I don’t know about you, but there have been so many days lately when the world feels hurt and broken and tired.
And we feel hurt and broken and tired.
And I want to just bury my face in Zoe’s blonde tangles and sniff in all the wonder that went missing last week.
And it’s easy to wonder how to make things better when there are so many holes and it’s so easy to keep falling into them.
Some things are almost impossible to write about because they run so deep and ache so close to the hearts of so many people you love – especially when you don’t know them in person.
Remember that time I told you I was a white girl from the South African suburbs who grew up under Apartheid? It means the news the last couple weeks here in America has felt so strangely familiar. And I’m wondering how to even begin writing about all the feelings I know so many of us have in the wake of Ferguson and Tamir Rice and Eric Garner without hurting or offending someone. I’m not sure that’s even possible?
But can I tell you from the beginning here how much I love you? You on the other side of the screen reading this with your own deeply personal story that I can’t possibly hope to know or understand or feel in that achey place that can become defensive when it feels misunderstood.
This is me trying to understand your heart.
And this is also me trying to understand the very persistent voice of a very persistent Holy Spirit I feel here in my gut that keeps asking me when I’m going to write about all this.
Here we are in the middle of Advent with our nightly Bible verses, candles, wreaths and the most precious time of family and sacred time of counting down to Christmas and while my Twitter stream is talking about holiday recipes and traditions it’s also weeping. All these people weeping. All these black men and women weeping in blog posts and Facebook updates and 140 characters on Twitter.
And the ache doesn’t stop there because then there are hurt responses from white readers who feel misunderstood and misrepresented.
And for a while I wanted to hide from it all. To be real honest, I just wanted to stop reading any of my social media feeds because it all made my stomach so twitchy I was running to the bathroom after every new status update I read.
And then – then there’s Jesus. And His advice:
Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how.
~Matt. 16:24-26 (The Message).
Jesus was never threatened by the suffering of others. He never felt He needed to justify Himself – He simply went and sat and ate and listened and wept with those who were grieving.
This white girl from South Africa missed the window to be a voice with the weeping during Apartheid.
But she has a blog and voice now in the midst of this terrible aching tear through the fabric of America’s heart this Christmas and I’m compelled to give you my words, friends, with both hands.
So many of us are groaning for understanding because we feel so deeply misunderstood – on every which side of this conversation. And it’s in our nature to want people to see the world our way through our eyes.
But if there’s one thing I’ve learned from South Africa and the leaders who guided us through our own desperate times, it’s that defending your point of view means missing the opportunity to listen. And it’s hard. I grant you. It’s hard to be willing to lay down your own arguments and be willing to listen without agenda or counter-argument.
I grew up a white girl in the most institutionally racist country in the world at the time. And when you’re trying to change, when you’re tired of having people point out all the ways you’re doing it wrong, it’s easy to become defensive. To put up arguments and justifications that build walls and keep neighbors out.
But I am supposed to love my neighbor as myself.
And myself desperately wants to be heard and understood.
It’s a kind of radical self-sacrifice – being willing to lay down your own point of view in order to hear someone else’s. But unless we’re willing to listen, how can we hope for reconciliation in our racially divided family?
Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. What kind of deal is it to get everything you want but lose yourself? What could you ever trade your soul for?
–Jesus Christ, The Gospel of Matthew 16: 24-26 (The Message).
I am a white mom with a white husband and three very white kids and in the last decade my parents have adopted three black children who have changed the DNA of our family and how we experience the world.
There was a day my white sister was in line at a gas station convenience store with our adopted black little brother. And the man behind her kept swearing at someone out of sight – calling him the one word we don’t even type – until it struck her that he was talking to our little adopted brother. Until she swung him up onto her hip and the man’s mouth fell open and he didn’t know what to say. So she said it for him, “He’s not begging from me; he’s asking for me because he’s my brother.”
Love is a serious thing.
It makes us blood family with Jesus – and He has commanded us what that looks like:
So to my white friends reading this, can I simply say without judgment, without presuming to know your story – can we simply pause from our own conversations and lay down our point of view in order to listen to someone else’s?
I think this is what love does.
And to my black friends reading this, can I simply say that I’m listening. And I’m aching and I’m heartsick and I’m shaking here on the other side of the screen and I’m making time to deliberately ask the awkward questions to be sure I’m not just listening but actually hearing my black friends.
For all of us can we love the people we disagree with, the people we’re mad at, the people we ache for, the people we don’t understand?
Because Jesus loves them.
And because love always makes the first move.
And being willing to listen with hands open and fists unclenched is a radical act of love.
This daring verb that is so much more than a date on the calendar, or an ornament on a tree, or a card or a note or a word.
Love is the Holy Breath of God wrapped up in human DNA. This Word that gave up heaven and a Kingdom in order to slip into the skin of poverty and humanity. This great love that is quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.
This love that runs away from measuring sticks and judgements and toward partnership and compassion.
This love that doesn’t keep score of who’s right and who’s only getting what they deserve. This love that finds hope in trash heaps and new beginnings at the bottom of dumpsters and news headlines.
This love that runs toward children and neighbors with arms wide open.
This love that is older than our brokenness and brighter than our darkest nights.
This radical, upside down love that is not self-seeking, is not easily angered, and unbelievably, inexplicably keeps no record of wrongs.
This Love that does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
This beautiful, wildly hopeful love that always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
This love that welcomes its friends and its enemies and invites them all in.
This love that sees everyone as family and every day a start of something beautiful.
This love that runs through doors even where there aren’t supposed to be any.
Past fear and doubt and anger and worry and headlines and commentary and frustration, this love that wedges the door open. Even if it’s only a crack.
This Jesus love that slips off its own shoes so it can spend time walking around in his and hers and theirs.
This love that listens.
This love that hears.
This love that learns.
This love that is unashamedly interested in others.
This love that gave up heaven and fame for small and misunderstood. This Jesus example that was an incredibly humbling process.
We can do this too. Especially at this time of year as we walk in the footsteps of the greatest love story ever written – we the beloved beneficiaries.
We can crack open our doors and our conversations and our hearts and let our neighbors in — and then, friends, maybe then the weary world rejoices.