A reflection by Hope House resident, Sara Haines
With regards to social justice, many of us I’m sure are aware of the typical dichotomies: rich and poor, weak and strong, powerful and powerless, etc. The phrase “to love one’s neighbor” also comes to mind, and I think of my homeless neighbor, my work neighbor, my basketball neighbor, etc. But what about the rich neighbor, strong neighbor, or powerful neighbor? I ran into a situation where in trying to love one neighbor, I found myself enemy to the other.
I travelled 100+ miles in two hours to Pontiac Correctional Facility with a client so she could see her sweetheart for the first time in two years. Being in her mid sixties, she forgot many details from two years ago, but she told me of the joy that seeing him brought her. Upon entering the prison, the guard wasted no time welcoming us. He talked over my client to me, and when he did speak to her, he used a condescending and exasperated tone of voice. Maybe he didn’t like us because we were city folk in this little town. Who knows.
After twenty minutes of patronizing, he denied entry to my client because she was not dressed according to protocol. He contacted additional staff to confirm that the rules hadn’t changed since she last visited, and spoke loud enough so that all the visitors waiting heard that “she had no excuse for not knowing clothing protocol.” After getting off the phone he continued to shame her saying, “Don’t tell me you didn’t know.” Embarrassed at her failing memory and distraught at possibly not seeing her sweetheart, my client composed herself and, with all sincerity, thanked the guard for the only help he did provide, the suggestion to go to the nearest store to purchase appropriate attire.
After a drive to Walmart, she was able to visit as planned and treated the guard with kindness, but I could not bring myself to look at him. He could have explained her error in so many ways, but chose to play hard ball, no compassion in sight. Replaying her kindness to him in my head stoked my anger even more. But when I found myself thinking “he didn’t deserve it,” I knew I needed to hit the breaks.
Suddenly as I left the prison, an image came to mind: two siblings were stand
ing before their father right after one
hurt the other. The father didn’t side with the victim, or shame the offender. Rather, his heart hurt for both. It hurt him to see his daughter wounded and see that his son loved so little and inflicted pain. I felt like God was saying, “you want to love one person, but I have something better. I want you to love both. You want justice, but there’s something better. It’s mercy.”
Continuing to reflect on my client’s response, I realized that she was like the daughter who, after seeing her father hurt with her, looked at her brother with love, forgiveness, and mercy. I also realized that an ounce of her mercy weighed more than a pound of my anger, because God used it to soften my own hardness of heart towards my brother. I soon found myself pitying the guard. My heart ached for him and his hard heart. And that ache turned into prayer. I prayed for him, that my client’s mercy would leave just enough of an imprint on his heart that, at the right time, he would encounter mercy again and that it would change his life.
If there is any encouragement in Christ, any solace in love, any participation in the Spirit,
any compassion and mercy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing. Philippians 2:1-2