All at once, our collective hearts were broken. We watched as his last breath left his body. These days, my tears are always right there, ready to be unleashed. Ahmad Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and then George Floyd. 2020 has us reeling. Resonating with so many around the world, we’re connected by an undeniable ache. Grappling as a culture with the fallout of the sin of racism, we’re being forced to recognize the countless indignities that have always been inconsistent with God’s design for humanity. Loss, weeping, mourning, agonizing, demonstrations, passion, anger, unrest—this newly emerging landscape is almost unrecognizable. We must accept that who we are as a society has already been changed.
Acknowledging the pain of the generations before us—abused, dismissed, and denied justice—we can’t forget that they labored for us. Despite their hard-fought movement toward “liberty and justice for all,” they’ve had to witness that effort hindered in its progress. Their requests weren’t idealistic, and MLK’s dream wasn’t silly, because they reflect God’s vision taken from his Word. So then, we ask, “Why, O LORD, do you stand far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” because today, the losses appear insurmountable.
We hear God’s calls for us to comfort, but we choose to cross-examine instead. Christian infighting and finger-pointing bombards our timelines while calls for justice go unheeded. Unbelievers watch and wait for our response. How do we as Christians choose the gospel above all while doing the hard work of consoling and serving those who are hurting, those who we may not even agree with? Why is unity so hard? How do I, as an African-American woman and a mother to a young man in the South, inoculate myself against the bitterness, fear, and rage all around me? Where do I place my hurt?
The psalmist wrote, “Where will my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth. He will not allow your foot to slip; your Protector will not slumber” (Psa.121:1a–3). Returning to these words many times through the years, I again find comfort for today and renewed hope for tomorrow. God is awake. He is active. With his omniscient view from his throne, he sees all. And with his intimate knowledge of our hearts, he has a purpose for all. God didn’t do this, but he can most certainly redeem it.
Glimmers of hope
Amidst these hard months, we’re watching positive shifts take place. Good things are happening, gifting us with glimmers of hope that peek from the shadows. Within my own processing, the sting has been tempered by this hope. For so many of us, our pain has been a catalyst offering the opportunity to look past ourselves and to recognize others and their suffering. Others have experienced a fresh boldness, compelling them to donate their resources and influence to affect necessary change. Arising from the tragedy created by racism, many are experiencing an unprecedented connectedness to others. The gospel is being preached, and scales are falling from once-blinded eyes. Hearts are being massaged, and ears have been primed to hear.
Hope has been the currency that has sustained me in this heavy-hearted season. This currency has investment value for my community, my work, my home, and my soul. Hope can bring healing and resilience to broken situations, and it has pressed me to pursue peace even as we pursue justice. I’ve learned there’s no peace without a storm, no victory without a battle. Pain has a way of guiding believers right into the center of God’s purposes for us. Within God’s plans, pain has worked as a refining fire that he’s used to reshape me. Using our struggles, often he produces in us passions with which to pursue him while blessing others.
What we’ve been seeing is the hand of God moving despite the backdrop of evil and brokenness. I’m having conversations with many who’ve never had to confront the realities of the harsh systems their black and brown brothers and sisters have had to endure. Hearing from those around me, we’re using this moment in history to educate and then walk through beautiful discipleship conversations in our homes and with our families. Leaders are being forced to acknowledge their ignorance, indifference, and even complicity. This generation of future leaders, including my own, are being enlisted, identifying injustice, and are empowered to use their voices, minds, and communities to broker change.
More work must be done. Inspired by Rosa Parks, Ruby Bridges, Mamie Till, Harriet Tubman, and others, I aim to be a person of peace, a part of the solution. I’m compelled by Christ to be a bridge-builder while the soil is tender, seeking to “act justly, love faithfulness, and walk humbly” with him as an active calling. We’re still broken, but God doesn’t slumber. And so, we don’t lose heart.
Growing up in the African-American church has steeped me in this rich theology. Our songs so often challenge the hurting to endure weariness, placing their hope and trust in God. Written as a poem, these words from “Lift Ev’ry Voice” became an anthem. Not one of war, but of struggle. Not of division, but of unity. Not solely of lament, but also of inspiring hope.
Lift every voice and sing, till earth and Heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise, high as the listening skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
Let us march on till victory is won.
God of our weary years,
God of our silent tears,
Thou who has brought us thus far on the way;
Thou who has by Thy might led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee,
Lest, our hearts drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee;
Shadowed beneath Thy hand,
May we forever stand.
True to our God,
True to our native land.