Once or twice a year, I attend a Christian program organized for inmates of an African Prison. I have been doing this for upwards of 15 years and it always brings new perspectives about life.
Few weeks ago, I attended the 2018 edition of the program. We had about 500 inmates in the auditorium. While the worship session was going on and the inmates were dancing with joy, an elderly inmate, probably in his sixties, danced to the front of the auditorium and remained there, dancing with joy for the remainder of the worship session which lasted for about 45 mins.
The visitors were seated separately from the inmates, so I had the opportunity to clearly observe everything going on. As the gentleman danced gracefully in the glare of everyone present, the heartfelt smile on his face, for the duration of the worship session, was what caught my attention.
Let’s put this into context by making two points. One, this prison is like a ghetto. There was absolutely nothing to smile about in the environment; the odour of the area was nauseating. Two, I had no idea about the situation of this fellow; what brought him to this prison or the duration of his sentence. It could even be that he was leaving very soon; I had no idea.
You could tell that this gentleman was a good dancer; the happy smiley face he put on made the dance steps more admirable. He danced like someone who was living in a palace with lots to eat and no experience of captivity.
For few second, intermittently, I would turn my gaze on him and the heartfelt happiness never left his face for a moment. His happiness felt genuine like someone who is grateful for life; like someone who feel that being alive alone is worth more than anything in the world.
To be honest, this man’s dance “moves” and his cheerful face distracted me a bit. God forbid that I found myself in his shoes, I am not sure I can express that kind of happiness. It dawned on me, each person defines what gives them happiness. If you are in a hole and your desire is to get out, why continue to dig? Digging with worries, sadness, anxiety etc
What defines your happiness? For this man, his situation has not defined his happiness. In the environment of that prison, you would need an odour mask to survive for long (not literally but the bad smell is choking) but yet, a man still found a reason to feel happy. Whatever that reason is, it did not come from his situation. In that prison, I saw a lot of gloomy faces too but not on this guy.
My hope for you is that you are happy in all things. My prayer for you is that you find the internal happiness that is not defined by your situation but by inner strength. I learnt a lot from my experience at that prison program and my hope is that you learn from my article too.