Finding Hope In A Prison Cell
I went to jail today.
I would be lying if I said that my heart wasn’t pounding as the excessively large steel doors slammed shut behind me. There was a man there; he was pacing in the holding room, occasionally stopping at the thick plexiglass window to stare menacingly into my soul, only to resume his pacing once more. I avoided his glare and continued with my work. Yes, I was there to work.
Periodically, my Friday involves me working with a wiring company to make a little extra money. On this Good Friday I found myself in a jail, installing a new camera to replace the one knocked down by a very upset newcomer earlier that week. Inmates walked around in their neon orange jumpsuits: mopping the floors, making phone calls, and staring me down intently from across the room.
Again, I was remarkably uncomfortable. However, my anxiety in that moment is not the focus of this post, merely a backdrop to a far more compelling issue. As we were tucked away in one of the empty cells, my eyes began to wander around the cramped, sterile room. One thing that immediately caught my eye were the writings on the wall. Like the bathroom stall in my highschool, scribbles and markings were peppered throughout the cell. Some were short prayers or popular Bible verses, others were meaningless drawings from a seemingly disinterested occupant.
But then there was a section that shook me a little deeper than I expected. As I read, it was as if I could see the person hunkering on their metal bunk as they wrote their emotions on a white wall with a tiny pencil. Here are some of the things they wrote:
- “Nothing can separate us from the love of Jesus! Not these walls. Not anything!”
- “Have you ever felt alone in this crazy world? I have and still do…”
- “Time to grow up….my babies need me.”
- “As I sit here lonely day after day I remind myself that honestly nothin[g] lasts forever.”
I read these, and many more, and am struck with a sense of hopelessness. This is not a post to make any type of political statement or stance against our law enforcement, but to key in on the concept of hope. I have never been behind bars myself, but people very close to me have. I have suffered, even at a distance, to the feeling of hopelessness these small, sterile rooms often bring people.
And these cells are not limited to physical buildings scattered across our country. Many of us are prisoners to ourselves. Our anxiety, our depression, our fear, and our dependence on substances drives a stake of hopelessness deep into our heart. I struggle. You struggle. Everybody struggles in some way. These writings on the wall are a mirror reflection of the feelings that I often write in bold marker on my heart: maybe you have felt the same way.
Today is Good Friday, which means in a couple of days we will be celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Good Friday was not always good, though. Thousands of years ago, a group of people watched as a man, a prophet named Jesus suffered and died on a wooden cross. His side was pierced, his body was wrapped, and he was placed in a tomb where many thought he would rest forever.
I imagine that day as a day of hopelessness. Do you know those days when everything seems to go wrong? When you try to work hard, to do good, but this deep, burning feeling of doubt and fear creeps into your heart? I imagine that is exactly how Jesus’ closest followers felt as they saw him hanging lifeless from that cross. Hopelessness is excruciatingly painful.
Easter is a day of hope; a day of celebration for Christians because Jesus did not stay dead. Through glorious power, Jesus was resurrected from the dead three days after dying on that cross, and because of his defeat of death, we are no longer held by its everlasting grip. We are set free! Jesus has alleviated the agonizing sting of hopelessness by providing us with an meaningful and lasting life. We can have hope. Some of the words in that call ring true; nothing can separate us from the love of Jesus!
This doesn’t make life easier, I get that. Even as a minister I find myself feeling hopeless despite my genuine belief that Jesus is the Messiah and died for my sin. This post is not about casting away your anxiety, or fear, or doubt, but learning to recognize, wrestle, and eventually conquer it. We were not designed to live in hopelessness; Jesus reminded us of that. Now, every year we celebrate that empty tomb and the hope it gives us.