In my “House of Hope” blog entry last week, I commented about the introduction that developed over time in working with young men that are locked up for various offenses. They routinely had terrible family situations and, in particular, bad father relationships. This was huge to them and a point of connection when meeting them in that place. As the relationships developed from that point, there were a few other “rules” I followed in how I interacted with them.
I never asked them why they were in jail or what they had done. The simple reason was that the things that they had done to get them into this situation did not define who they were and I didn’t want to reinforce it as their identity. In other words, just because they had stolen, that doesn’t mean that they were ever designed to be a thief. They got off track from who they were designed to be largely because of the family and economic situations. They didn’t steal because they were blessed by God with gifting as a thief (in fact, they couldn’t have been too good at it since they were obviously caught), but it was a manifestation of junk inside of them leading to an act of rebellion, greed, laziness, desperation, etc.
One thing that is interesting is the skills that these young men did have and how those giftings were perverted to be applied in negative ways with negative consequences. Some of these boys were quite accomplished as drug dealers or gang leaders and while that is both illegal and wrong, there are some leadership, marketing, entrepreneurial and organizational skills that were evident in those endeavors. So they weren’t drug dealers or gang leaders by their Design, but they were quite possibly destined to be great business owners, salesmen or leaders once they had a vision of their capability and gifts. So instead of dwelling on what got them into prison; the gangs, stealing, drug dealing, etc., we would call out those gifts which were evident in them to help them see themselves for who they were actually were.
We would seek Knowledge and Wisdom to see beyond their behaviors and into their core identity; the person that was underneath all of the hurt and disappointment. Then, with the simple power of a positive Word, we would call it what it actually was instead of those things that had covered it up and perverted it. We would very directly compliment them on their strength, leadership, intellect, etc. How do you feel when you get a compliment? These guys liked it, too; they would literally change right in front of your eyes, pulling their shoulders back, looking up, smiling and even gaining clarity in their eyes and expressions (reflecting clarity in their vision of the future, I believe).
Most of us know when we mess up and don’t actually need much of a reminder from those around us that love us. We will face the consequences of our mistakes willingly or otherwise but a word of encouragement will help us move beyond that failure and into the Truth of who we really are much more than reminders of our failures. This is true for boys in prison, teenagers in the suburbs, middle-aged professionals, employees, church people and any other types of people who make mistakes but need to know that mistake does not define them.