I did some time in Juvenile Hall and Prison.
Prior to my time in these ‘penitentiaries’, I had spent thousands of hours engaging in personal and academic study, mentoring relationships, spiritual direction, deep and quality friendships in Christian communities, pastoral counseling, service to others, various discipleship efforts, my own therapy, reading quality books, and more. I was no stranger to the journey of the heart, examining my own heart before God and safe others.
Although I had not committed crimes that had sent me to these facilities, I still did some time! I volunteered! I was working as a psychologist assistant en route to earning my doctorate in clinical psychology.
Allow me to share some musings I learned along the way. Not what I learned about juveniles and patients struggling with mental illness, substance abuse, and various forms of involvement with the legal system, but about a few of the dynamics that either help, or hinder, human growth and development, and what we can do to be mindful of them. To be sure, these dynamics are truly human, and can be found in the board room, and the living room – on wall street and main street – in the big house, and in your house.
First and foremost, I discovered that everyone has a racket! Everyone!
Here I am not talking about the device one uses when playing tennis or some such racket sport. Nor am I talking about the loud noises that children and politicians produce prompting many adults to say, “What is that racket,” or “Turn down that racket.”
Rather here I am ‘stealing’ the term ‘racket’ from those who consciously and intentionally do illegal things to use and exploit others, and using the term ‘racket’ to refer to those schemes and strategies that common folks, people like you and I, use. Yes, we commoners also use, whether consciously or unconsciously, various strategies to block our personal and or professional growth and development.
Criminally minded folks employ their ‘illegal’ rackets on purpose, and for their own advancement and financial gain. If you wake up in the morning plotting the deception and exploitation of others, you may need a more industrial strength newsletter. And that can be arranged!:)
But in the brief comments that follow, I am less speaking about the criminal, and more about the commoner, you and I, who knowingly or unknowingly use various ‘legal’ schemes and strategies to block our own human growth and development, whether in families, or other important institutions.
That sounds so dastardly as I write it! But such is the human condition, and hence the radical remedy for our rebel hearts.
In a 5 minute fictional YouTube therapy session, Bob Newhart says to a therapy client, “Just Stop IT.” The video is funny because it is so simplistic. Yet in cases where we are consciously blocking ourselves or others from human flourishing, maybe some amount of Newhart’s wisdom would be applicable. Maybe ‘some time’ in less severe penitentiaries, like the pew, prayer closet or friendship confessional, would provide opportunity to repent and turn from our intentional “wicked ways.”
But in many cases, people remain unaware of what they are to repent of, or turn away from. That is because sometimes we are not aware of our own ‘racket.’
Scripture, one of the first substantive sources to speak of self-deception, states that sometimes “the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing.” Hebrew Kings David and Solomon, Jesus, and the Apostle Paul, have much to say about the commoner’s racket.
Ironically, and in contrast to Bob Newhart’s advice to “Just Stop It”, the closing of the Old Testament basically says that we need a New Heart. Human beings can’t just “Stop It”, because both the operator of the human heart, and the equipment contained in our hearts, are in a state of radical disrepair.
The Good News is that though there are parts of the human heart that remain opaque, and that evade human analysis, God has not left us alone. Even while we were yet sinners, dare I say criminals, Christ died for us.
For God has given us a new core, a new affection, a new Heart for Him down in the very deep of our hearts, that by God’s grace, is now identified as being a Child of God.
Second, He has made accessible wise counselors, pastors, therapists, friends, and colleagues who ‘can’ journey with us, and we with them, as we all learn about our racket, and in turn aid one another in turning from our own racketeering.
Research and human wisdom suggest that the more familiar you are with your own racket, the more helpful you can be to others in discovering theirs. Or as someone once said, “It takes a thief to catch a thief.”
Conversely, the more undiscovered, unexplored, and unprocessed our own issues are, the more likely that we will either: (1.) plateau in our own development, (i.e. get stuck); (2) misunderstand other’s issues, or our contribution to others’ issues (i.e. blame); and or (3.), mistake others’ issues for our own (i.e. project onto). All of these scenarios are common to those who either don’t embark upon, or who don’t continue far enough along on the arduous journey of total heart transformation.
How do we guard against getting stuck, blaming, and or projecting our stuff onto others, and thus limiting the good things God can do in and through us?
In a word, we need to continue on the journey of the heart and explore ‘deeper still’ before God, safe others, and face ourselves. Receive the good Gifts made available to us through Christ! Then dig deeper into those gifts, and into your human heart where they are to reside! Put off the old commoner habits, and put on the new ways. Discover the deeper dynamics of your racket, your heart habits of hiding and covering up from God and safe others. Consider how you contribute to others’ racket, and how you may co-create some commoner criminality. Be more honest and vulnerable with a select few who also know of their own racket (i.e. schemes and habits that block growth in self and others)!
This may take some time. So, do your time! Find friends with whom you can discover what you need to stop, and practice purging the old habits and rackets of heart. Let God work His healing and transformation in you, so He can then use you to set others free. “It takes a thief to catch a thief!”