Quite often when visiting with an inmate at a county jail, they tell me I am the only person meeting with them. The truth is that their months or years of active addiction, lying, stealing, and other abuse towards their loved ones have burnt the bridges of family relations. It is understandable that the families have come to the end of their patience and have decided to distance themselves from their troubled son or daughter in a form of “tough love.”
I’ve certainly heard the terminology of “tough love” tossed around quite a bit in the prison ministry setting. As I look in the scriptures to find a Biblical example of tough love I can certainly find stories where individuals or nations have been the recipients of God’s form of tough love. You don’t have to look further than the book of Judges where God’s people, Israel, continuous break His heart and force Him to allow them to experience life without His provision and protection. Their horrendous behavior became a continuous warning for the church in the New Testament (1 Corinthians 10, Hebrews 3 & 4, etc) as well. But the important thing that I see is that throughout their rebellious behavior God never entirely abandons them. He is always looking for their return like the father of the prodigal son (Luke 15:20). Suspecting that his father would at least give him a chance to be a servant in the house contributed to the prodigal’s repentance and return.
I realize that sometimes families have had to take out “orders of protection” against their incarcerated loved ones and they have to stay obedient to the law. But when inmates show evidence of committing their lives to God, I would hope that families would give them opportunity for reconciliation. I know that it is hard, boundaries will need to be set, and a plan for rebuilding relations established. I pray that “tough love” can give way to healthy family and godly love once more.