I’m no expert on race relations. Far from it. But I am experienced in messing up when it comes to race.
As a white woman who spent most of her life in Mississippi, I should have been prepared for God to expose some blind spots. After all, for years He’s continually peeled back layer after layer of how I selfishly see the world around me. First, He started by letting me see other people at all. When I was young, He pointed out the girl who did not quite fit in at elementary school. As a shy adult, I felt Him urge me to go up to a church visitor and introduce myself. After I recently moved to another state, He forced me to be the new person, understanding what it feels like to be unsure of social cues, blushing when I stood alone at a church event, or dreading more small talk while hoping it would yield a friend I could share a cup of coffee with.
Lately God is peeling back another layer, showing me how I don’t love my black neighbors well.
Wanting to Help
Weeks ago, I watched the news of George Floyd. I heard the helicopters swirling over nearby protest marches. News like his death had bothered me before, yet those stories seemed to be just that, stories that happened “somewhere else.” The coverage of George Floyd’s death felt different. Instead of my usual reaction of thinking wow, that’s terrible or talking about it with my husband after work, I felt restless and like I should do something. But I didn’t know what.
God gently peeled back to the next layer of sin—my lack of empathy. He convicted me to check in on my black friends. And, I felt ashamed I did not have many black friends to check on. One friend was back in Mississippi. We had served together in church ministry. After I moved to Texas, she checked on me if she heard of fires or storms happening in my new home state. I asked myself now, why was I not checking on her in the wake of all this?
Our friendship had included talking about race in how we did church ministry, but I had not connected the dots of thinking of her in context of the national news. As a mother of a black son. A wife of a black man. The things I would do for any friend— call, text, write, give space to process, make banana bread for— did not occur to me as it would if my same black friend had suffered a miscarriage, gotten a cancer diagnosis, or lost her mother. I did not understand how the knee on George Floyd affected my friends of color. I was a fool for not seeing it. It would be unloving to not reach out.
Then, I went to fear. What to say? What if I made things worse? I had not read enough books about race in the church. I regretted my failure to educate myself, and I felt painfully unprepared to love my black friends….
I’ve never read the best seller, What to Expect When You’re Expecting, considered the “pregnancy bible” for expectant mothers, but over nineteen million people have! In her book, author Heidi Murkoff, helpfully addresses the questions and fears most first-time parents experience.
It’s a sobering, exciting gift to be entrusted with a life through pregnancy, fostering, adoption, or being a spiritual mama to children born to others. We know that little ones need selfless care and love to grow and mature. God must intervene to grow a baby physically and to nurture a child spiritually in their soul. There is much wisdom to gain as we take these encouraging truths and apply them to relationships with fellow children of God.
Sisters, through the Spirit we’re enabled to share spiritual life with others, and to have a faith-filled expectancy that God will bear fruit through us. An encouraging example of spiritual care and discipleship is the relationship between Paul and Timothy. Paul wanted Timothy to catch the vision to take what had been entrusted to him and to share it with others who could entrust it to others still. This is how the family of God grows: spiritual multiplication through discipleship.
Let’s consider three gifts of being a spiritual mother, which is a way we can all participate in God’s family expansion.
As a spiritual mother you can engage in relationships that share a Paul-Timothy bond.
Paul wrote to Timothy with affectionate language, such as “my true child in the faith,” and “my beloved child,” even as they were from different families, cultures, and generations! Their spiritual bond was eternal because it was anchored in Christ himself, their eternal Lord. They both caught Jesus’ passion for the gospel to go out to all the nations through intentional disciple making. It makes beautiful sense that their relationship went beyond a great Christian friendship; Paul poured himself into Timothy with the hope and expectation that Timothy would do the same.
I delight in having women in my life with whom I share a Christ-centered, spiritual-family bond. There have been a few relationships with a type of Paul-Timothy ‘knitting’— a kindred-hearted ministry calling and mutual sharpening in the gospel. I’m grateful for the spiritual legacy passed down to me which was infused with a missional heartbeat to give my life away to others; now it’s my turn to entrust it to others.
Spiritual mothering causes you to lean upon God’s grace and strength….
When it comes to He Who Must Not Be Named, most of us know full well what not to do by now—but what can we do to encourage one another as we go about our quiet days at home? It’s not a difficult reach to guess how disconnected and unmotivated we might feel without regular interaction, and especially without communal worship and fellowship. And it doesn’t take a PhD in Social Psychology to know many of us may be diagnosed with a raging case of the empties (if not the actual Coronavirus) before the Covid-wave passes.
Knowing I’m about to have a lot of time on my hands, I’m looking for ideas for those quiet midday Tuesdays when it’s going to be tempting to find myself hollowing out to a sneaky and unintended Netflix binge or playing the day’s 10th round of that addictive phone game. I’d love to make some choices that edify Christ, myself as a Christ-follower, my family whom I want to love well, and my friends and neighbors—believers and non-believers alike—both over the fence and over the WiFi.
With that in mind, here are a few ways for you/me/us to consider the lonely, and expand the definition of who that could be and what that could look like.
Say hello to your neighbors. Knock on a front door and tell them you just wanted to see their face and ask if they needed anything…
Years ago, a friend of mine was convinced that air conditioning was destroying the fabric of American community in the south. I thought he was over-reaching and I pushed back against his claim. But he noted that before air conditioning, at the end of the day, people were forced to spend their evenings taking walks or sitting on their front porches. The heat festering in the house simply drove them outside. They couldn’t avoid their neighbors. Today, many of us drive home, pull into our garages and close the automatic door behind us, hoping to only engage with the people with whom we cohabitate.
Maybe my friend’s theory about AC wasn’t that over-reaching.
We like our space, our TV shows (I mean, I live alone and have three TVs…why?), and our agenda. But, what’s so wrong with all of that? I think the bigger question is: what does our obsession “having it our way” cost us?
Stephen M. Lukes wrote, “Individualism can be described in terms of a kind of moderate selfishness that disposes humans to be concerned only with their own small circle of family and friends.” That definition stands in stark contrast to Philippians 2’s mandate to count others more significant than ourselves (2:3-4). Like you, I imagine, my love has a pecking order. It’s a fact that I love my close friends and family members more than a complete stranger. I’d rather be given a short list of people that I’m required to love and build into, than an open expectation that I’m supposed to die to my own agenda and show mercy to virtually anyone who crosses my path…
I’m an up-front kind of girl—of the church that is. Every Sunday my husband, boys and I walk right up to about the second row of the sanctuary and make ourselves at home. Immersed in worship I push the distraction of others behind me and enter into communion with our Lord. We sit so close that one time another church member joked “You keep moving up and you’re going to have to preach the sermon!” I’m comfortable in the front, maybe a little too comfortable.
Worship from the Back Row
Awhile back my husband was asked to serve as a “safety officer” during worship. Every so often, our family would have to move to the back of the church, and I mean the last row so that he could safely observe the congregation in full view. I was not so eager about that part of the commitment. Did you catch the beginning paragraph where I listed all the reasons I love the front row? Did you notice a recurring theme? Me, right? What I wanted, what I felt I needed during worship. Oh, the distractions we would face! My self-absorbed spirit was crushed as I thought of all the visual annoyances I would have to push aside in order to worship. In God’s magnificent providence, he gently turned my sin-filled spirit from one of begrudging a change in scenery, to a beautiful picture of his bride, the church.
As I slid in next to my husband in the last row of the sanctuary my eyes wandered to the people around me. So. Many. People. I had an immense sense of trepidation as to what the next hour of worship would hold. If I could find it this easy to wander my eyes, would my heart and spirit follow? Could I even worship with all this spiritual noise before me? Self-absorbed and truly wanting for God’s grace, I made each minute more about myself. I could not have been more devoid of the welcoming and loving presence of my Savior I was supposed to be worshipping. But instead of chastising me, or worse, leaving me to wallow in self-pity, the Lord graciously painted a portrait of how he sees his sheep in the Son-drenched pasture of worship.
The Bride Worships
I saw a woman struggling with debilitating pain throughout her body break down in tears during the opening call to worship. Another woman from our Bible Study small group noticed and scurried over to put her arm around her, comforting her with a tissue and her own empathetic tears…
It may surprise those who know me to learn that showing hospitality by welcoming others into my home has not always been a joy. When I was a young bride, my heart did not always join in with the ‘welcoming’ aspect of hospitality as I raced through preparations in a panic. Fellowship may have been at the top of my motives for having company for dinner, but running close behind that goal were insecurity, perfectionism, and the desire to impress. I gave so much effort to planning, cooking, and presenting the perfect menu—with babies and toddlers in tow—that by the time our company arrived I was too wrung-out to enjoy our guests. There are whole evenings and conversations that I cannot remember, other than the stress leading up to them.
So why have company at all? Why jump through the hoops if I’m only going to end with a messy kitchen, a mild headache, and no appreciable memory of the evening?
Because the Bible tells me to.
A Fellowship of Love
Well, not exactly. What the Bible tells me has nothing to do with anxiety and the charade driven by insecurity, perfectionism, and the desire to impress others. What the Bible tells me is to welcome others joyfully. Why? Because I have been welcomed into the blessed fellowship of God himself through his Son Jesus Christ…