What does it mean to be free?
This past week our family, along with a number of other volunteers and instructors, were ministering at a South Carolina prison.
I wish I could fully describe what happened within the confines of electrical fencing surrounding the prison compound, but I will share a few snapshots of the incredible way God is working in these men’s lives.
As I sit and reflect of this time, multiple scenes come to mind. But first, I want to think about what freedom really is. The dictionary definition describes it as: The absence of subjection to foreign domination, the state of not being imprisoned or enslaved:
Now, I’d like for you to think about it…Are you free? Unlike these men, you might not have felt the grip of steel around your wrists, but handcuffs aren’t the only source of slavery. In reality, most of us are in more bondage than we care to admit. There are many ways we can be in enslaved, or subjected to foreign domination. As we go through these different kinds of bondage, the question for us to ask is, “How free am I really?”
The bondage of masks. One of the brothers on the prison’s worship team vulnerably shared about the mask he’s been wearing for years. The mask was hiding who he really was and what he was feeling. He would lead the team in worship while struggling with his own integrity and personal failures. He was leading a double life. His goal was trying to please everyone, yet inside, he was dying because of the hurt and pain he was carrying. He bravely chose to remove the mask and no longer be enslaved by hypocrisy, and this man’s whole identity changed! God even gave him a direct word about beginning to use his given, biblical name. The courageous vulnerability of this man touched everyone deeply and set the stage for others to begin sharing openly.
Think about your life. How free are you from masks? Are you proclaiming one thing while living another? Do you hide your true feelings just to keep peace and please others? This, my friend, is bondage.
The bondage of prejudice. Most of us would say we aren’t racist. We don’t discriminate based on the amount of Melanin in someone’s skin. Yet, how free are we really? Are we less likely to trust someone from a different nationality merely because we aren’t familiar with their culture?
It was beautiful seeing mix of races joining together as brothers in Christ. Black, white, hispanic embracing each other with hearty back slaps, and saying “Love you, bro.” Jesus’ love extends beyond any racial or cultural differences. If you can’t deeply love and trust someone who’s different than yourself, you’re not experiencing freedom.
The bondage of sexual sins and addictions. Men were willing to look below their sexual sins and addictions to see what was at the root of their bondages. We helped them identify the hurt that was driving them to fill their void. This is the beginning step to victory.
I’m not only speaking of pornography or other sinful acts. If you go to anything else repetively for comfort or to make you feel better about yourself, you aren’t as free as God intends for you to be. Yes, God wants us to enjoy things like food, recreation, material blessings, etc. but it should never be a desperate distraction from lies buried beneath. Are you bound in this area?
The bondage of bitterness and un-forgiveness. A dear, older, inmate gentleman publicly confessed how he’s refused to forgive his dad for all the hurts he’d caused. This anger and bitterness was still holding him in bondage toward his deceased father. He realized forgiveness isn’t about setting our offender free. It’s about setting ourselves free and not allowing that person to continue holding us in bondage. This inmate chose to publicly declare his decision to finally forgive his dad.
Is there anyone you’re holding out at arm’s length? Have you cut off your spirit toward anyone? Do you struggle to pray a blessing on that person’s life? The Bible compares this (hatred) to a physical murder. How free are you?
The bondage of your past. Most of these men in prison came from severely dysfunctional homes. What appeared to be “normal” and “good” is far from God’s design for healthy family relationships. We heard heartbreaking stories of abuse and neglect. Young boys getting high on drugs at the age of five years old. Living in a tent by themselves from the age of 8-12, digging through trash bags for their source of food. Yet, as these men continue to learn what healthy is and how to renew their minds, they will move beyond their pasts. We saw those who don’t know how to receive love, crack the walls around their hearts just a bit and attempt to receive and give love to their incarcerated brothers.
You can’t change your past and it’s affect on you. But you can determine if it will continue to define you. Only you can control the level of freedom you have over your past. How much freedom are you experiencing in this area?
The bondage of negative attitudes and behavior. Each of us are aware of our own negative patterns and behaviors. But it’s not always easy to understand why we demonstrate these negative behaviors. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of understanding why we react the way we do. It’s not as important about how a painful event or situation made us feel, but the negative things we believe about ourselves because of the incidence. This isn’t to blame our responses or behavior on others, but to understand ourselves and to be understood. The sting of every traumatic event is lessened when we are fully understood and cared for by others. Deeper levels of freedom are available for each of us. How free are you really?
After this event, one inmate made the comment, “I know I’m in prison, but after these five days, I feel truly FREE.” Praise the Lord for the gift of freedom!
Like these men behind bars, you don’t have to live in bondage. If these men are living in freedom while in prison, what’s holding you back from being free outside the walls and fences? Search your heart, and allow God to identify and set you free from areas where you are imprisoned. “Therefore if the Son sets you free, you shall be free indeed.”
~Cindy (For The Mullett Family)