I had a day last week where motherhood broke me. My daughter’s attitude, my son’s constant disobeying, my lack of confidence in my parenting abilities, and my lack of sleep caught up to me.
It was the witching hour: 4 p.m. My daughter was home from school and tired. My son was begging me for his third snack since his nap. I needed to get dinner started. I was exasperated from a myriad of things that day, and my daughter’s talking back and eye-rolls pushed me over the edge.
After losing my cool and sending her to her room, the guilt caught up to me. I plopped down on the couch next to a pile of laundry and started to cry.
My son, who’s three, stood across the room watching me. He had been playing (which involved using an Ironman toy as a bat and a matchbox car as a ball…so that was going well, obviously) and suddenly went still. He’s rarely quiet and still at the same time, and I knew he was wondering how to respond to me. As I sat there, a mess of tears and snot and sobs, folding laundry, he just watched. For the longest time.
After a while, he slowly made his way over to me. I expected a hug. Or a “What’s wrong, mommy?” But instead, he bent down, grabbed some clothes from the hamper, and silently started helping me fold clothes.
I know he’s “only three.” I know he may not have grasped how significant that moment was for me. And he definitely doesn’t fold well. But the humility and compassion of his act wasn’t lost on me. Whether he knew the power of it or not, I could read between the lines and could hear loud and clear what God was showing me in that moment. A few fresh tears bubbled up, but these were tears of tenderness and love.
When people are hurting, lost, or broken, they don’t always need advice. They don’t need a million questions. They don’t even need a hug or a tissue or a bible verse or an invitation to church or a casserole. While these things can be wonderful and all have their place, hurting people need helpers. Workers. People who will enter into their messes and, shoulder to shoulder, offer a strong and hardworking hand to help.
That is how we should be loving the world.
I have been reading Acts from start to finish over the past couple weeks. I’ve been jotting down some notes about what the early church was like. Here’s what I have so far:
- They prayed together constantly.
- They shared meals and lived life together constantly.
- They were always growing and welcoming people into the fold.
- They never claimed to be better, smarter, more worthy than anyone else (4:13)
- They cared for the poor before anyone else (i.e. the government never stepped in because the church did this job)
- They spoke in such a way that people wanted to hear what they had to say.
- They shared everything they had (4:32)
- Without condition or pretense, they healed the sick who were brought to them (5:12-16)
- They did what was right by God, not necessarily what people thought was right (5:29)
- They preached day in and day out that God loves and accepts everyone, no exceptions (10:34)
When I look at my faith life (and my church life), I can’t claim every single one of these as my regular actions. And I should at least strive to. We’ve lost some of our fire as the church. Maybe it’s fear. Maybe it’s ignorance. Maybe it’s laziness.
I confess in my own life, church has become a way to get myself right. How to be better, act better, look better, pray better, worship better. But that’s not the purpose of the church. The purpose is to be the leaders in loving the whole world.
After seeing the events in Charlottesville all over the news, I kept thinking of that moment with Gavin two weeks ago. The connection was unmistakable. We have to sit down next to the whole big mess and start the tedious process of making sense of it…piling, folding, sorting, listening, talking, loving. Just like Gavin did for me.
I am a white privileged middle-class woman who’s never been without. I am a Christian who loves Jesus, and I condemn racism; however, this isn’t just something I can simply say anymore. It’s something I am going to have to claim out loud. I need to prove it with my actions. I have to set an example for my kids and not avoid hard conversations or pretend it doesn’t exist. I’m going to have to enter into the discussion. I’m going to have to do the hard work of coming alongside my brothers and sisters who suffer because of racism. This means putting myself out there, hearing their stories, and understanding better how things work. It means asking the Holy Spirit what’s next, and then actually being open to doing what He says.
There is so much to do, so where do we go from here? I sense the beginning of our journey may actually be where my church has been parked all summer: the Psalms. Let the psalmists’ prayers of lamenting, repenting, and seeking God lead us to a place of healing.
“Create in me a pure heart, oh God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”
I know this is a big issue, and you may need some ideas to help you get started, just like I do. Below is a list of simple things you can incorporate into your life, your friendships, your small groups, and your conversations starters to get the ball rolling.
- Get educated. Read. Watch. Listen. Absorb. We live in a time of unlimited technology. The great part about this is you can read books, listen to podcasts, and follow social media platforms by anyone you want. Find speakers and authors who have poignant and educational perspectives on this topic. The key here is to humbly listen and learn. Here are a few books and authors to get you started:
- Bryan Stevenson: Just Mercy
- Michelle Alexander: The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness
- Kristen Green: Something Must Be Done About Prince Edward County: A Family, A Virginia Town, A Civil Rights Battle
- Michael O. Emerson & Christian Smith: Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America – Through a nationwide telephone survey of 2,000 people and an additional 200 face-to-face interviews, Michael O. Emerson and Christian Smith probed the grassroots of white evangelical America. They found that despite recent efforts by the movement’s leaders to address the problem of racial discrimination, evangelicals themselves seem to be preserving America’s racial chasm.
- Watch documentaries. Many of these are streaming on Netflix or online.
- 13th – An in-depth look at the prison system in the United States and how it reveals the nation’s history of racial inequality.
- I Am Not Your Negro – Writer James Baldwin tells the story of race in modern America with his unfinished novel, Remember This House.
- OJ: Made In America – A chronicle of the rise and fall of O.J. Simpson, whose high-profile murder trial exposed the extent of American racial tensions, revealing a fractured and divided nation.
- Start in your own home. You can skip the living room learning and jump right in. Look around in your community, at work or school or down the street, and consider bridging the gap with families you haven’t reached out to before.
- Be the Bridge: Equipping the World To Do the Work of Racial Unity – This program was created specifically to help the white church reach out to the black community and build better relationships. “Be the Bridge desires to create space and conversations that would begin to tear down racial barriers that have divided people – even God’s people. This is only the first step, and while these conversations may make us uncomfortable, they cause us to live out God’s love of truth, diversity, justice and reconciliation.” Resources available on their website.
- Listen. One of the most foundational of all things we can do within race conversations is to listen well. Listen to the stories of your friends, neighbors, coworkers, church-mates. Listen with compassion and empathy. “Weep with those who weep” and don’t grow weary of joining in the weeping over personal stories and systemic racist oppression.
Also shared on Common Ground West’s blog.