Sunday, December 11, 2011

I'm In Prison

I look sadly around me at these narrow confines of my daily life. Blank walls face me on three sides, and on the other I can see some light and hope, but immovable bars keep me from going there. I once lived in that light, and so I can envy those out there who don’t realize how blessed they are, but my choices put me here. Each day my routine is the same: waking, eating, thinking about what used to be – or perhaps what someday might be, and sleeping. All around me are people I have gotten to know very well, but they are still strangers. I have no friends in this life.

At this time of year people tell me I should look forward to Christmas. The only thing I look forward to is the passing of yet another day, in hopes that perhaps someday it will be my last in this cell, this prison where I live. I heard that today is supposed to be a special day, a day of joy, a pause in our Advent anticipation of Christmas, to be happy about all we that have --- and all we are yet to receive. But I feel no joy here in my prison. I feel I have nothing, and I see no end to this life.

How many of us go through our life thinking those thoughts? How often has our prayer been: “Why me, Lord?” How often have we sat in our chair and felt totally alone --- even as the noise of our family, friends, and co-workers echoed around us. For some of us it is a clinical thing, depression, beyond our control without medical help. But for many of us it is just another choice we’ve made in our life. We choose to be unhappy; we choose never to smile. We choose not to leave our cell --- but the door is unlocked.

I think part of our problem is envy; we look at others and see happiness, and do not realize that they too have times of sadness and being alone. We all do. Life here is not eternal happiness; there is another place for that. Life here is joy and sorrows, happiness and sadness, smiles and frowns, and sometimes boredom. The key point to remember, however, is all the “ands” which describe our life. It is not only one thing or another, it is an alternating of good and bad things. In eternal matters, Adam got tossed from Eden, but Jesus came and said: “Come on, I know a way back in.” That is the ultimate spiritual bad and good, and our life is in between them, filled with lesser bads and goods.

The materialism which now surrounds Christmas is part of the problem for many of us. We look at things we have or don’t have, and envy and a whole lot of other sins enter our thoughts. The problem is the “things” we see; but Christmas isn’t a holiday about earthly things, it’s about heavenly things, that beginning of “the way back in.” Christmas is the beginning of that cell door of our life being unlocked. In our sadness we sometimes think I see no end to this life. But it IS ending, it HAS ended! The door has been opened, and the key was His birth. It started a new way for us to live; it gave us a new hope --- no matter how bad or sad our life may be at any moment. It is not an eternal lockup in a tiny small place. Our life has an open door to it, into happiness, into eternity. There is one big qualifier, however, to our being able to achieve that exit into the light, to obtain that happiness which can be with us throughout any ups and downs we may incur in this life. To achieve that happiness, we have to choose it.

One of the blessings and curses of this life is our free will. We can choose, and we can choose to do good or bad, to be happy or be sad. I know you want to say: “I can choose to be happy? With all these sad things around me? With death and sorrows and pains and poverty, I should choose to be happy?” The answer is yes, you should. The thing about free will is that no one else can choose how you feel but you. The martyrs were singing as they went to their deaths. The Romans were amazed that despite all their tortures and sadness “How much they loved one another.” The early Christians chose to be happy in their faith. I fear most of us have forgotten.

Our Christian faith puts a joy in our heart which remains there DESPITE all the toils and pains of this earth. The door to heaven is open again! Our toils and pains today are our working long hours for a promotion; they are our lifting heavy loads to build a beautiful house; they are our courting of the most beautiful person in the world to be our spouse. Work and toil and pains? Of course! But they are to get the thing we want more than anything else, our happiness.

The door is open. Whenever we see ourselves in a tiny room, in a dark place, in a dull routine which seems to not have an end, in a life alone without friends, we must choose to walk away from those places and thoughts. No matter what is going on around us, death, pain, poverty, drudgery, we can choose happiness, and we can choose to work for it.

Christ died, and it was one of the happiest events in all history. The door was opened! While people around Him may have cried because they didn’t understand, nowhere is it recorded that Jesus cried. He chose to obtain happiness, even if pain and sadness were along the way. You can too.

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