In my last blog, I mentioned how often inmates struggle with forgiving themselves for their failures as a parent. Many times they do not want their child to come visit them while they are in their prison garb sitting on the other side of a divided table. Of all the painful consequences of committing crime, the damage to the family may be the worst of all. I have seen families stay united, strong, and understanding during a parent’s incarceration but most often the separation causes long term difficulties for the spouse and children.
Once when I was doing a devotional reading, I was surprised to discover that the prophet Samuel had his own parenting troubles. It seemed that his sons did not follow in his God-honoring ways and when they were given some authority they used it to cheat the people and pervert the truth. It may have been that Samuel was rarely home as he traveled around judging the nation of Israel. Perhaps he had not been there at key points in his son’s lives when they needed affirmation and a clear role model. As someone who pastored a church for 22 years, I remember how many events in my kid’s lives that I missed because of the responsibilities of the ministry “call”. I was noticeably absent from some of the photos just like that parent who is serving their time in prison.
So there is lots of parental guilt to go around whether you are in prison or being the typical way-too-busy mom or dad. Most parents I have known, including myself, have made mistakes. The hope is that first we can get forgiveness from God for our failures and experience His cleansing from the guilt (1 John 1:9). Then our prayer should be for our hearts to be turned towards our children in a fresh way and for God to turn their hearts towards us (Malachi 4:6). After that we need to rebuild godly loving relationships one step at a time. I’ve seen ex-prisoners do it with their families so I know that it is possible for others with God’s help.