I want to share with you an email response I received this morning from Mimi Dixon, my dear friend and a board member with Renovaré. Some of you have come to know her through Renovaré podcasts.

I recently shared with Mimi a letter from a friend of mine on death row. My pal’s life has been dramatically changed by a grace-filled encounter with Jesus. In his letter he wrote, Too blessed to be stressed.” He wrote these words to me after close to forty years of confinement. There is little chance that in this life he will ever see much more of the outside world than what he can glimpse through the narrow window of his cell. The possibility of execution remains. 

Mimi commented she once heard Trevor Hudson say that every Christian leader should spend time in prison.” Trevor referred to Paul and Nelson Mandela as prime examples of what can be learned in the crucible of imprisonment. Both Mimi and Trevor pointed to obedience and submission” as the fruit of confinement for those who choose to trust Jesus in this harsh learning space. 

I think of Joseph, confined to imprisonment in Egypt, day after day unjustly robbed of his freedom, for years condemned to an Egyptian dungeon on false charges. What did Joseph think as each day passed? He loved God deeply, had sought to serve him well, and the very God he trusted was allowing him to remain in a hell-hole. 

Joseph was forgotten by his brothers, Pharaoh’s cup-bearer, everyone. He seemed to have disappeared from the face of the earth. The only one who remembered Joseph’s imprisonment was God. And God was allowing it to continue! Days and nights passed. Months passed. Years passed. 

I think, too, of my dying mother. Just last week I flew down to Virginia for one last visit. I wanted to say good-bye. Mom smiled as I entered her room. I sat next to her and held her hand; it was warm, dry, withered. Her nurse checked on her while I was there. Mom introduced me as her brother. 

Her dementia is increasing. There she lies in her bed, for some months now, barely aware of where she is. Yet occasionally, in moments of graced clarity, she whispers, The Lord is drawing near. Soon it will be time to go.” Her eyes were closed for most of the time I was with her. When I rose to go, though, she opened them, tapped her heart, and waved good-bye. 

Paul, Mandela, Joseph, my mom — all entered a learning space they would rather have left unoccupied. What did they learn in that space that they might not have learned elsewhere? Mimi hit the nail on the head. Obedience and submission.” How hard these learning spaces can be! How demanding! God is prying open our hearts. Sometimes we fear they will break. 

The Lord says to all his image-bearers: I ask you to trust me. I have not forgotten where you are and what you are experiencing. I know you would rather be somewhere else. Here, too, in this learning space, I am present with you. My love is present with you. I will never forsake you. I could never do such a thing. I love you. As you obey and submit to what I have asked of you, you will grow more fully into the image of my Son. For I asked of him more than you will ever know. And he never said no” to my request.”