One tiny ray of light. That's all. A little window too far above your own head for you to even look out - that's where it came from. Concrete walls all around, cold stone for your bed every night. This is what a prison feels like.
For the first time in my life, I stood inside such a place and took in the surroundings. Here, at the famous Ft. McHenry - site of the penning of our national anthem - I looked around and imagined those who had been held captive here over the fort's history. Prisons break down the mind and also the spirit. Prisons make you despair. They hold you in and make you lose hope. You start to think that you'll never be free. And the darkness runs deep. You forget what the outside world is like. You forget to live...because you simply feel like giving up. Dying.
But then, my mind began to think of the many prisoners throughout history who called such a place their home for the simple reason of calling themselves followers of Jesus. They wrote epic letters and books of inspiration and hope from cells much like this one. John Bunyan penned the immortal Pilgrim's Progress while imprisoned...simply for being a pastor and teaching others how to follow God. Thomas Case wrote his Treatise on Afflictions while enduring cold nights in a forsaken cell in the Tower of London. Even the Apostle Paul wrote much of the New Testament from prison, giving us amazing letters of theological depth and insight into the character and mind of God.
I asked myself, how did these men not go crazy under such conditions as this? After all, they were human beings too. They had to have moments of depression and hopelessness. But they somehow made the choice to turn their worst moments into something beautiful for God. They decided to change the world...from a prison cell.
Then it struck me: a physical imprisonment is one thing. You can hold a person's body captive, yet their mind can run free and unbound. An imprisonment of the soul, however, is another thing altogether. There are many who walk around as free people physically but their heart is just as bound as those who sit behind stone walls of this sort. And it is just as true that those who may sit behind iron bars for the sake of doing God's will may continue to live a fulfilling life simply because they made the choice to turn their situation into an opportunity.
Just because your current circumstances are not ideal doesn't mean that your soul cannot sing. The heart can still praise...even in the darkest hours of life. I've never been physically to prison before, but I've spent many a dark hour locked in a cell of the soul, staring at that one little ray of light and wondering if I would ever be free. I've learned though that living in grace doesn't exclude you from moments such as these. Suffering will beset the path of any person striving to believe, to love fully, to hope. But it's how you choose to put those things into action when circumstances go against you that determines who you become. This is where faith can prove greater than fear. This is where God can use one willing person to change the world - even as they wait through the darkest night of their soul.