I see a man standing there. As my sight clears and he comes into focus, I see the scars in His hands and on His feet. As I slowly raise my eyes to His face, I feel an indescribable sense of peace. As He steps toward me, the chains of fear and condemnation fall at my feet. As I reach my hand out to His, He sweeps me into His loving embrace and just holds me. There are no words . . .
After an indefinite space of time, He sweeps me off my feet and carries me through the open door.
“Protect me, O God, for I have taken shelter in you. I say to the Lord, ‘You are the Lord, my only source of well-being.’ . . . Lord, you give me stability and prosperity; you make my future secure. It is as if I have been given fertile fields or received a beautiful tract of land. I will praise the Lord who guides me; yes, during the night I reflect and learn. I constantly trust in the Lord, because he is at my right hand, I will not be upended. So my heart rejoices and I am happy. My life is safe. You will not abandon me to Sheol; you will not allow your faithful follower to see the Pit. You lead me in the path of life; I experience absolute joy in your presence; you always give me sheer delight” (Psalm 16).