Sunday, February 21, 2010

Prison in the Rearview Mirror

A man tried to explain what it felt like to be released from prison.  All that time spent serving time, hoping for early parole.  And, then when the day finally comes, the feeling is so exquisite that words fail to even begin to describe the emotions swirling within like a tornado.

'Is this really the day?'

'Surely they'll say there was a mistake and I have to stay longer.'

'I'm afraid I'll awake from this dream and I'll still have more time to serve.'

'As you walk down the hall towards that final locked door, you are sure they won't actually let you out.  But, they unlock the door and lead you out.'

'Your clothes and other personal belongings are returned to you.  Personal effects that you had not held in your hands for so long.'

One man had his car key returned to him.  As he walked outside, still believing that surely someone would stop him and force him to return to the prison, he searches briefly in a compound lot and finds his car.  He unlocks it, gets in, puts the key in the ignition, and she starts up!  The motions are awkward, but still somehow feel strangely familiar.  Muscle memory.

"As you drive away, you're sure you'll be stopped at the final huge gate.  But, they wave you on through.  As you drive away, you keep looking back in the rearview mirror.  It's so odd to see the prison in the mirror.  You keep checking every few moments, realizing no cars with lights are chasing you and that the prison gradually grows smaller as each mile goes fleeting by."

As we go through life, we face periods of "prison."  Bad situations caused by others, life, even some caused by ourselves.  Situations in which we are trapped for some time, waiting and praying for release ... for early parole.

When we are finally released from whatever our prison is -- health problem, divorce, loss of a loved one -- we gradually pull away from that prison.  And, like the prisoner, we keep waiting for someone or something to chase us and haul us back behind the barbed wire.  But, as we progress on beyond that prison, it grows smaller and smaller, fading away in the distance ... a fading memory.

What did we learn while in that prison?  What lesson will we take with us "on the outside" as we continue on our journey of life?

But, the bigger question: Do we spend too much time looking back, dwelling on that prison, forgetting to look ahead with anticipation toward our future?  Instead, do we keep looking back, disbelieving of our good fortune, mistrusting that we're actually out.   Where is out focus?  It is good to look back and see how far we've come, what we've learned, being proud in how we survived.  But, our future lies ahead of us.  Do we get on with living?
Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for a feast of the Jews. Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, "Do you want to get well?"

"Sir," the invalid replied, "I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me." 

Then Jesus said to him, "Get up! Pick up your mat and walk." At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.    [John 5:1-9]
An interesting question Jesus asks the handicapped man: "Do you want to get well?"  You would think the answer were obvious.  Why would Jesus ask such a patently ridiculous question?  But, perhaps Jesus sees that this man has become comfortable with the way his life is, maybe enjoying the sympathy of others, the attention.  The man has his system worked out.  Begging his way through life might have seemed easier to the man.  Being healed and thus able to return to a regular life would pose major challenges of adjustment: returning to community, to work, to family ... and the trappings and obligations that pertain thereto.

There are people who suffer genuine, unimaginable tragedy.  Others seem to hit one bad streak of luck after another.  But, there are others we know that seem to enjoy misery, almost as if they make it their mission to sniff out trouble with the dogged determination of a blood hound.   Some wallow in self-pity, always a victim.  Others milk attention from any makeshift audience either via melodramatic exaggeration of a perceived wrong or some personal trauma.  

We all face prisons here and there throughout life.  But, it is what we choose to do with the experience that proves the mettle of a person.  Do I keep looking back, foregoing the future that lies ahead?  Do I always keep an eye on that prison in the rearview mirror, missing out on the full beauty of my future?

Do I want to be healed?  Do I want to get well?

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