I sat down on a cold plastic chair in a narrow beige room; a thick barrier of Plexiglas spanned the table to the ceiling. Tender names of lovers and vulgar epithets were etched on the walls. Loud voices and the bang of heavy metallic doors echoed in this cramped space as I waited for my friend to step through the door on the other side of the plastic barrier.
In the two minutes that passed before he arrived, I replayed the high points of our friendship. I remembered the grace with which he received my story. I flashed on the image of working beside him in a little church on Saturday Work Days. I smiled at the deep laughter we enjoyed telling stories with our families. I remembered the Bible study he led. The prayers he prayed. The acts of service for the community—all of these memories tumbled together in a swirl of kaleidoscopic colors and shapes.
The door opened and in walked my friend wearing a pink jump-suite. His eyes fell to the cold floor when I smiled at him. He said, “I am sorry, Joe. I am sorry you had to see me here in this place.” Tears filled his eyes. “But,” he continued, “I am glad you came to see me.”
I don’t remember what I said. Something about how cute he looked in pink, probably. We tried to laugh. Sadness and joy filled that confined space and became the sacrament of community. I prayed for him and promised I would be back next week and every other week until he was released. I kept that promise. Each week it got easier to talk to him about his life in jail and the complications that alcohol abuse had wrought in his life.
He told me that he remembered God speaking to him through one of my sermons. He said, “Joe, do you remember when you preached about Samson? You talked about how he broke each vow one-by-one on his way to ruin. That each vow was like a speed bump God put into his life to cause him to slow down and consider what he was doing, but that each time he approached that speed bump he just gunned the engine and eventually he lost everything and ended up in prison. I heard you say all that while I was careening out of control and thought that won’t happen to me. I’m a good driver. Now, here I am in jail wearing a pink jumpsuit. I should have slowed down.”
Someone once said, “People want you to fix in a counseling session what they’ve rejected in a sermon.”
Here’s what I know: Sin will take you places you never dreamed you would go.
It took Abraham to a lie about his wife. It took Moses to the desert. It took Samson to blindness. It took King David to Bathsheba. It took Saint Peter to a warming fire. It took a prodigal to a pig pen. It took my friend to jail.
After my friend was released he wrote me this note:
My darkest moment during my incarceration was the overwhelming feeling of being cut off. I felt as if I was dead to the world, forgotten and abandoned. The foundations of my life were removed and I was drifting in a black sea of despair surrounded by unknown threats and undefined fears.
I never intended for my life to turn out this way yet I was in a prison of my own making. The worst part is realizing that there was no one to blame, no excuse, and no more rationalization. The truth was upon me—I had sowed the wind and was reaping the whirlwind.
During my despair, I came to know that the Lord had not forgotten me. And despite my attempts to destroy myself, he would not sit idly by and watch me go down. So he used the very ones I had betrayed as instruments of healing and reached through the bars to restore me.
Here is the good news. There is no lie that God won’t forgive. There is no desert that God won’t cause to bloom. There is no infidel’s bed that God won’t purify. There is no betrayal fire that God won’t exchange for a breakfast fire. There is no pig sty that God won’t redeem. There is no jail that God won’t visit.
Just ask my friend in the pink jumpsuit.
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. ~ Saint Paul