Wednesday night I walked into a place that I never intended to be.  I was immediately asked to hand over my driver’s license, leave all my personal belongings behind, and remove any jewelry.  I was given a clip-on badge — no name, but simply a number became my identity.  I followed other women through a metal detector which immediately beeped my infraction of the rules already — I had forgotten to take off my bracelet.  The uniformed guard waved me through and I continued to follow the leader.  She led us through a series of doors.  One door slid open, and as we walked toward the next door the one behind us slid shut with a loud click as the locks latched.  There were no windows.  When the leader turned to us and said, “I hope you don’t get claustrophobic,” I realized we were in the basement of this large cement building.  We finally reached a place in the hallway where the leader pushed a button that released a drawer.  She placed a metal identification chip into the drawer.  It closed and then opened, producing a key.  She took the key out of the drawer and explained, “This will let us into the room.”  There were locked, closed doors everywhere.  The circulated air seemed to whisper, “You can’t get out.  You are locked in.”

I was in jail.

I had volunteered to participate in an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting in the Douglas County jail.  I didn’t know what to expect and I was immediately overwhelmed with the realities of confinement.  As the nine women who wanted to participate in the meeting filed into our quickly re-locked room, I noted the apparel of captivity.  Everyone wore what looked like scrubs — only these clothes quickly identified the owner’s residence — Department of Corrections.  Most women wore orange, which I learned represented that they were in minimum security.  One woman wore navy blue.  She was a trustee.  She had been incarcerated for eleven months. They all wore flip-flops — no nail polish, jewelry, or makeup.  I didn’t know as we began the meeting that these women — so obviously out of control of their own lives — were about to remind me of the truth about surrender.

We began our meeting and started to talk about the 3rd Step of Alcoholics Anonymous:  “We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God.”  Several women talked about their experience with surrender.  One woman who had just arrived with a sentence of one year’s imprisonment talked about her difficulty with this step: “I just can’t surrender.  I need to be in control.” 

I didn’t have to think too long about the irony of this woman’s confession given her current living situation to see my own illusion of control.  I have surrendered to alcohol, prescription drugs, working, achieving, people-pleasing, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream — only to end up in bondage to choices and behaviors that haven’t taken the pain away and have certainly not given me freedom.  While sitting in the suffocating control of the Department of Corrections, it made sense to surrender to the care of God.  It wasn’t difficult to imagine — sitting there — that He could do a better job of caring for my life than I could.

As I stepped out of the Douglas County jail — grateful to be holding my purse, looking at the mountains, and breathing fresh air — I renewed my desire to surrender to Someone outside of myself.  Surrendered pain, boredom, loneliness, rejection, confusion — that’s Hope.  Our capacity to surrender becomes our capacity to Hope. 

I am learning that Freedom happens when we surrender — heart and soul — to the reckless, raging, uncontrollable, untamable Love of God.  Freedom is experienced not on the basis of where we are or how we perform but upon our knowing that we are loved by what G. K. Chesterton calls “the furious love of God.”  We are available to live freely when we come to believe by sheer grace that God loves us “furiously regardless of my state — grace or disgrace” (Brennan Manning, 2009).  Surrender to the furious love of God unlocks the bondage of self and leads us Home.

My hope for the women I have been privileged to meet at the Douglas County jail and for myself is not found in mustering up an iron will or announcing a plan of action.  As Jean Vanier wrote, “It is not reserved for those who are well-known mystics or for those who do wonderful things for the poor . . . It is for those poor enough to welcome Jesus.  It is for people living ordinary lives and who feel lonely.  It is for all those who are old, institutionalized or out of work, who open their hearts in trust to Jesus and cry out for his healing love.”  The Love of Jesus unlocks us.  May we not be afraid of this furious Love, but allow it to take us out in order to take us in.