This morning before the sun woke up and before my first cup of coffee, my running buddy and I were pounding the pavement around the YMCA. Actually, she was pounding the pavement and I was more like trying not to die from shin splints. She’s training for a triathlon and I’m training for being skinny and while we run, she talks. I just breathe and cry on the inside.
“What do you have going on this week?” she asked right after our third, two minute running interval.
Between heavy breathing and calf stretching, I unloaded a handful of thoughts about our church’s prison ministry and half-way houses and the in-between places our women live.
“I’m trying to flesh out what it looks like to care for those fresh out of jail. How does the church practice hospitality? How do we open our homes and create safe places for our sisters to be able to open up and heal? How do we help them out of one way of living and into another way of life when the deck called life is stacked against them?” I said. “How do we love them well if we don’t quite like them yet?”
She listened and watched the time and then called for the next two minute interval. I ran while she shared.
“I think the problem with hospitality is that most people believe that hospitality is this thing that only happens in our homes. We think it happens around a nicely set table filled with food. But as I’ve been serving in our prison, I’ve learned that the sort of hospitality that Jesus has called the Church to is also the sort of hospitality that goes to where the people are. And for me, that place is the jail. Some of these women won’t be getting out anytime soon and unless we create space for them to feel seen and heard and known inside the jail, we, the church, will have essentially failed them. If hospitality is an outward expression of an inward devotion to Jesus, then we must take Jesus into the jail,” she said. “Even if we don’t know what the heck we’re doing.”
As soon as she finished talking, I knew she had hit on something I had not considered.
And I would have told her so, but I couldn’t breathe.
Hospitality is the thing we take wherever we go because we have the living Christ in us, compelling and enabling us to love others, right where they are. Literally.
A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about the state of my heart. Someone had suggested that the state of my heart exempted me from serving my local community because in her words, an impure heart only damages those with whom it comes into contact.
After I got her email, I spent two months mulling over it. Her words stopped me in my tracks and covered me in shame. They disabled me from going through the mundane, everyday activities of living intentionally. Her words broke me and splayed me wide open. For days and days, I weighed every line against every truth I know from Jesus. And y’all, after two months of weighing and mulling, I chunked the whole email in the garbage.
Because here’s the truth: The living Christ in us covers the multitude of sins that we have hidden in our heart and it’s the living Christ in us that qualifies us for love and good deeds.
Period. Nowhere in scripture does Christ ever complete his good work in us this side of heaven. We are works in active progress towards Christ-likeness, not sedentary beings waiting on perfection.
This morning, in the time I’ve spent thinking on my conversation with Suzanne and nursing my screaming shins, I’ve spent time considering what this truth means in light of prison ministry.
And here’s what I know.
If we have the living Christ in us, we can take our beat-up hearts and whacked up ideas about hospitality and meet people right where they are. Even in a jail cell.
We can show up with our big bag of nothing and offer nothing but our presence and know that we’re enough. We can fumble over our words and say the wrong things and still provide a safe place for someone to be heard and known. We can sit in a circle of women with our hands wide open to receive whatever they have to give or say and then close our eyes in repentance for how our flesh rises up in anger or frustration or condemnation.
We can confess our ignorance or prejudice or flat our fear and trust that Jesus will cover us in grace and birth within us a love that knows no barriers.
Because Jesus will do it, you know?