Darkness. As my eyes flutter open, it’s all I see. I try to lick my lips, but they crack and split when I open my mouth. Though I can’t see the chains attached to my wrists, I can feel their strain. My shoulders are numb from my arms being held above my head for weeks. The outward pull of the iron shackles has rubbed my wrists raw, in some places, I’m sure, to the bone. Caused by both the constant pain and the putrid smells of this dungeon, my constant companion of nausea rears its ugly head as my body comes fully awake. I lean my head back against the heavy stone wall and stare upward into the blackness. Outside the birds start to sing; dawn will come soon in the outside world, but not here. Here it is always dark. As I sit in my cold, damp cell, I think again of the things that brought me here, as I do every day.
I lived in this prison once before, but I escaped. A man set me free. He told me he’d paid my debt, and I was free to go. For a while it was perfect. We spent every waking moment together. All I wanted to do was serve him and do whatever he wanted. But then I made a mistake. I tried to fix it, tried to make it up to him, but things just weren’t the same anymore. We didn’t have as much time with each other anymore, and I always felt like he was disappointed with me. I decided to leave for a day. Maybe if I took some time away we would be able to reconcile. But that only made things worse. Still, it seemed like the only way to escape the endless shame I felt in his presence, so I left even more.
One day I messed up, like I really messed up. I wanted to tell him, ask for his help, but I felt like he’d only give me that look that says, “Why can’t you get anything right anymore?” So I tried to fix it myself again, but I only exacerbated the issue. Before I knew it, I was back in this cell again, serving time for my mistakes. I’m afraid my relationship with the man who freed me last time is ruined; he’ll never come back to save me again. I’m not worth it.
A tear trickles down my cheek, followed by another. How had it come to this? Why had I forsaken the love I had before? Why couldn’t I have just done the things I knew I needed to? I’m so frustrated with myself. “I’m sorry!” I yell out, and the empty prison chambers echo the mournful call. But I know it’s too late. I know there’s no use in wishing for rescue. I’m stuck here forever, trapped by my own mistakes and problems. Even if I somehow escaped, I’d only come right back. My failures have overtaken me; there is no escape from them any more than there is this cell.
I see a light shining down the hallway, but no, I must be imagining it; there is only ever darkness here. I hang my head and close my eyes, blocking out the illusion. “My love!” I hear. I furrow my eyebrows. There are never any sounds here besides my own either. What was happening to me? Had my grief caused my mind to drift into madness? “My love, where are you?” The voice is familiar, but I dare not try to place it. I can’t handle any more memories tonight.
“Why won’t you answer me? I’m here to rescue you!” I open my eyes. The light is brighter now. What if it’s not a mirage? What if there is a chance that someone had come to save me? Part of me wants to dare to hope, but the other chunk says the pain of rejection isn’t worth believing. The battle wages on in my mind as I try to come to a decision. Eventually the hopeful piece wins out by a hair. I venture a small whisper, “Hello?” The light brightens even further, nearly blinding me. A man enters the hall, and I finally recognize the voice. It’s the same man who released me the last time. “No!” I cry. “Go away! I’m not worthy of your gifts, your love!”
The man stops at the door of my cell. “No,” he says, “you’re not.”
That’s it, he said it. I was right all along. He only came to rub it in my face. Maybe he found another person to love, one who won’t mess up, and he’s come to brag.
“But I’m here to free you anyway.”
The words stop me in my tracks. My brain freezes, unable to continue its line of thought. A question rises to my lips, “Why?” He pauses before he speaks again, and a look of pain is etched on his face. He’s disappointed in me again. I’ll never get it right.
“Because I love you. Don’t you understand that yet?”
Loves me. No, loved me. Before I messed up again, before I ruined what we had. There’s no way he can love me now. And there’s no way he’ll ever pay my debt again, not after what I did to him.
“You’re wrong,” he says simply, as if he can read my mind.
“You can’t pay my debt this time,” I say. “I won’t let you go through that again, not for me.”
“I don’t have to.”
What? Of course he had to. That is, if he really did want me to be free again.
“I paid for it all last time. I knew what you would do, and I covered that when I set you free the first time. You are the only person keeping you here.”
It’s at this moment that I realize for the first time that the door to my cell is open. Hadn’t it been shut before? It had been so dark, but it must have been closed. I shift my weight and remember my painful bonds. Those weren’t free. I glance up at my right hand. The shackle is open, but my wrist is slipped into it anyway.
“I don’t understand,” I say in disbelief. What is going on?
“You put yourself here,” he said.
Memories come flooding back. That day weeks ago when I had messed up so badly, I’d come back to the prison. I remembered the way well. There had been no jailer, and I had walked inside the cold dungeon. I found my cell, the place I’d spent so many long years. The door had been open, and the shackles still hung on the wall. I placed my wrists in the metal’s cold embrace and sat down. I’d deserved it. I needed to be punished for what I’d done. “There wasn’t a guard when I came back,” I said.
“Because your sentence is carried out. There is no need for punishment anymore,” he says.
My mind is reeling as the thoughts pour over me. “But how… why? I don’t understand.”
“I love you,” he says again, and this time it seems to have more meaning. “I would pay any price to have you.”
“How could you love me? I broke your heart, disappointed you, left you, you can’t love me.”
Now he walks inside my cell and bends down so he’s looking me in the eyes. “I’ll always love you. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done or will do. I will always come for you, no matter where you run or try to hide. I will never be disappointed in you; you are my precious one, my treasure.”
I want to believe it, want to trust that he really does still love me, will always love me, but I don’t know if I can. Is it worth the risk? I remember the look he gave me earlier when I asked why he would come back. He’d been disappointed then. I drop my chin and stare at the ground.
“Sometimes I hurt for you,” he says, reading my mind once more. “But that doesn’t mean I am disappointed. I know the pain you are caused when you stray from me, and I don’t want that for you. But you will never disappoint me. You are my delight.”
He lifts my chin with a tender hand and stares into my eyes. There is such love there, such compassion. My heart is overwhelmed by the sight. I know it’s all true. He loves me. He’s come to rescue me from my stupid self. He loves me! Tears start to flow, but they are no longer tears of sorrow; they are pure joy pouring from my eyes. My lips part in a wide smile, and the bleeding cracks are no longer there. He lifts me to my feet and gently pulls my arms from the chains.
“You are free,” he says, “don’t live as though you are not.” He wraps me in a hug and holds me until I believe in the depths of my being that this love is real and it will never end. As he releases me, he finds my hand and holds it tight. “Let’s go home,” he whispers in my ear. I lean my head upon his shoulder, and we walk out into the sunlight, leaving behind my prison bars.
This story was inspired by a poem I wrote two years ago and a message/book by John Lynch (the book is called The Cure). Here’s the poem.
My sin was once a cripp'ling weight
That kept me from your love.
This prison's shackles held me tight;
I had no will to run.
When darkest night seemed all there was
And sin, my master, pressed me down,
A light shone through my prison bars;
Your voice came calling down the halls.
"Why do you keep these chains that bind?
Life's pleasures are but fleeting things.
My gift has saved you from this cage,
My blood has crushed these bonds from Hell.”
Had I bound myself again?
Had my own hands reclasped these irons?
No longer will I stay confined;
Your grace has cut me loose again.
Now I am free to feel Your love.
My eyes are clear to see Your hand.
I've left my chains; they're crushed to dust.
Your name I'll praise forevermore.