For the last few months I have been helping out on the family farm after school. Feeding calves every afternoon has presented a unique opportunity for me to experience the progression of the sun set. At first, I got all of my chores done and was in the house a few hours before the sun went down. Now, I am typically about two thirds of the way through calf chores when it gets too dark to see without a flashlight. Each time I turn on my headlamp, I am reminded how darkness can really affect a person.
In the midwest, darkness is accompanied with colder weather. The snow and icy roads make travel more difficult and it is easier to ‘reschedule’ than follow through with plans on extremely cold days. The season of winter presents a season of isolation for some people.
This season of darkness aligns with the season of Advent. During Advent, we wait in darkness for our Savior and the Light of the World to be born. Slowly, week by week, we light the candles of the Advent wreath. The gradually growing glow of the candles break through the darkness and provide us with feelings of anticipation and hope! It is in the darkness of Advent, we can reflect on the dark areas of our hearts where we need a flicker of hope. These areas are places where we may feel imprisoned or enslaved.
One of the corporal works of mercy is to visit the imprisoned. My mind immediately calls attention to the people who are sentenced to prison, nursing homes, hospitals, or are homebound. There is no question that it is a good and beautiful ministry to provide religious retreats in prisons, visiting the elderly in nursing homes, keeping company to long term hospital patients, and providing the Holy Eucharist to the homebound. I encourage you to follow the Holy Spirit's lead if He is calling you to minister in these ways.
But I want to call to mind the people who are imprisoned mentally or emotionally. Who are the people in our lives who may feel like they are permanently living in darkness or imprisonment due to a certain situation? These imprisonment might stem from an addiction or a habitual sin. It might be low self esteem or enslavment to comparison or pride. Inner darkness can often emanate from loneliness or a lack of authentic relationships. Shame can settle in and blow out any source of hopeful light.
Hebrew 13:3 states, ‘Be mindful of prisoners as if sharing their imprisonment, and of the ill-treated as yourselves, for you also are in the body.’ This verse reminds us that we are all human. Because we live in a world of sin, it is impossible to be perfect. We can all admit that there are areas of struggle within our own hearts. Visiting the imprisoned is more than being a supportive friend to someone who may be struggling. Have you ever visited your own heart and invited the Lord to reveal his Light and Love?
Just as the candles on a birthday cake or the brightness of a firework show bring joy to a small child, I pray that the Lord shines a light on your true identity as a beloved daughter, this Advent season. I pray that He gives you the courage to approach the areas of imprisonment in your life and blesses you with freedom. The more we dive into the darkness of our hearts, the more we are able to provide a light to others. As author Katrina Mayer said, “Let your light shine so brightly that others can see their way out of the dark.”
Until next time~Your sister in Christ,