Visiting the sick and burying the dead are much more commonplace in this season of my life. I've grown to see the value of my presence at sick beds and in the pew at funerals. It is an opportunity for love in a very real and present way.

If you've been keeping score, you've noticed I haven't said anything about visiting the imprisoned. The truth is, I don't know what I could offer in such a ministry. Part of it is an aversion to the idea of entering a prison, and that's just me being honest. Then there's the part of me that rationalizes that we're not all cut out for every kind of ministry, and this isn't my bag.

There. That wraps it up neatly, doesn't it? I can't let myself off the hook that easily.

As it happens, I'm participating rather uniquely in such a mission after all. I work in an area where part of the academic population attends school to fulfill probationary obligations or participates in programs for re-integration into society after serving time.

I may squirm at the idea of walking into a penitentiary, but I walk into my classroom every day and I don't make distinctions with my students. They're all there to learn and I treat them with the same dignity. I can't claim any credit for that—I don't know their circumstances unless they reveal information to me.

But here's what I have learned—about my students—and about myself.

We're all captives in some way or another. We're often prisoners of our own circumstances.

I am a prisoner of the voices in my head, the expectations I project on others, the limitations on my ability to be the best person I am capable of being—the person Jesus wants me to be.

I am imprisoned by my weakness and propensity to sin.

It's sobering to look at it that way, but it also opens me to the opportunity to serve in a meaningful way.

  1. I need forgiveness. I must forgive.
  2. I need respect. I must give respect./p>
  3. I want to belong. I must be inclusive.
  4. I want to be accepted. I must be accepting.
  5. I need love. I must love.

Suddenly, it got harder. I don't want to be the jailer. I don't want to keep people away. I just want to love them like Jesus asks. Because he asks it.