Parents in prison, children in need

A Christian Science perspective.

Harriet was 11 months old when her mother was arrested. Since then, she has never seen her mother outside a guarded visitation area where inmates can interact with their children. Harriet is now 31, and her mother remains in prison serving a life sentence (Judith Clark’s Radical Transformation,” New York Times Magazine, Jan. 12).

As a recent Monitor feature reports, more than 1.5 million children in the United States have a parent in prison. Whether you’re a parent of one of those children or one who is mentoring a child of an inmate or simply one whose heart goes out to these children and their parents, a spiritual perspective can help.

The Bible teaches that God is our Father. God is not a punishing tyrant or an absent parent. God is Love. The Bible says, “God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him” (I John 4:16). This divine Love is the Father-Mother embracing each son and daughter in gentle care. As we identify divine Love as our Parent, we can see each one, adult or child, as the beloved child of God, Love. Parent and child can look to divine Love as a fountain of comfort, forgiveness, and spiritual wisdom.

Comfort comes when Love is felt. A hymn reassures:

Like as a mother, God comforteth His children;
Comfort is calm, that bids all tumult cease;
Comfort is hope and courage for endeavor,
Comfort is love, whose home abides in peace.

                                  Maria Louise Baum, “Christian Science Hymnal,” No. 174

No prison wall can limit love or hamper hope. Replacing anger, revenge, and self-justification with humility, calm, hope, moral courage, love, and peace can bring tangible comfort to the relationship between parent and child.

The real Parent is not absent. God, divine Love, is present. Human parents can pray for their children, and the power of prayer knows no bounds. Humble daily prayer for a child’s safety, health, and well-being can be a powerful catalyst for receiving God’s blessings. A parent who prays is more likely to listen for God’s moral guidance. A child who is prayed for feels more secure and responds to the moral and spiritual qualities expressed by a parent.

Prison life presents constant challenges. Tempers flare in the frustration of close quarters. But those who turn moment by moment to God for moral and spiritual guidance, and are willing to walk with the Lord in daily life, will find protection and even forgiveness. The forgiveness of God isn’t pardon but reformation. Jesus told a woman who had been caught in adultery to “go, and sin no more” (John 8:11). Parents in prison can find safety and forgiveness as they genuinely transform temper into calm and seek wisdom instead of acting with ego.

True wisdom is God speaking to us, not mere human reasoning, which might make mistakes. God knows every right answer and sees through deceit. If we have made mistakes, praying for wisdom is wise in itself. Instead of leaving children a legacy of failure or frustration, parents can teach their children how to “form habits of obedience to the moral and spiritual law” (Mary Baker Eddy, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 62).

Most parents, in or out of prison, want to be a better father or mother. Supporting this desire with spiritual ways and means can help both parent and child.

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