Seek the Lord and His strength; seek His presence continually! – 1 Chronicles 16:11
Twenty years ago, The Shawshank Redemption introduced us to Andy Dufresne and Ellis Boyd Redding; two convicts serving life sentences for murder in Shawshank Prison. As the movie begins, we learn that Red has already served twenty years behind bars. He is well established within the prison community – a respected black marketer who has been “known to locate certain things from time to time.” Andy is newcomer to Shawshank whose polished exterior masks his inner fortitude. Over time, Andy and Red strike up a friendship that helps each of them survive the harsh realities of life in prison.
As the story unfolds, we learn that Red has protected himself from the harshness of prison by disallowing himself the comforts of hoping for something better. He has built a second set of prison walls around his spirit which help to protect him from the wounds of captivity. He is an interesting combination of accommodating but impenetrable. After hearing about the suicide of a longtime convict who was recently released, Red surrenders to the idea that he has become an institutional man who could never function in the free world.
Andy is similar to Red in temperament, but they differ greatly in terms of their aspirations. Maybe it’s because Red was guilty of his crime and feels he deserves his punishment, while the injustice of Andy’s wrongful conviction pushes him to turn the tables. Andy’s stay in Shawshank has seen him beaten, violated, disciplined, and coerced into a money laundering scheme. But of his many ups and downs, the worst attack he suffered was to lose his chance for a new trial after the murder and cover-up of an inmate who knew the identity of the person responsible for the crime for which Andy was convicted. This cut the deepest because it closed the window of hope He had to clear his name after nineteen years of incarceration.
It is at this moment in the lives of these two friends when the following conversation occurs…
The scene demonstrates the basic difference between these longtime friends. Red has released the dream of ever achieving anything more in life and is content to simply wait it out in prison. He has begun to get busy dying in his cell. Conversely, now that Andy has exhausted any hope of a legal remedy to his predicament, he chooses to execute a plan to escape from prison and expose the corruption that tried to trap him there. Andy sets out on a course to get busy living in the place of his dreams: Zihuatanejo (siwata’ neho). Red’s plan is safe, simple, and leads to nowhere. Andy’s plan is risky, difficult, but ultimately rewarding.
“Get busy living or get busy dying.” It’s a powerful statement of the choices we get to make throughout the course of our lives. How often do we find ourselves standing at a crossroads with a decision before us? Or maybe your choices look more like a cliff in front of you and an army behind you. Our lives bring us a never-ending series of opportunities to choose the course and direction we will take. Many follow paths, a few blaze trails, but some remain still; frozen by fear, grounded by our guilt, or sentenced by an overwhelming sense of unworthiness.
Is this the purpose for which we were created? Did God decide to create us, to equip and empower us, and to ultimately redeem us through the death and resurrection of Christ for us to squander it? Our challenge is to face those moments of disappointment, failure and fear with the strength that comes from the knowledge that reward is worth the risk. Whatever we face, whatever we fear, God is with us to give us comfort and peace. His strength serves as our foundation. Through prayer and faith in Him we can stand up to the pressures of our lives and find ourselves delivered to the place He designed for us doing what He created us to do. 1 Chronicles 16:11 instructs us to “Seek the Lord and His strength, seek His presence continually.” Through Him, we receive the strength needed to overcome death and to begin living the blessing-filled, eternal life promised to us through Christ.