This is a long one…but stick with me!
I think you’d be hard pressed to find someone who wouldn’t say we are living in crazy times right now. You’d be hard pressed to find someone who hasn’t had some kind of emotion about all that’s going on. I’ve felt a number of emotions: sad, angry, scared, sometimes a mixture of feelings. Sad when people are hurt and have been treated poorly, angry at injustice, scared about uncertainty, and sometimes even scared for people’s lives and safety.
Mostly I have felt conflicted. I see so much hurt in people and injustice in the world. I’m honestly at a loss for what to do about it or how to genuinely and tangibly help people. How can I be a vehicle to help people with their hurt and difficulty, no matter what the source is? I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this. Even now, I write this at almost 2am when I have woken from sleep thinking about these things. So, what do I do with this conflict? Where does that take me?
I know for sure that I DON’T have all the answers. But I believe I have a place to start from, at least for me anyways, maybe it can be helpful for others also.
A couple of weeks ago, in response to the racial unrest in our nation, our church had a prayer and lamenting service. I have to say, I have been a Christian for a long time and I have been to plenty of prayer services, but I had never been to a prayer and LAMENTING service. Going to the service, I wasn’t really sure what to expect and didn’t really have a good understanding of what lamenting even means. For the lamenting part, I’ll be honest, it was a little uncomfortable. I don’t come from a church background that grieves or repents very often, in a corporate manner. That portion of our service mainly consisted of the person leading the service making a statement and then the congregation saying, “We lament”. Here are a couple of examples of the types of statements that were made during the lament portion of the service:
Worship leader: “We lament the ways in which the church in the United States has been complicit in systematic racism and injustice.”
Congregation: “We lament.”
Worship leader: “We lament that because of racism within our hearts, minds, systems, and structures, our churches rarely reflect the diversity of our communities.”
Congregation: “We lament”
And so on…
These statements that were read were very stark to me. In some instances, I felt myself thinking, “Why do I need to repent of this? I haven’t personally committed this particular sin”. I also thought, “Wow these are some really specific statements. It’s odd that we are corporately lamenting and repenting over things that are so specific”. Yet, there was something really freeing about corporately grieving and repenting over such stark things. I think one resource about lamenting that I found from the Mennonite Church USA puts it well when it comes to the purpose of lamenting. It states that biblical lament “shows us how to express deep sorrow, name suffering and cry out for God.” In the same resource Dr. Emilie M. Townes states:
“Laments tell the truth of the suffering that is smothering our worthiness, our dreams, our ability to work toward a better tomorrow… Naming these horrors in an unrestrained lament helps mold us into a people who respond with an emphatic ‘No!’ to the ways our nation and our communities of faith are turned into graven images of hatred and despair.”(http://mennoniteusa.org/menno-snapshots/lament-violence-of-racism/)
I don’t think that I could have initially put into words the impactful the act of lamenting had on me, but the statements above get at the essence of its importance in a very poignant manner. In that service, we told the truth (i.e. repented) about suffering, not just to express deep sorrow over the things that were “smothering our worthiness, our dreams and our ability to work towards a better tomorrow”, but more importantly to “mold us into people who respond” with Christ-like empathy towards the injustices and hurts of the world.
So, that got me thinking (I know… I think about things A LOT), there are two sides to repenting and two sides to our response to that. There is repenting to God – telling Him the truth about what you’ve done wrong plus that you are committing to right those wrongs. The other side is repenting to other people, namely the people you have personally hurt or sinned against or those you have had some hand in hurting or sinning against them by being a part of a collective organization, like the church. If we have repented to God, shouldn’t we repent to others when our wrongs have hurt them? That brings me to the main point of this post.
I still don’t have all of the answers to all of the injustices and problems in the world, but I can certainly seek to bring hope, healing and reconciliation to those who I have personally hurt. As a Christ follower and as a member of a local Christian church, I can certainly attempt to bring hope, healing and reconciliation to people who have been hurt by the church and its actions.
So, if I have hurt you or have made you feel lesser than, I am sorry. If I have ever acted unjustly or made you feel not valued, I repent of the part I played in making you feel that way and ask your forgiveness in that. As a Christ follower who is a member of a Christian Church, I say I’m sorry to you – that person or group of people that feels outcast by the church or you have been the victim of injustices at the hands of the church. I’m sorry both personally and as a member of the Christian church for being an agent of hurt or pain when I/we should be an agent of God’s grace and love to humanity.
I can’t fix all things. But I can certainly take responsibility for the things I’ve personally done wrong and for the wrong that has been done by the church that I represent. As a Christian, I hope that I can be the type of person who demonstrates that I love God and I love others. One who is worthy to call myself Christ follower. One who actively loves my neighbor and my enemy. One who speaks truth and repents when needed, and above all, shows the grace and mercy to others that God has so graciously shown to me.
Christian, I hope this inspires you to do the same. What would happen if all Christians decided to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8)? How would those around us view Christ, if we lived that way? When was the last time you biblically lamented over the things you’ve done wrong to others? Or the injustices of the world? Or the injustices of the church? When was the last time you not only repented to God for treating people as lesser or devalued and then you also repented to the person you wronged? We won’t ever be perfect, but we can strive to be transformed by God’s kindness that leads us to repentance, so we can we can be just, loving, kind and humble towards those we agree with and disagree with. Be a way maker and a peace bringer, as Christ was for us.
To the person (or people) who has been discriminated against or feels hurt or devalued – I am your ally! I am here for you. You are always welcome in my home! I love you! God loves you! You are made in the image of God, that alone makes you more valuable than anything on earth or in the heavens and therefore makes you valuable to me. There are other Christians who feel the same way. If someone calls themselves a Christian, they should love God and therefore love you and value you, in fact the Bible commands it (Matthew 22:37-39). Be patient with us though, just like you, we aren’t perfect and we’re a work in progress. Please show us grace when we(hopefully) come to you and ask for forgiveness. We may not always agree with each other on everything. That’s ok. Differences of opinion don’t bring disunity, lack of a common purpose does.
To both the ones who have been hurt and the ones who have done the hurting, I challenge you to first love and seek God and then love your neighbor as you want to be loved. (Matthew 22:37-38). Imagine, if we all were striving for that. How would things look different? Maybe if we just start here, it will be the first baby step among many baby steps towards hope, healing and restoration. Maybe it will be the first step towards conversations that will allow us to reconcile to God and one another?
I know we still have a long way to go. I can’t solve all of the problems and I can’t solve all of my conflicted feelings with one post, but I can do one thing – one thing to try to bring about hope and healing as a result of my actions. I pray my “one thing” has served to bring a little bit of hope and healing to someone who needed it.
Below are a few other resources on lamenting/biblical lamenting. If you’re not familiar with it or just want more information, these are a great place to start.
Great resource on what lamenting is and its’ purpose:
Good examples of what biblical lamenting looks like: