Understanding the Pain

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Understanding the Pain

I drove home a few days ago after a two hour conversation with a black friend of mine, struck speechless with the reality she faces on a daily basis. I realized the ignorance in my previous thinking that what I’ve been seeing on TV over the past few weeks wasn’t a true portrayal of a real black life, but rather a dramatized version that CNN has been pimping for profit. I was wrong. When I got home, I couldn’t get many words out of my mouth when my wife asked me how my day was, because I couldn’t grasp the hurt and pain that I had just heard. 

Over the past few weeks I’ve had a handful of conversations with black people, wanting to understand what it’s like to be black in America, particularly with the climate of today. Story after story has been full of injustice. Stories of being pulled over for a “tail light being out,” even though it was just changed a week before. Stories of getting called a n**** on a monthly basis as someone passes you by the street. A story of getting ice cream dumped on your shoes because the color of your skin (this happened just a few months ago). Stories of getting told to “get out of this city.” Stories of getting let go from work or not getting jobs, all because you’re black. And the horror stories could go on. 

From the conversations I’ve had, I now better understand the anger. I understand the relentless pursuit of justice. I understand that this is not about blue lives mattering too. I understand that this isn’t about all lives mattering. This is about total equality, something black people have never experienced a single day in their lives.  

Today I ended my conversation with tears running down my face, and as genuinely as a white guy can say to a black woman, I told her “I am so sorry.” I left realizing I cannot relate with a single story she had just explained to me. But sadly, I realized I’ve never tried to relate. I’ve always been content with not understanding. I realized that, without much effort in my part, I was surrounded with white friends, white acquaintances, a middle class house, and a white life. Just the other day I watched Alton Sterling’s mom cry out in an unfathomable way, demanding through her tears, the justice that she deserves, and I couldn’t relate. 

Although I can’t relate, I also acknowledge it’s wrong to continue life unphased when confronted with such evil. Edward Abbey said, “Sentiment without action is the ruin of the soul.” As a middle-class white male, it’s impossible for me to understand the emotions African-American men and women must be going through. All my life I have been the majority, everywhere I’ve gone. I’ve been the majority in every room I’ve entered into, every job I’ve applied for, every minute I’ve lived in society. I’ve been treated fairly my entire life. I’ve been treated as an equal. How can I understand the injustice African-Americans feel? These are people who have been treated unjustly their whole life. They have been the minority everywhere they’ve gone. They’ve had an uphill battle on every resume they’ve turned in. They’ve walked the streets with wrongful assumptions made about what they might be up to.

And that’s just a glimpse of what a lot of African-Americans face today.

In spite of the difficulty of understanding someone from a different background, understanding must take place. We must apply the healing balm of the Gospel to the wounds of injustice. Jesus came to this world fully knowing us, yet He came curious and interested in us. He came asking questions and listening to our stories. If we really think about it, we could conclude that He wasted His time. He could have just magically moved from person to person, healing everyone in sight. But instead he spent his time listening to a prostitute woman at a well. He spent his time with lepers and cripples, listening to them and telling them their sins are forgiven. He came telling stories about Fathers who embrace the weak and needy. He came to connect with us, to show interest in our lives.

So we can quickly judge people different than us, or we can take time, showing every person we encounter the dignity they deserve, understanding who they are; an image bearer of The Most High God. This takes time and effort, but it’s time and effort Jesus calls us to give. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”

Jesus has a plan for racial reconciliation. I can say with 100% assurance that one day every tribe, tongue and nation will not point fingers at one another, drop bombs, and shoot guns, but instead his people will love each other and God together. There will be a day where God makes all things new. A day with no more tears, no more hate and no more death. I hope in that day, but until that day we have a high calling to understand one another. 

So what are some practical steps?

  1. Have a conversation with someone, not to be right or to prove a point, but just to understand their story. This is why the bible commands that we listen, we care, and we give validation to feelings of pain and injustice. Don’t be so quick to reply with “well, black on black crime is a bigger deal.” Or, “blue lives matter too!” Or, “well, he actually was charging after the policeman.” Those responses show an inability to love, to listen, and to show empathy. Those responses show a need to be right. 

  2. Inform yourself. This is something I’m beginning to do. Read books about racism. One I recommend is “Heal us, Emmanuel” by a handful of PCA pastors, edited by Doug Serven. Or read blogs about how black people are feeling right now, there are a lot out there.

  3. Surround yourself with a community of people who aren’t exactly like you. Stretch yourself. Pray for a diverse community if it’s nowhere within reach.

- Joshua