A convict with a rough background
Most people, I believe, have a rough background, or at least a period of time when things were not optimal for healthy growth. For some, it can be a lifetime of living with their chaotic past, which can actually be generational. That is, passed on from one generation to the next. For others, it can be from being in a home that is temporary, like many foster homes. While there are most likely many foster parents, perhaps the majority, that can give a loving environment for their charges, there are also those who are abusive and use their position for domination over those they are supposed to take care of.
One of the prisoners I am writing in his last letter was very frank about his past. Now in sharing his past with me, there could be more than one reason for him writing to me. No matter the reason, it did happen to him, and it lends to me understanding him a bit more.
He lived with a series of foster mothers who sexually abused him, in ways that I will not go into. Let us say, it was bad. No doubt, it has left a deep mark on his psyche. He has been in and out of jail all of his life, mostly small-time crimes but this has led to him being in prison for about half of his lifetime.
There are so many people who have deep wounds that have a tight hold over them. I know from experience that I can see as I age how much my past can cloud my ways of perceiving reality. Both my inner reality as well as how I relate the ‘so-called’ outside world. So my own past is many ways dictates my spiritual path in life.
I do know that I can either allow my past to control me, or I can seek to understand what happened to me, and how I can lift the chains from my past that seek to keep me snug in their embrace. Anger, fear, and anxiety is the cocktail that I deal with, as well as most of us I believe.
This prisoner, I will call Alan, wants to be free of his inability to control his impulses, which land him in jail over and over again. I was stymied on how I could possibly write to him about this. I do believe he shared because he wanted me to understand him better, and in that he was successful. Yet, I also believe he wants to use that to find ways to manipulate me into ‘taking care’ of him when needed. So how to respond? Below is something that I said to him, in my letter:
Quote: It was good hearing from you, my friend. Your letter was a sad one, and I am very sorry that you had to go through what you did. Unfortunately, this is all too common, and each human being is unique in how they experience what you did, as well as the effect it has on their lives.
Sexual abuse is very common, too common and a scourge on our race. The harm is passed on from generation to generation, and it grows, the harm done, if people do not seek to break this cycle of evil, sin, and human degradation. I hope that you are finding healing from the wounds the past has placed on you.-Unquote.
Alan, himself, can be abusive to others and tends to be nice to those he is trying to get something, mostly money. So I have learned to make sure that I have good boundaries. It is his way of surviving, but he is learning that it is not working. He is tired of the revolving door of going in and out of prison.
I have found that people like Alan, are not evil, but stuck in a self-destructive cycle that only has a bad ending.
We each have a story, many are tragic. Then there are a good number who have had a stable family life, but there were also many instances of ‘hurt’, which leave lasting scars. However I do not think that using the past as an excuse for one’s actions, is one of the roads that we need to not travel down. Insight does not give the ultimate answer but allows room for movement to slowly overtime to not allow the past to dictate to us.
So, in my monastic life, I have found that the only way that I can grow in faith, as well as in love for others, is to understand how I can be controlled by anger, fear, and anxiety. For instance, my anger flows from a fear that life around me, my community is breaking down. So anger is a way for me to try to deal with it. It leads nowhere. However, if I ask myself, when in anger, and fear of my world falling apart: “What am I so anxious about (?)”, it helps me to put my anger in perspective. It allows me to understand that my life is not falling apart, and I do not have the power, nor the ability, to control my environment according to the two-year-old in me who is having an anxiety attack. It took me 50 years to begin to understand that. It helps, though it does not give me a magic key in dealing with my own struggle to live a life that is balanced, prayerful, and open to the Spirit. Understanding this little about myself can help me to understand Alan a bit more, and perhaps be open to him, without allowing myself to being manipulated, or to falling into anger towards him. Once I understand my own struggles, it can make me more patient with others…….however good boundaries always need to be worked on.
As a Christian, I will have to deal with my own struggles, and Christ Jesus will be central to that. Alan has a Christian background, so I felt comfortable using Christian terms in helping him root himself in a life that will bring him healing and even some happiness. Below is something that I also wrote to him, based of course, on my own journey.
Quote: Each human being is loved by God in a unique way, and pursued by God as well. God is pursuing you, and he will use life’s injustices to draw you near. Not because he wants us to be treated badly, or used in ways that are destructive, but because he can in his love and grace, if our hearts are open, to bring good out of the evil we have suffered. This is something beyond my understanding. God’s love is Infinite, so only He can untie the knots that have been placed upon us, or call them chains if that makes better sense.
Jesus suffered with you and is suffering with you now, that is what his life, death, and resurrection are all about. God with us, is a true statement that is used in scripture. He dwells in your heart and has never left you. So begin today, deal with your past, and forgive if you can, if you can’t, pray that you can one day. Pray for those who hurt you, and seek healing for them as well. I know this might be hard for you, or maybe not. If it is hard, it is important to pray anyway for those who have harmed you. When you say the ‘Our Father’, when you come to the verse “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”, bring to mind all those who hurt you. The ‘Our Father’ is a prayer of healing and deliverance, so pray it slowly, being mindful that when you pray the ‘Our Father’, you are praying for all, every man, woman, and child. Christ Jesus prays in you, and with you, never forget that. As a Christian you are a priest, you belong to the Body of Christ and are asked to allow the Mind-Of-Christ to grow in you, or the Heart-Of-Christ if that makes more sense.
I hope that you can find a place to live Alan. However, again, if there is any hope of being able to come here that remains with you (there may not be), drop it. This would be the worse place for you. You need to have others around you who can support you. We are too isolated and removed from society, and there is nothing here to do. We run a retreat house. So please when you get out, do not ask to come here until you have been out for a while, and have deepened your ability to sit, pray, and be by yourself.
Remember, that your past can have a hold on you, and so be careful of how you treat others. If you have the courage, which would indeed take a lot of courage, ask your friends when you get out of prison, how you hurt them in any way, and be open to what they say. We often treat others in an unconscious manner, but that can still be harmful to both you and to them.
Cycles can only be broken by growing in the ability to accept aspects of yourself that may not be pleasant, but necessary for you to hear. It is something we all need. This ability to accept the truth about ourselves is called humility. This goes for what we need to face in ourselves, but also the gifts that we have that the Lord wants us to share with others.
Life is a rough road for everyone. No one is exempt. That is why the world is so messed up. We carry our wounds, and the pain leads us to cause pain on others. It is only by allowing the love of God into our hearts and letting it grow, that we can find healing, as well as to grow in compassion, and empathy, for those who hurt us. Pray each day to grow in relationship with Christ Jesus.
One aspect of our existence that is often forgotten is that we are pilgrims, on a journey, and our choices, and desires are important. What do we desire, what do we love, how do we treat others, how do we deal with our prejudices, and at times perhaps, bigotry? We are here for a short time Alan, none of us knows how long we have left in our lives, we all die, and we are here for one reason only…..to grow in Love. It is the love in our hearts that we take with us, all else has to be burned away. So understand that you are in the latter half of your journey. Seek to make that journey one that is leading you to a deeper love of God and others. How do you do that? Pray for it, and seek to live it……whatever you do, ask yourselves, what is the most loving thing to do at this time? Pray to the Holy Spirit to help you to grow.
I know this is a painful time for you but is also a time that the Lord allows to lead you into deeper wisdom.—Unquote
We each have our journey, our struggles, our failures, and our triumphs, this commonality can help us to listen and to see each other on a deeper level, and to stop doing what Jesus so asked us not to do, that is to judge others on the level of their soul, or on their worth.
It is a paradox, I can’t save anyone, nor change others, but I can learn to see deeply into the heart of those I come in contact with. It does not mean that I become a doormat, for that is compulsion, and helps no one. To speak the truth in gentleness and love is what we are called to do…..not scold, or threatened—Br-MD