I am a prisoner.
I am being held captive against my will. Kind of.
My prison isn’t much fun, but I guess most prisons fit that description. After all, if a prison experience was fun, inmates wouldn’t risk their lives to escape. Not only that, people on the free side of the bars may clamor to get in. No, prison is designed to be a punishment for something done wrong, and everyone knows that punishments are not fun.
Perhaps when you think of prison, you get an image of hard concrete floors, a small, thin mattress in a corner, and bars to keep one inside the cell. I’m sure you’ve seen prisons on television shows and movies. Shawshank Redemption is the first thing I think of when I think of prisons. I think we’ve watched that movie at least one hundred times. The story line is fairly typical. A man is put in prison, uses his charm to get on the good side of the warden all the while planning his escape from a place where escaping means certain death. Of course there is more to it than that, but like most prison movies, that’s the basic plot.
The bottom line, though, is no one really sets out to become a prisoner. If you go to any elementary school and ask a class of third grade children what they want to be when they grow up, you’ll hear things like fireman, policeman, doctor, veterinarian, teacher, author or any other typical dream of an average third grader. But none of those children would raise their hand and say, “I want to be a prisoner when I grow up!” It just isn’t something that is intentional.
So how does it happen? How does one of those innocent eight year olds, dreaming of being the person who saves animals or people, end up locked in a cold prison cell?
Of course there is no easy answer to that question. Psychologists have been studying criminal behavior for years, trying to pinpoint exactly what goes wrong in the mind of a person who chooses to commit a crime bad enough to land them in a miserable prison. Those psychologists have blamed socioeconomic status, divorce, and mental illness–among other things–for the good kid choosing the wrong path. Some people act alone in their crime while others find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people. My father used to tell me, “Show me your friends and I’ll tell you what kind of person you are.” Regardless of whether you believe that completely or only in part, you have to admit that people will do things in a group that they would not do on their own. The Bible has something to say about that. Paul warns his readers,
“Do not be deceived: Bad company ruins good morals.” (1 Corinthians 15:33)
Solomon issues a similar warning in the book of Proverbs:
“Whoever walks with the wise will become wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm.” (Proverbs 13:20)
How does all of this relate to prison? And, more specifically, how does it relate to the fact that I stated I am a prisoner?
For sure, prisons can be a brick and mortar place like one sees on the screen. That is not the kind of prison that I am being held in, though. The truth is, there is another kind of prison. This prison has no bars on the doors–at least not visible ones. This prison isn’t guarded by men with guns and large dogs with teeth ready to tear into flesh of any trying to escape. No, this prison is invisible to those around me. From the strangers I pass in the supermarket to the friends I see in church every Sunday, none can detect that longing inside me to be free from this prison.
The name of this prison is Fear. Sometimes it aliases under the names of Worry or Anxiety. Regardless of what name it presents with, it is a prison that too often wraps its cold bars around my heart and mind and renders me paralyzed. Of course, I realize that as a Christ follower, I have nothing to fear. The Bible uses the phrase “Fear Not” or something similar about 112 times depending on the version being read. There are other mentions of fear in the Bible, but many of these do not pertain to the type of fear I am describing here. (Example–fearing God is a different fear than this) Over one hundred times God found it necessary to chronicle in His Word the fact that I should not be afraid. Some of those verses I even have memorized. Psalm 23 comes to mind:
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.” (23:4)
Another Psalm I just finished memorizing because of its mention of fear is Psalm 27:
“The Lord is my light and my salvation. Whom shall I fear?” (27:1)
Jesus said in the book of Luke:
“Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” (Luke 12:7)
It’s pretty clear throughout the Bible that since I have Jesus by my side, I have nothing to fear. Still, my heart and mind find themselves paralyzed with fear at the slightest of instances. A noise in the night sends my imagination to places commonly found in murder mysteries. A news story telling of a tragic accident instantly sends waves of panic through me as I fear the same could happen to someone I love. A phone call from an unknown number showing up on my cell phone will cause panic as I wonder if it is a hospital somewhere calling to tell me one of my kids has been brought there for some horrible reason. Lest you think these are just thought patterns that need to be changed, let me say it isn’t just my mind that gets lost in an enveloping fear. Sometimes the worry, anxiety, or fear over a possible event will keep me from leaving the house. I can be looking very forward to attending a social gathering scheduled for an evening and end up staying home because the fear of driving at night is overwhelming. A coating of snow on the roads–something very likely six months out of the year where I live–will make me stay home even if that means missing out on something important or fun with my husband.
I could go on and try to put into words what it is like to live this way, but I don’t think words can really convey that to anyone. The fact of the matter is that I hate living like this. I hate that I know I’m not supposed to fear, yet I do. I hate that in the middle of the night, a slight noise will keep me awake for hours as I visualize all sorts of horror stories in my head. When one is the owner of two cats, nighttime noises are going to happen. I know that. It makes sense when the day is here. I scold myself for being so scared, for not trusting in God enough. Yet, as soon as darkness returns, those same paralyzing thoughts come with it.
I’ve always been honest in my writing since I write more for my own processing than for others to read what I’ve written. That said, this has been an entry three days in the making. There are some things in my life right now that have put a streak of fear deep inside me, and I am realizing, maybe for the first time, that I can’t live like this anymore. I can’t continue to allow fear to dictate my life. I am frustrated with this prison I am in, and I am desperate to escape the bars that hold me prisoner. BUT, I am unable to do this alone. I have tried. I have repeated words to myself in times of deep fear, reminding myself that God is here and in control. I have memorized Bible verses and often, when gripped with fear in the middle of the night, will lie in bed repeating them over and over in hopes of falling asleep in calmness. I have read books by respected Christian authors about fear and why we don’t need to be enslaved to it. I have talked to professional counselors about it in the past. I have tried to dull it with alcohol. All this to say that this isn’t something I have sat back and excused as simply part of who I am–although to some degree I believe that to be true. I was taught fear at a very young age. That’s for another time, though. Still, God can change me. I know He can, and I believe He can. And, I am willing for Him and wanting Him to do just that. Yet it seems I pray and recite verses and read to no avail. The bars are thick and strong; I am weak in my ability to break free.
Perhaps, and this may give me a small glimmer of hope, the fact that I am recognizing just how much fear controls my life and how little I let God control my life, is the step I have been needing to take for God to finally work in my heart to rid it of this powerful fear. I wonder if David was afraid when he stood up against the giant Goliath? I wonder if Joshua was afraid when Moses died and he was left in charge of the ragtag group of Israelites as they wandered in the desert? I suspect in both cases the answer was at least a small “yes”. God still worked, though. I recently read that God does much of His work through the people He puts in our lives. If I believe that to be true, that means I need to let others in on the fact that I am a prisoner to something that God says I don’t have to be a prisoner to. Hence this entry.
I am ready–needing–to change my intense fear into trust in God. I am needing to understand that no matter what happens, God is here. If an earthquake like the one that struck Nepal a few weeks ago hits my hometown and I lose everything I have, I will not lose God. If my health continues to decline and I lose some abilities that I possess, I will not lose God. Jesus said to not fear the man who can harm the body, but to fear the one who can harm the soul.
The prison bars are still thick. They are still strong. But, there is an ever so small glimpse of light coming into the cell of my mind for the first time. God holds the key to my prison doors. God is stronger than fear. I need to let Him be stronger than its grip on me. But, I am unable to do this alone…I need people to help, encourage, and pray for me as I attempt to break free, with God’s help, from this prison cell of fear. I am trusting God to provide a few of those people in my life.