Student Series: Maximum Security and Minimum Control
My time in college has been one of growth and dependence on God, even when my facade of self-reliance said otherwise. It is the kind of experience that you would never ask God for, one you might even ask him to take away. He has been gracious enough to change my plans in a different way each year, and after junior year he made the most significant changes of all.
My junior year was filled with panic attacks, avoidance, grasping for control over anything and everything I could get my hands on, and relationships which deteriorated accordingly. I entered into a romantic relationship which satisfied my needs for security, and therefore poisoned my faith in the God who makes us secure.
During Thanksgiving of this toxic year I met a 68-year-old woman on a plane. I didn’t realize meeting her would change everything. She had a gentle spirit, a sharp wit, and in a 6 hour flight she made me feel more at home than I ever had before. We began discussing the books we were reading, which led to bonding over a passion we both have for incarcerated people, a forgotten group in society. My passion was merely driven by books and statistics, while hers was borne out of eighteen years of committed volunteer work as the Director of Hospice in a high-security men’s prison in Maine.
At the end of this flight, she invited me to live with her for the summer and work with the men she considered to be family. Of course, I said yes.
Fast forward eight months. I dropped my boyfriend off at the airport (who had driven there with me), and then I parked my car at a random park and cried for 3 hours.
What began as a whimsical idea, an adventure in the making, now felt like the biggest risk. I’d abandoned all of the secure–albeit unhealthy–structures I’d spent the year building, and was now somewhere unfamiliar. My biggest fears, being alone and unsupported, seemed to be realized that day.
When I got to in Maine, I had $6 in my pocket and a box of granola bars I’d picked up from the store. I arrived at the house where I’d be staying with the stranger I’d met months ago. She ran out to greet me with the warmest embrace, and my puffy cheeks couldn’t help but smile. She saw my grocery bag and said “Why’d you bring that? We’re going to cook together every night! Don’t you know I’ll take care of you?”
This was one of the many, many ways that I was protected and provided for.
I spent the following few weeks with my new friend and falling in love with the depth and simplicity of her life. At my friend’s house, we cooked everything out of her garden, hung clothes on the clothesline, hand-washed dishes, wrote letters, read books, and often retreated away to her log cabin “camp” which was over ninety years old, with only a fireplace for light and heat.
At the prison I spent hours with men who had no control over any aspect of their lives. They couldn’t choose what they ate, what they wore, when they worked, or when they rested. These men were in a position of complete passivity, but what shocked me was the immense spiritual peace that so many of them had. They did not complain, and they weren’t anxious. They had made up their minds to be at peace with their situations.
I, on the other hand, have complete control over every aspect of my days, and couldn’t seem to bear the burden of trivial decisions.
I began to realize that the key to peace is not control at all, it is trust in the Father’s provision.
I realize that what I discovered is Biblical, simple truth. But the process of acknowledging this truth is not nearly as simple as people want to make it.
Before this summer, I lived my life in patterns of self-centeredness that contradicted my relationship with Christ. My need for security led to shallow living, and I tried to earn the Lord’s love. I placed my entire worth in what I produced and contributed, and therefore if others didn’t produce or contribute something for me, I saw them as worthless.
Ironic, since I was working with men who society deems worthless by these standards. Because I was impacted by their life in prison and their love of God, I was forced to redefine the way I saw God and his work in my life. I realized how conditional my peace and self-worth were because of these men.
On paper, I had no reason to love these men, and they had no reason to love me. We shared very few similar experiences, but we got to be family in Christ. I realized that there is no greater distinction than this in the world – no amount of wealth, no race, no addiction, no gender – none of these are great enough to overpower the Holy Spirit connecting us.
I’m a daughter, and many of my friends at the prison have daughters. God created these men with deep desires to be protective and caring, and my being there gave a few of them the chance to practice. My deep-rooted fears of not being protected and provided for were overcome by men who had little to offer, but much to give.
I learned that the Lord gives us what we need from the least expected places. I spent my junior year looking for security and provision in the places which seemed most logical, but my life was filled with idols that left me feeling emptier than before. Coming back from Maine, I have been learning to operate out of a place of confidence and freedom. The Lord used these men to teach me to be free. I’ve opened my mind and heart to community without fear of disappointment, and have surrendered my fear of being alone. My entire life has a heartbeat of peace and glory to God. I’ve stopped curating an environment to keep me safe – and I trust that the safest place I can be is in the center of God’s will, not my own.