Breaking Every Chain

Our team is back in Ontario until the end of our ministry. To get to the end, we have returned to our beginnings, so to speak. Recently, we did a short afternoon of prison ministry, and my experience was incredible.

Walking in, I was nervous, for pretty obvious reasons. Besides this being our first time as a team doing any sort of ministry to full-grown adults, much less to those in prison, it's not exactly as though a penitentiary is known territory for me. After the security check, we walked into the chapel with nothing except the clothes on our backs, our lunches, and a singular Bible. Kind of like how these men have nothing, I thought.

Mike on our team gave the talk, and it was a very appropriate one, entitled The Greater Mercy. I had been praying about mercy and forgiveness that very morning, and had realized that I am very unforgiving, mainly of myself. You see, the world, our experiences, our selves, and the Devil will tell us, all of us, lies. The lies we choose to believe become our anthem without us ever realizing it, and before we know it, we take vows of how we will live according to these lies.

For example, a lie that I have heard is, "You only let people down," and the unwitting vow I had taken because of that was, "I will not disappoint." And so I have become hard and unforgiving of myself, mostly because I expect little more from anyone else.

But that sort of vow-taking becomes like a chain that we bind ourselves with. How is God to break our hearts of stone if we have locked them away from Him? There is no 'spiritual S.W.A.T. team' that will force our hearts into the vulnerable open. Yes, only He can release us from the chains we bind ourselves with, but only we can give Him the key.

I had been bound by these chains without ever realizing it until I went to a NET retreat when I was in grade 12. During the women's session, the female NET team members told all of us women on retreat that we were loved by a God Whose love is so unconditional that there is nothing we could do to make Him love us any less, and there is nothing we could do to make Him love us any more than He does right now. I was so moved by this truth, and during the prayer time I can firmly say that I felt God saying that He loved me, that my desire to please God did not disappoint Him. I was enough for God, and in this realization, my chains were severed. Through the grace of that 'small conversion', I have been able to go on NET and bring that love to others, and that brought me to bring that grace to these men in the prison, some of whom were not just prisoners in the literal sense, but prisoners of their hearts as well.

After our retreat there, I approached an inmate who was standing aloof by himself. I introduced myself, he did the same, and we began talking. Eventually, conversation led to me asking the question, "So, what is your faith background?" to which he replied with an explanation of his upbringing torn between a Muslim father and a Hindi mother, until his parents separated. His only religion now is love, he told me, insisting that institutionalized religion was simply not for him.

I explained to him then that the religion I profess had been like that for me growing up as well: not necessarily an evil or a huge turn-off, but simply a list of boxes to tick off to be a good person. Something to do so I would not disappoint. Then I explained that I had experienced God's unconditional love, how I was able to draw so much closer to this God Who loves me through the Eucharist, and how I am trying to form a relationship out of a religion.

This man was speechless.

He seemed to consider my words for some time, then nodded and replied, "I guess you're right." And he did not argue my point, or even try to brush it off as 'okay for you, but not for me'. In fact, I ended up giving him a meditation book on the daily readings of the Mass, which he accepted with a smile.

I expect with the wounds he has against religion that the journey to healing, to breaking the chains and the false vows, and to accepting God's greater mercy, will be a long one indeed. But that is the thing about these journeys; though they are long and arduous, they are always worth it. The cost of picking up your cross and following God is incomparable with the reward of being with God forever, because He loves you so much and an eternity without you is unbearable to Him. And you are worth it to God, which is why He laid His life down on that Cross for you. So I encourage you to find your vows, identify your chains, and give them to God so He can break them, and release you into His love.

The joyful truth is that we were not made to be prisoners of our own souls or of any lies or false vows, so it is high time we give ourselves freedom. It is time to break every chain.


Samantha Wigglesworth

Encounter 2