After 34 years as a chaplain with Institutional Ministries, it can be tempting to think I’ve seen it all and done it all. But no. God has an endless bag of surprises, and he loves to pull new stuff out.
I started facilitating a class of prison inmates a few months ago that are a little different from what I’ve gotten used to: they’re not all in my group voluntarily. Several of them have been caught with drugs while in prison, and now they’re under orders to take part in a recovery group.
The guys who have come to my groups over the years are usually aware of their problem already and want to find out more about how the God of grace can free them from the tyranny of addiction. But now I’m working with some guys who aren’t convinced A) that they have a problem; and B) that the God revealed in the Bible has the help they need. So, I’ve encountered a little attitude. (It almost takes me back to my time in parish ministry, teaching catechism to sullen adolescents who were dragged there by their parents.)
So, it’s a challenge. And challenges are good, or at least they can be when you turn them over to God — “Lord, YOU have a challenge here. How do YOU want to handle it?”
I’ve been seeing some amazing things happen. I’m watching guys suddenly perk up and start sharing experiences and insights that tie right in with the Bible truths I’m telling them. I’m seeing guys shift from bored and disconnected to interested and engaged. Best of all, I’m hearing them bring up their frustration and anger.
Currently I’m teaching them a course called God Is My Anger Manager. In times past, I’ve presented the material in this course to church groups, but I’ve never had the response I’m getting from these guys. It turns out that some of these guys have been living in a state of almost constant rage. They’re angry about growing up in poverty, they’re angry about the inconsistent ways that rules get enforced, they’re angry with the people they’re forced to live in close quarters with, and they’re sometimes angry with themselves. Now, all of a sudden, they have a chance to talk about it without being judged or shut down, and they are talking!
I don’t have too many solutions to offer them — a lot of the stuff they’re talking about is way beyond my experience. I can give them God’s promise that he will listen, love, forgive, and stay with them in whatever situation they’re in. I get to watch as God turns their rage into thoughtfulness, and their loneliness into community, and their hopelessness into trust. I come away exhausted every time but excited for the next encounter. I’m loving this challenge, and I believe God enjoys getting challenged, too.