“I was in prison and you came to visit me”
As a pastor I have made some jail visits here and there. They always go well and I have grown in my pastoral care through these situations.
Last night I had the opportunity to visit someone in prison for the first time. I would say that I have come to call this person a friend. I was able to meet him and learn his story prior to his sentencing. I have stayed in touch through writing letters and conversing with his family.
I wasn’t sure how the conversation was going to go yesterday. Would we have much to talk about? I literally haven’t seen him in a few years and I wasn’t sure how the dynamic of a prison visitation was going to work. We ended up talking for over 2 1/2 hours, all the way up to closing time. We talked about life, relationships, family, God, church, and much more. The conversation was incredibly uplifting for me. Seeing all the ways God has moved in his life and throughout his sentence was amazing. Hearing his heart for Christ, and listening to him share how he is serving his cellmate who is really hard to love at times, but he feels God calling him to go out of his way to care for him. His story challenges me.
At a table near us was another inmate who was meeting with his family, including his two kids; they looked to be about the same age as my kids. I cannot imagine what it must be like to go without seeing your kids a whole week and only seeing them once a week for a few hours. I mentioned this to my friend and he said that there were many who have never even met their kids. It is a heavy thing to think about, and even heavier to watch those children hug their father goodbye.
My friend also said his biggest fear once he gets out is being distracted by the noise. He said that in here (prison) there isn’t nearly as much noise and distraction. He told me they have no access to the internet at all, they aren’t constantly tethered to technology, and he is concerned that a lot of the healthy faith habits he has created throughout his sentence may be compromised on the other side.
The noise. We are so influenced by the noise. I know that I am. I know that the noise can redirect my entire day and change my course and priorities. I think his concern is valid, and his concern resonates with me because I am on this noisy and often distracted side.
Many of us know the parable of the Sheep and Goats and there is a lot of debate about what it really means. But in the parable Jesus says, “I was in prison and you came to visit me” (Matthew 25:36). After last night and my multiple jail visits I am inclined to believe that there is something spiritual about visiting those who are in jail or prison. And not just that those who visit are offering something to those incarcerated, but that something is happening even inside the visitor. I know that for a long time I ignored this passage and chose to think of it as a suggestion, but I am more and more compelled to say that we (the church) should be more involved in visiting those in jail. Even more, Jesus never declares, “You visited me when you visited the person wrongfully placed in jail.” Or, “You visited me when you visited the the person who repented of their crime.” Jesus never makes a distinction. It seems we are called to visit prisoners in general; those who are remorseful and those who are not. And when we do, in some weird way we are actually visiting Jesus.
I am convinced that the uncomfortable reality that is a prison visit is what keeps many away. I know that is what kept me away for so long. I am learning that the places where I am most uncomfortable God seems to be. What I consider to be weak or inexperienced at, he is strong and gives me the words. I hope this encourages you. Maybe right now there is something really uncomfortable that God is calling you to and your hesitating. Don’t wait, you may be missing out on something really awesome.