I take this opportunity to thank my friend for writing the five part series: Who am I? The range of human sin and emotions, overwhelmed by the grace of God, the love that sustains. We rejoice in his story, and even more in God’s story. As I reflected on this series one thing stuck out:
Ten years—no visitors
That is hard for me to imagine, and yet not so hard. We went ten years without any contact from our son. He was in prison most of that time. We know he had no family visits, but maybe a couple friends. So, yes, I can imagine. No family, no friends, just prison and fellow inmates—in the image to the right, not even one of those impersonal contacts.
That is the epitome of loneliness. How does one deal with such isolation? What impact will that have on the person’s life?
This last week I came across another blog that presented a view of imprisonment from a family member’s perspective (a role I am very familiar with). Shannan reveals her frequent visits to her son who was in prison. Most of the contact was over the phone. But now the visit was face-to-face.
I threw it out often, “Ask us anything! We’ll answer!”
But he hung back at the ropes, listening to all our stories, sharing his own. Never asking.
Until, one night, he did. “What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done?” he asked across the crackling prison line.
Her answer, unexpected by her son, the prisoner, began a new (positive) phase in their relationship.
The Hard Question
This brings me to my own reflections about our older son and his many times in prison. [Read the story here] This last week I mentioned that we have seen our son only one time in almost 17 years. The pain is there, the hurt is never far away.
Someone then asked me whether we had hired an investigator to look for him after all this time. I appreciated the genuine interest and concern. But the question stopped me for a moment. How do I answer this? Am I responsible for the continued gulf between us?
In all honesty I responded, “I’m not sure I (or my wife) could handle trying to search for him. That sounds almost uncaring, but for our own protection we are not at that place.”
We are concerned about him and yes, we still love him. But we have a history going back to 1978 with him and the deepening pain in living with him, without him, not knowing about him. I admitted to myself: Can we endure opening that door and exposing our selves not only to the painful memories but also to new pains, concerns, and agonies?
Right now for me that is a protective measure on my part. Is that appropriate? I have read the Prodigal Son parable for many decades. As I studied in detail in the 1990’s, one thing I noticed. The father in the parable does not seek everywhere to find his son. Rather, after the son has reached bottom, and the son returns to the Father, the father runs to meet him at the edge of the village to protect him from the ridicule and scorn of the villagers for what he had done. If our son were to contact us, then we would respond like the father.
I do know that in my ministry I have (and still do) minister to families who are going through some of the anguish that we endured from 1978 to 1998. And some who may be facing the not-knowing that we have faced from 1998 to the present. Every time it is a reminder of pain with flashbacks to knowing what people are experiencing, but also a reminder of God’s faithfulness to us, even when we were not.
If nothing else from my story and the story of this friend, and Shannan’s story, that we live with life as we experience it. I wish that life were easier, that the pain would stop, the questions would not arise. I wish that families would not experience the loneliness of imprisonment, the fear and uncertainty of the missing, the sleepless nights of worry. But it is God who is the greater One, the One who sustains us in the deepest valleys. The One who reassures us that He will never leave us or forsake us. And that makes living worth living.