As I read through posts and comments on social media, it is so obvious that there is a need for dialogue about racism and unity. The evidence of a society divided is heartbreaking and thought-provoking, at the same time. I have friends expressing hurt, rage, offense, denial, and indifference. It truly weighs heavily on me, as I struggle to find an appropriate response.
What I find interesting is that some of my friends are coming from a completely different angle than I am, yet I respect their viewpoint. Some friends are choosing a side other than the one on which I would stand, yet I feel no need to attack them. Some of my friends are in need of cute cat pictures right now, to help deal with the conflict, and I understand that too. And though I struggle to address all of the thoughts and feelings in words, my heart is still so full of love for these people. All of them.
So, why is it that I can love people even when I vehemently disagree with their political rants or they criticize things that I hold dear? It’s because of love. It’s because I know that, like I Corinthians 13 tells us, that no matter how well-spoken I am, how faithful I am, or how generous and self-sacrificing I am, if I don’t have love, it doesn’t matter. I am nothing!
Thinking of this passage has truly caused me to pause when I see “Black Lives Matter” and wish to respond with “All Lives Matter,” because I agree with both. What I am learning, however, is that downplaying the plight of one group who feels persecuted and unheard is not loving. It only shows a lack of compassion and an unwillingness to help. So, while I may not agree with everything they say or every solution they propose, I must have compassion for their hearts, and for their pain.
I once would have told you that I supported the Confederate flag and its presence, because of the South’s history. Today, I would tell you, that though it does not offend me personally, it solicits feelings of racism and pain for many of my black American friends, and I choose not to be a part of bringing that into their lives. I could, instead, go on a rant about it being a historic symbol or “just a flag” and suggest that they simply get over it; but how could I do that in love?
Has your child ever had a broken heart over something that you thought was silly? I have. When I tell them that it doesn’t matter, and give them all of the reasons that it shouldn’t, I only shut down their dialogue with me. They are still just as upset, but now I have become someone who does not understand. On the other hand, when I acknowledge their hurt, and try to help them work through it, that shows them that I care about them enough to care about what hurts them, even if it doesn’t hurt me. It creates trust and unity with my child. It is an issue to me, because someone that I love is upset about it.
On a more personal level, you may be able to recollect a time when you were hurt over something that was downplayed. Perhaps you just wanted to know that someone else cared. You don’t need an eloquent speech, at that moment. You don’t need to be told to “Get over it.” You need to know that even though your friends are not going through the same experience, they care about it, because of their love for you.
If we are truly trying to be like Christ, we must love. We must think before we react, “Is this response going to show my love, or am I just trying to sound smart/right/informed?” If it is simply intended to put people in their place or to inflate my ego, perhaps it is best left unsaid. We have enough of that in the world. But, the Bible says that people will know we are Christians by our Love. We sing it in church, but do we show it in our behavior?
Sometimes, I think we (myself included) should bring back the “WWJD” bracelets, maybe with “WWJP – What Would Jesus Post,” instead. I can allow my emotions to get the best of me. I can feel my anger pipe up, when I read something that offends me, and I wish to answer to it. I need to pause more, and ask myself, “Is this how Christ would have responded?” Even when it is another who is full of venom, we know that Jesus was never the one to reach for the sword and strike them.
What about me? Am I showing love? Because, when all of my words are written, even if my faith is strong enough to make the mountains move, without love, they mean nothing.
The car often rolled into my quiet, suburban neighborhood. It would park on the street, and I would see them get out of the car, two to three women, in long skirts, hair nicely done, with booklets in hand. I knew who they were immediately, and cringed at the thought, “The Jehovah’s Witnesses are here.”
From house to house, they rang doorbells, with no response, or doors quickly shut. I prepared to hide, when the bell rang. Naturally, it rang as I was walking in front of the window, so I answered, awkwardly unprepared to tell them to go away. I invited them in.
They walked into my empty and cold house, filled with boxes, being prepared for a move to somewhere I had not yet determined. I had liquidated the furniture to pay my attorney, and was sleeping on an air mattress. The living room furniture was now the patio furniture that I had brought inside. The ladies each had a seat in a wrought iron chair with a cushion on it. I had moved past embarrassment into a comfortable numbness that would not allow me to apologize, but certainly made me feel inadequate.
They began to talk about religion, and I informed them that I was a Christian, and had been raised by a church of Christ minister, who was still preaching in Alabama. I told them about my uncle, who was a missionary in Africa. I told them about my grandfather who had been an elder at a nearby church, but had passed away.
With a snarled lip, I then shared about my then-husband, who had been a deacon in the church, but had just confessed to an affair with a young girl at this work. I was now in the midst of divorce, living with my three children, hands empty, heart broken, and no idea what I was going to do. All I knew was that I had to get out of there.
I felt like I had thrown up on them, at that moment.
I didn’t even know these women. I was not supposed to like them. After all, they were Jehovah’s Witnesses! They were the people that you put up signs to keep out, the ones you yell at, “Go away!” or “We don’t want any!” They are a cult, obsessed with door knocking and brainwashing. Right?
And yet, here they were, sitting in my living room, looking at me, with the most compassionate and patient faces I can remember. We talked a little bit longer, just about God and faith, and getting through difficult times. After a while, they got up to leave, and asked if they could stop by again sometime. Without hesitation, I replied, “Sure. I would love to visit again.”
The next time they knocked on my door, they brought me a Starbucks Vanilla Latte, which was my favorite coffee in those days. I don’t recall how they knew I liked those, or when I brought that up, but they had remembered, and there it was, on the other side of my peephole. I may have secretly questioned whether it was laced with some weird “Jehovah’s Witness opiate” that would make me agree with all that they said, run out and buy long skirts, and start annoying my neighbors by knocking on all of their doors, but I drank it anyway. It was so good.
We got out our Bibles and began to discuss many scriptures. There was a good bit on which we agreed. There was some on which we most definitely did not agree. However, I remained respectful in my discussion, as did they. As they talked, I found that what I most admired was their dedication to their faith, and their desire to share. I figured the least I could do was listen, even if I had different beliefs.
Over the next month or so, we visited a few more times. One night, during our visits, I came home and found several bags of groceries on my doorstep. There was no note. There were no pamphlets. There were no clues as to who may have left them. I always suspected that it may have been those ladies.
At our last visit, they invited me to join them for church sometime. I politely declined, saying, “I am very actively involved in my own faith; but thank you for the invitation.” Truthfully, I felt like my own faith had betrayed me, but would not have admitted it, at that time. They left it open, and I walked them out.
It still makes me smile to think of those visits, and of those women. It used to sting a little to think of how many of my own Christian sisters had withdrawn from me, in times of trouble. That still happens, and yet, every time, God sends others, often from places I would never imagine. He uses women from other faiths to strengthen mine. He stirs my thoughts and my courage through these encounters. He shows that a knock on the door from someone that I would normally shut out may just be an opportunity for Him to come in.
And maybe only in my brokenness am I willing to open that door, even if it’s for a Jehovah’s Witness, holding a Starbucks.
Hebrews 13:2 “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.”