Trapped in a Life on Fire! (and still playing with matches)

by Steven Gledhill for FREEdom for MEdom Project

There are many among us not fully comprehending their need of God. There may be days when you or I do not fully realize our need for God. The following message was given to me for those that struggle with this idea that to be rescued one must let go in surrender to the One big enough to carry us through the struggle.

I work in a secular setting in a prison full of men whose lives have been charred and ruined by the mess that has burned down their lives. Many of these men struggle with the concept of surrendering their lives to a God they cannot see. They’ll say it’s like trying to convince them that Santa Claus is real. And talking about it can be considered religious and so they have dismissed me altogether when I “go there.” I ask them to consider how they might feel about Santa Claus if he landed on their roof.

Many of you have family and friends in such a place when it comes to matters of unhealthy behavior and attitudes tearing down the fabric of their lives. As soon as you mention God, they resist or reject your message to them. For those of you reaching out to resistant family members and friends, and for those of you who perhaps yourselves are resistant to any “God talk”, the following is for you.

I Like to Play

I admit that I like to play with matches… playing with fire, if you will. It’s something I started doing as a youngster and for whatever reason I am still into it. I get gratification from the spark that comes with rubbing the tip of the match against the flint on the box and watching it light up. Flicking and throwing matches is pleasure for me. When I am in a dark place, the glow of the flame casts light into the darkness, affording me a sense of release and relief. You might say I have become hooked on the feeling that comes with playing with matches.

“Where do I play with matches?” you ask. In my house, of course. If you allow me to, I will play with them in your house, too. A flame is a real thing for me. It settles my nerves. It eases my discomfort. I like to believe that my house is built to be able to play with matches and that I can control the damage with minimal harm; you know, tolerable consequences.

From time to time a match lands against something flammable and produces a little fire. When the little fires get together to form bigger fires it can become a problem. I never intend to start fires in my house. I don’t particularly care for all of the smoke. I don’t really connect lighting matches with starting fires. When that happens, I just go to another room in the house so I can forget about the room that’s on fire. I am a little bit concerned that playing with matches can lead to problems from time to time and I understand the need to exercise some caution.

The room I am in now is safe. I really need to light these matches. I always have a box of matches with me. Matches are important to me. They’ve become necessary. I just need to be more careful. So, here I go. I am playing with my matches… lighting them… flicking them. I am starting to feel something when the match comes in contact with something and causes it to burn. The fires I am causing are getting bigger until the entire room is on fire again. This ritualistic pattern continues from room to room until I am running out of rooms in the house to light matches in. The whole house is burning. The flames are out of control. The smoke is so thick that I can’t see anything. There was always one room I refused to light matches in. It is where I kept my most treasured possessions.

I think I might be trapped.  I think I might be in trouble. I can’t seem to find my way out.

I should tell you that there are some who live in my house with me, but the fact that I am so often playing with fire drives them away. What choice do they have? They get too close… too involved… and they tend to get burned. It’s a burden too much and too heavy for even my closest family and friends to bear. They have tried to pour water on the flames in my house. But when the fire is raging out of control like it is, throwing buckets of water on it, or hitting it with a garden hose… it’s not even close to realistic that there’s a chance they can put this fire out. Like I said, it’s too much. I know the people I love that are important to me hurt terribly and are desperate for me to come to my senses and give up setting fires.

I am trapped in a house on fire… thick flames and smoke is all around me… everything is on fire. I am about to be on fire. I have been burned by the immense heat and struggle to breathe. I admit I am powerless to the fire, but there is nowhere to go. I am on the floor breathing my last breaths as smoke and flames engulf and overtake me. There are those that live near my house that must see that it’s on fire.

I finally shout out, “Someone, help me! I am trapped in this house!” I even call out to God, “God, help me! Send someone!”

Then suddenly it happens. Someone is lifting me to my feet. It’s the fireman! He is equipped to not get burned. He wraps me in his coat, puts an oxygen mask over my face and says, “Let’s go… come with me!” There is no doubt in my mind that I am not better off without the fireman. I believe, or at least hope enough, that the fireman can and will rescue me if I give up and go with him. I suppose I could look back or try to hold on to some things in the house; maybe grab onto some things I can carry with me. Then the fireman says, “Let go… it’s too heavy… and besides, it’s all on fire!” I insisted that I first go to the room where I kept my treasured things. He shook his head from side to side and said, “Steven, it too is in flames! They are everywhere!” That broke me. I decided that the fireman is right and I let go and did what he said to do, and go where he said to go.

070829-N-4965F-015You see, the house is my life and the fire is my mess; my selfish sense of entitlement that leads me to believe that it is my right to play with matches if I want and feel I need to. The fireman is my higher power that saved me from my mess. I look back at my life and it’s smoldering. It’s in ruins. From the place I am in now, having been rescued from the flames, I see that I have been burned by the fire. Burned bad… I hurt. I am in severe pain. I can barely move.

I look back at the fireman and he is different. He is a doctor. The doctor helps me to heal. I look at myself and see that I am much better. I look back at him and he is a construction worker… a builder… a carpenter. He is wearing a tool belt and hard hat. He also has a tool belt and hard hat for me, and says to me lovingly, “Let’s go… we have work to do.” He is committed, and he wants to know if I am committed to working on rebuilding the house that is my life. Once I surrender to the process of putting my life back together with the tools from the builder, He commits to working with me to do the work to rebuild my life until it is working better than ever.

Every day, as I surrender to my higher power in recovery, compelled by loving kindness, my Higher Power is committed to me and the work of rebuilding the house that is my life… it was a cottage; but I have seen the blue print… my life’s not a cottage according to these plans… it’s a castle!

Once I have moved into the new house that is my new life I am motivated to live in a way that is consistent with my new life. But much to my surprise… and my disappointment, I still have a familiar problem. From time to time I will have a lapse and set fires in my new house. I still want to play with matches. I am so tempted. The urge is powerful. Sometimes, I feel I am obsessed with getting the feeling back that had me hooked. I give in. It isn’t something I want to do in my new house, but then I will do the thing I don’t want to do… not really, anyway. It’s like there is something powerful in me waging war with what I want for my life in my new house. The feeling of being controlled by this desire to light matches is wretched… miserable.

But something wonderful is different about my new life. I have invited and welcomed into my house the fireman, the doctor, and the carpenter. This power is greater than my weakness and does not condemn me for being weak. This higher power is actually one person but wears all these hats and is equipped to put out fires, treat my wounds, and restore the places in my house that get burned from time to time. He affords me the inner strength and fortitude to deny the power of what feels like insatiable desire. He favors me with the boldness to surrender because now I trust him completely.

My higher power is also a teacher helping me to learn about my character flaws and teaching me how to live. He is a trainer helping me to get in shape with a healthy diet of what I allow into my thoughts. He is an advocate when I need representation when confronted by my conscience.  He is a counselor when I need someone to listen to me and affords me the wisdom to discern when I am wrong and with counsel to help work out my problems. He helps me to let go of resentments that can produce really bad fires. He is the judge that reminds me that the price has been paid for my mistakes; declaring me innocent of wrong doing. He is the social worker who has shown me the needs of others; that it is not only about receiving grace but extending favor to others in need of it. He is all that and so much more when I let go and am willing to surrender.

What about when I do fail against my sensibilities and give into my urge to light up and resist the conviction of the fireman?

Faith of a Child

As a grown up in denial when it comes to admitting my need for help, I often continue lighting fires oblivious to the horrific harm they present to my life. How is it possible that I can become so numb to tragic pain, even the horror to myself and my loved ones trapped in the house, that I continue to play with fire as I am about to be consumed by it? I suppose I have refused to acknowledge the existence of the problem.

If I continually warned my child that touching a hot stove would prove painful, when is it mostly likely that my child gets the message? It’s not until they actually suffer the alarming pain of touching the stove.

So why is it such a thing to wait until we as adults are consumed by our mess before we call on the fireman?

Parents teach their children by a certain age to recognize an emergency and then show them how to dial 9-1-1 on the telephone. They might even call an emergency service and ask for assistance to train their kids. We have heard stories of children becoming heroes having dialed emergency services to rescue mom or dad. Even children will acknowledge when people need help and there is only one option: 9-1-1. The child is not resistant. The child does not asks questions about whether or not the fireman can help. The child calls believing that help is required and will indeed come.

It’s usually said that the 3rd step is the hardest of the 12 steps. The illustration of the fireman as the rescuer from a life on fire suggests that the 3rd step is the easiest of the steps. What is so difficult is that I don’t pay enough attention to the problems caused by and made worse by playing with matches; or worse, I see fires burning all over the house but don’t act to put them out until the fires become one massive fire raging out of control and I am powerless and desperately in need of help. When the help comes when I am desperate enough, surrender makes the most sense; it comes easy as if I have no other choice. The issue is that I might not realize my need until it’s too late and I am consumed by the fire.

At the prison where I counsel men who have been in flames, this is the story I tell to explain to them, in a most sensible fashion, how the first three of the twelve steps work. I am limited ethically and procedurally how I speak of something so spiritual. Procedurally, I cannot cross the boundary of spirituality into what may be perceived as religious territory in what may be considered proselytizing. Ethically, I cannot impose my (spiritual) values onto my clients. So I speak in code using allegory; parables perhaps. I am able to communicate profound spiritually transformative truth without saying even the word ‘God’. The men get it. The ones who do not necessarily believe tend not to be offended.

The Gospel of recovery God’s way is communicated clearly as the Spirit of God delivers the message into the hearts and minds of these men in desperate need. How about you? Did you get it? Or, is there someone you know that would benefit from this message of recovery presented in a way that is profoundly relevant and applicable no matter their spiritual/religious points of view?

Consider this from the Bible…

I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it. I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Romans 7:18-24 (NLT)

Addicted to sin… a slave to sin, according to the fireman (John 8:34), I am the arsonist. To continue to trust myself to on my own overcome addiction is to put my faith in the arsonist instead of the fireman. How insane is that?

Don’t ever wait too long to call on the fireman. Call on him, today.

So… imagine your life is a house and your addiction (ultimately to self) is the fire burning it down. Everything inside your life is on fire. Only Jesus Christ can restore your life into something whole again.


How quickly can it all burn to the ground? By the end, it’s all on fire.

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