Love Lessons From Jail

Feb 13, 2018

“First Corinthians 13…”

I’m opening a small Bible that I brought to give to one of the inmates.

“Where is that?” Jessica asks.

“It’s right here.” I push the Bible towards her, keeping my finger on the page.

Kara glares at her from across the table. It’s her Bible after all. I just gave it to her. Jessica grabs my pen and starts to mark the page.

“Do you mind if I make a little mark here? Just so I can find it?” Jessica doesn’t even look up.

Kara leans forward, starts to say something but stops. She looks exhausted, her hair is a matted mess like she’s been sleeping in the woods, but I catch a little fire in her eyes, then she sits back, shaking her head. She’s too tired to care. “No, it’s alright,” she says softly even though Jessica has already underlined the chapter number, a small mark that she won’t ever look for.

I want to check my watch but I don’t want them to think, no, to know that I am tired too. I stand and walk back over to the whiteboard.

Love is patient…

       The topic is Love tonight at the jail. I picked it – it’s February after all. I realized scrolling through past lessons that I had picked Love last February too, but I can’t remember how it went. Better than this, I bet. It’s an off night. Only three came out, for reasons I can never understand, and sometimes that works for the best. A small group is less intimidating, the girls can open up more and God will help me. But tonight it’s two new girls and Gail, an older woman who I swear lives here. Her sentence stretches out past the horizon, due to frequent trips to the hole. Someone told me she lived on the streets with “her man.” But it’s been a while.

Love is kind…

I draw two big hearts side by side and write WORLD over one and GOD over the other.

“Tell me what kind of love the world gives,” and I watch their faces twist up in confusion so I reset it.  “Ok, what kind of love does God give us?”

“Unconditional,” the girl with the matted hair says flatly.

“Good!” I write it inside the God heart, then write Conditional in big letters in the other heart. Now they get the game. The God heart fills up with Freedom and Forgiveness and the World heart fills with selfishness and shame. I feel like this is too easy so I throw in some Greek.

Eros. Phileo. Agape.

“Agape sounds Indian,” Gail says.

“No it’s Greek,” I correct her, feeling the foolishness of this conversation. I can see her bumming money at the bus station. Hey do you want to hear some Greek? As soon as I tell them that Eros means sensual or sexual love they completely regress to somewhere around fourth or fifth grade. I sit back down, feeling defeated and a tad disgusted.

Love never demands it’s own way.

I’m praying under my breath as I try to rustle the last shreds of my lesson together. Gail senses my despondency.

“I can be mean sometimes,” she says.

“Well, I know you can be sweet sometimes too Gail. ” I’m touched by her honesty. “And I can be mean too.” My words settle like pretty snowflakes.

Then Gail says, “I wish a was a bird. A big bird.” I wonder where she’s going but I want to think of David writing a psalm about flying away.

Jessica starts to laugh at her. “So you can escape?”

“No, so I can poop on everyone who’s pooped on me.” By now Jessica is sputtering and turning red, and falling into Gail.

Love bears all things…

“Then you want to be a horse!” as she demonstrates the size of horse manure with her hands. Kara is silent, her face expressionless and it occurs to me she may be withdrawing form something. Or very medicated.

“Ok guys, back to love.” They stop laughing and look up. I feel like the kind of teacher I couldn’t stand. Dull. A droning voice. Even my notes wonder what I’m doing.

Jesus made a point of showing us over and over that what we thought we had was beside the point. Five fish. Two mites. Or should we just call down fire and toast them all? I remember one time when my husband and I were pastoring that I confessed to my mother that I felt like telling everyone to go to hell. She thought that was terrific. But it wasn’t – it was a screaming indication that I was spiritually bankrupt. I was sitting at the piano smiling every Sunday, embracing women I considered faithless and teaching their little demons about Jesus in the cold basement. Apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5) Oh yeah, I forgot. Again.

       An exasperated Jesus asks his disciples, “Are you being willfully stupid?” (Matthew 15:16, MSG) They weren’t getting it. Neither was I, trying to love what i thought was worth it, with a small love that I manufactured for my own benefit. And here I was again; a teacher trying to teach something that I understood but didn’t really know. I forgot AGAIN.

Love hopes all things..

“Do you want to know why I’m here?” They are silent. “I’m here because I love you.” The words come out soft and I am as surprised as they are. Yes, that’s it.

“I’m here because Jesus loves me. I don’t deserve it, but He does and He’s put His love in me. That’s why I’m here. Because I love you. And Jesus loves you.”

Kara looks up from the table, her eyes searching. Jessica and Gail are looking straight at me, and I know I saw just a small flash of hope, like a shooting star.

Love rejoices in the truth.

        As I drove home that night I prayed for Kara and Jessica and Gail. I knew that despite my dumb lesson in Greek, that the Holy Spirit was able to take my notes and breathe upon them – to feed 5,000 with two loves of bread, to feed three women with the feeble prayers of another woman who knows what it’s like to be held captive, without hope, then set really free. And He is still able to teach an old teacher a new lesson in Love – even when I’m willfully stupid. It just takes a spark, a small spark of humility and a flash of hope. That’s all He really needs.

Love never fails.


*** All names have been changed, except Jesus.

(All Love scripture from 1 Corinthians 13, NKJV)