Over the next two months prior to Easter, reflections will be shared from Regional Executives from American Baptist regions through the 2017 season of Lent. For the first Sunday of Lent, a reflection is provided by the Rev. Mary Day Miller, executive minister of The American Baptist Churches of Massachusetts. Click here to view the reflection posted for Ash Wednesday.
The Bottom Of My List
“I was in prison, and you visited me.” (Matt 25:37)
One year, when I was serving as a pastor, I decided that instead of “giving up” something for Lent, I would “take up” something. I made a commitment to give extra attention to the ministry tasks that seemed to fall to the bottom of my “to-do” list, and spend some time in reflection and prayer about those “chores” and my attitude toward them.
One of those tasks was visiting a man from my church who was serving a significant prison sentence. In general, I disliked visiting the prison, which was almost an hour away. The visiting hours and rules were very strict, and by the time I went through all of the security processes, an entire afternoon would be gone.
But this situation went beyond my general lack of enthusiasm for prison visits. This man had committed a particularly repulsive crime. Without getting into details, let me just say that it “hooked” me as a pastor and as a mother. I went and visited him three times that Lent (the maximum allowed). It was an act of cold-blooded Christian obedience.
Those visits affected me spiritually. Not because they “made me feel good”, which they didn’t. But rather, they made me look into a dark corner of my soul. That place where my judgmental spirit lives, that mean little voice whispering things like, “No one will blame you if you don’t go” (probably true) and “These visits mean nothing to him” (possibly true). And underneath it all, the ugliest one of all: “This man doesn’t deserve grace and mercy.”
There it is: the great truth of the solemn season of Lent. We are all recipients of a grace we do not deserve, and cannot earn. Yet we set aside this time to sweep out those dark corners of our soul, and face up to what we find there.
Rev. Mary Day Miller
Executive Minister, The American Baptist Churches of Massachusetts