Give praise to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! He is the Father who gives tender love. All comfort comes from him. He comforts us in all our troubles. Now we can comfort others when they are in trouble. We ourselves receive comfort from God. We share very much in the sufferings of Christ. So we also share very much in his comfort. If we are having trouble, it is so that you will be comforted and renewed. If we are comforted, it is so that you will be comforted. Then you will be able to put up with the same suffering we have gone through. Our hope for you remains firm. We know that you suffer just as we do. In the same way, God comforts you just as he comforts us. (2 Corinthians 1:3-7 NIrV)
Often the earthly shame of a situation can be a barrier to comfort, and this is especially true when dealing with incarceration. Lisa (not her real name) was a very concerned mother. Her son had been using drugs since high school and was just convicted for the second time. While she appreciated her pastors and the biblical guidance they offered, she desired more encouragement in her situation, but didn’t know where to find it. She also was fearful of raising the topic with any of her church friends for fear of how it might be perceived. Would people see her as a failure as a mother? She already had plenty of pain from the events themselves. She didn’t need a dose of shame on top of that.
Then in Lisa’s women’s Bible study group, one of the women spoke of her nephew’s struggle with substance abuse and repeated incarcerations, asking for prayers for the young man. Her Bible study friend also spoke of visiting another family member in prison and how that changed her heart. So much so that this friend was now actively involved in visiting female inmates in the county jail. Now Lisa knew of someone who could truly relate to her situation and her fear of reaching out for support evaporated. She now benefitted from the comfort her friend had received previously.
Those of us who have experienced the pain of incarceration of a loved one can be an invaluable resource to others—if they know where to turn. Because of the sensitivity of the topic, this needs to be done judiciously. Here are some ideas.
- As in the case above, a healthy small group Bible study can make a good environment for sharing difficult situations, especially if the group has established a level of trust and members do not gossip. Praying with and for each other provides some natural openings for seeking God’s help and the assistance of his people for difficult situations.
- If you’ve been through the incarceration of a friend or loved one, share that experience with your pastor, elders, or other spiritually mature fellow members. They will then be able to refer someone to you when the need arises.
- Volunteering for jail or prison visitation ministry or mentoring a former inmate can provide you with insight into the challenges current and former inmates face. It will also establish your reputation as someone who has a heart for lost souls. With the right training, this can be done by anyone regardless of any previous experience with incarcerated people.
The temptation is there to bury painful parts of our lives and avoid talking about them. Don’t let Satan deceive you. Carefully sharing the painful parts of our past can reap a rich harvest of present and future blessings. Pray for guidance and courage to share the comfort God gave us with others.
By Dave Hochmuth, Prison Ministry administrator
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