Broken Yoke Ministries, Inc
I Have Chosen You
by Bob Van Domelen
9 I have called you back from the ends of the earth and said that you must serve but me alone, for I have chosen you and will not throw you away. 10 Fear not, for I am with you. Do not be dismayed. I am your God. I will strengthen you; I will help you; I will uphold you with my victorious right hand. (Isaiah 41.9-10 TLB)
His name was Johnny and we served time together. I didn’t know him all that well but he is etched in my memory for two reasons. He participated in a pen pal program my hometown church offered and I taught him how to tie a tie.
He was walking one afternoon holding a letter in his hand when I came up on him. His hand shook as he handed me the unopened letter and asked “Would you open this and read it to me?” I was about to make some smart aleck remark but the look on his face told me to keep the remark to myself.
I opened the letter and read it to him. It was a “Hi, I was given your name to write” kind of letter, yet he was crying before I even finished reading it.
Johnny had been in prison for more than 20 years and according to him, he had never received a letter, never had a visit in all that time. It’s not hard to believe that the world had chosen to forget he existed. Johnny certainly believed that. Ignored more often than not by most of the other inmates, I think Johnny was a lonely man. Maybe it’s better to say he felt all alone and sometimes that’s harder to deal with.
Unlike Johnny, I was incredibly blessed during my time in confinement because my wife had made the decision to stay with me. But she had made it clear that I had work to do, changes to make. I received ‘News from Home’ letters regularly and she came for visits almost every week. And yes, I do thank God for her every day! By the way, this year we will have been married 50 years! Praise God!
I have called you back from the ends of the earth
Loneliness feels like being in a dark place where joy has no hope of survival, where calling out is met only with silence, and where one’s world feels like the end of the earth – a place where no one else wants to live.
To the Jewish people, their exile had taken them far from their homeland, the place God had given them and the place to which they were called to return. To an inmate, prison is a consequence of choices made that harmed society. At the conclusion of a sentence, many return home. Many start over. To someone on a state registry, reentry is more uncertain and for some not possible.
Over the years I have learned that God was not calling me back from a place. He was calling me back from that darkness in which I had lived for so long. He was calling me to the light of His presence, to a place where I knew choice, and to a belief in the man I was called and created to be.
you must serve but me alone
“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” (Matthew 6.24)
It took me a long time to realize and accept that I was addicted. Fantasy drove me to seek out pornography and pornography fueled my fantasies, fantasies that made victimizing others not only possible but desirable. As much as I believed I loved God, I loved my addiction more.
God’s word invited me to place my brokenness in his hands, a choice that I feared might break me. After all, what I believed was the real me certainly had no right to expect God would ever forget all I had done.
for I have chosen you and will not throw you away
There. That’s what I feared. That God would simply throw me away like a filthy rag. Over and over I had chosen to meet my dark desires and turned my back on the goodness that I knew was the love of Jesus, the presence of the Holy Spirit. And if truth be known, despite the image I presented to those who knew me, I felt alone and I hated the fact that I had created my own prison of guilt and shame.
I had to wonder, though. WHY? Why would the creator of everything continue to invite me out of my alone place given all I had done to create it? The only answer is that in choosing me (and you), God is saying “I love you!” That’s why.
Fear not, for I am with you
Stop and think about it. God’s word says “Fear not, for I am with you.” If God is with us, how can we be alone? Okay, I agree with those of you saying “But that’s not the same as having people who love you. I can see and touch people, but I can’t see and touch God. And because I can’t, I am still alone, still lonely.”
28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11.28-30)
These verses are the gentle invitation each of us is given by a loving Heavenly Father, an invitation to come out of our loneliness and brokenness and spend time surrendering all that weighs us down. They are also a reminder that true connection is not found first in others but deep within our own hearts. The presence of God makes possible the healthy connections we will make with others.
In the 60s, posters were a big thing. One which seemed very popular at the time was “Bloom where you are planted.” Another stated “If you aren’t happy where you are, you won’t be happy anywhere.” The thinking was simple and to the point: Your happiness, peace, and connections are what you make them because they start within you. They start within me.
If you are sitting in a cell of loneliness because it’s the only spot where you can physically exist, make that place healthy. Make that place holy by creating space for God within. He’ll be there because He wants to be with you.
Do not be dismayed. I am your God
It is hard to find hope in some environments – like in prisons and civil commitment facilities. Depressing would be a word to describe most places where men and women are contained while they serve court judgments. I would never suggest that such places can be a ray of sunshine each and every day. But when I find myself in an environment that is both dark and life-taking, I settle my mind and declare God’s presence. Sometimes what follows is like seeing a sliver of light at the end of a tunnel. But it is light. It is hope and healing. So I tell you, look for it. Move toward it.
I will strengthen you; I will help you; I will uphold you
Calling on God in moments of fear, panic, or loneliness is a good thing but even when I recognize God’s presence I also recognize that there is work to be done, changes to make, and goals to be set. To remove a weakness demands that it be replaced with a strength, an alternative. Deviant fantasies don’t just disappear because we tell them to go away. They disappear when the alternative choice, the healthier choice is more attractive or desirable than the fantasy.
God does strengthen, help, and uphold anyone who seeks to be whole, who decides temptations are a fact of life that can be overcome. In the beginning I felt it was God’s job to take away my struggles, but it wasn’t. It was my job. Unlike the past, however, I learned to reject the idea that on my own I could control these things because I couldn’t. Most important, I learned that God doesn’t stop loving me through my temptations. He never stops calling me and encouraging me. And the more I trust God, the less lonely I feel and the more connected I am with God’s people.
“And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28.20 ESV)
Such a promise! Such a declaration of love for each of us! So the next time you are feeling alone or lonely, still yourself and listen for the heart of God beating within. It’s there.