Imagine existing in a prison cell that measures only 4 ft. in height and 4 ft. in width. You cannot fully stand up, nor can you lie down; you can only exist in a perpetual squat. You hear no sound, you see no light, you breathe no circulated air. Such was the terrible fate of medieval England’s most notorious political prisoners. Aptly named “The Little Ease” (because of the body’s limited ease), this dismal dungeon was the Tower of London’s most efficient method of torture. I’ve often pondered the mindset of these prisoners ensconced in physical and emotional torment. Did they go insane? Did they find God? If they found God, how did He ease their suffering? How would He have delivered them? Did God hasten their deaths or instead, provide a mechanism for escape—like a divine key or something to unlock the prison door? (Think Peter, Alma and Amulek–to name a few.) Lastly, I think about the prisoners’ transition of suffering into the realm of sacred suffering–thus transforming the Little Ease into a sacred place.
I often spend time in my own “Little Ease.” It, too, is a black, oppressive abyss. It’s also, at times, a sacred place. Sometimes, the hurtful actions of other people flush me into its depths. Other times, my own sins and fallibilities shove me through its prison door. But, here’s a contradiction for you: My Heavenly Father often coaxes me into the Little Ease for my own spiritual and emotional growth. Once inside–and only if I allow Him to—my Savior, Jesus Christ nurses and binds my wounds through His healing, atoning power. The process is excruciatingly painful, and it ain’t pretty. My old scabs of denial and self-delusion are lanced, the infection squeezed out, the open wounds stitched closed—with no anesthesia. Yet, in the aftermath, I feel exceedingly joy and peace! (Christ isn’t kidding when He says, “the truth shall set you free.”)
Truly, my Little Ease is a paradoxical place. In its darkness, I come to see the light. In my discomfort, I find comfort. In my sickness, I find healing. In my loneliness, I’m not alone. In my despair, I find hope. In my weakness, I find strength. In my fear, I find courage. In my self-deception, I find truth. Most importantly, in my bondage, I find freedom.
Attaining this freedom comes at a price—and with a contradictory contingent: We must be willing to voluntarily descend into our Little Ease. Scott Peck discusses this notion in his book, The Road Less Traveled:
“What does a life of total dedication to truth mean? It means, first of all, a life of continuous and never-ending stringent self-examination. We know the world only through our relationship to it. Therefore, to know the world, we must not only examine it but we must simultaneously examine the examiner. Truth or reality is avoided when it is painful. We can revise our [reality to truth] only when we have the discipline to overcome that pain. We must always consider our personal discomfort relatively unimportant and, indeed, even welcome it in the service of the search for truth. Mental health (and I would argue spiritual health) is an ongoing process of dedication to reality at all costs. Self-examination is what leads to wisdom. There are plenty of smart people, who are unwise” (p. 50-51).
The Book of Mormon also highlights this principle in Ether 12: 27: “And if men come unto me, I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble….and if they have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.”
Surely, hearing hard truths about ourselves is no fun. But, I’ve learned to be a quick study in my Little Ease; the sooner I learn what I need to learn, the sooner I can get the heck out! The line from a song written and performed by “The Eagles” rock band is enlightening: “So often times it happens that we live our lives in chains, and we never even know we have the key.”
On to victory,