When we’ve been there ten thousand years,(Amazing Grace)
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we first begun.
When we started singing Amazing Grace, I recalled that this was very moving for me during my first prison retreat. It didn’t seem like it would be the case this time as those gathered sang semi-enthusiastically.
Then we approached the final verse and I was overwhelmed with a fierce love for these men and a great desire to spend eternity with them. I gazed around the room and saw the guy who reminded me of some of my students and heard the obnoxious men behind me who were chatting or making noises during parts of the Mass. I thought about the men who struck me as a little creepy in how attentive they were to all the young female volunteers. And I thought of one of my favorite prisoners standing beside me who has grown deeper and more devout since I met him four months ago. Thinking about all of the men–the ones I like and the ones I am uncertain about—I felt a great desire to praise God with them for all of eternity.
My heart had a burning desire to turn to my prison friend next to me and say, “_____________, I want to spend eternity with you!” But it seemed like I’d be coming on a little strong. And although it would maybe weird him out, he would probably just laugh and say, “Okay. Calm down, Trish. But, yeah, I know what you mean.” I didn’t tell him that, but everything in me wanted to do so. Instead, I just looked at these men and imagined all of us in Heaven.
Lord, I want to spend eternity with these prisoners.
I imagined us praising God forever and chatting about past memories. “Remember when you came into the prison and met us for the first time, Trish?” And I would tell them I did. We would laugh—that we met in prison of all places but that God used each of us to help draw the other toward Heaven. “Remember the terrible prison food?” And we would all rejoice that we would never, ever again eat that food.
The other night, I told my sister that I don’t really care about prison in general, but I care very much about prison in particular. When I picture the building or the hallways, I’m unenthused. When I imagine their faces and their stories and consider the way relationships have grown, I am filled with a great love for them.
It is incredibly easy to not take any credit for anything that is happening there. Clearly, the Lord is moving and making Himself known. Yes, I’ve been trying to invest in particular people, but everything that transpires is by the grace of God. The prisoners are seeking, just like my students, but the ones I’ve encountered seem to flip it on its head. The prisoners come from a wide range of backgrounds and yet the ones that come to bible study and Mass are often truly seeking. They have expressed many times that they are better when they read Scripture, when they seek after Christ, and when they try to live like a Christian. They know it makes a difference. My students often need to be convinced that it makes a difference to be a Christian.
Regardless our disposition, the Lord pours out His grace with reckless generosity. I am grateful for this reality in the classroom, in the prison, and in my own life. Surveying the crowded room during Mass at the prison retreat, I was thankful that the Lord never stops seeking us. Despite the imperfections that surround me and lie with me, the Lord is always faithful. Proclaiming that profound reality impacts lives inside and outside the prison walls.
May the grace of God lead us to all be praising Him forever in Heaven.