“We have rejoiced with you. Will you suffer with us?” pleaded prominent black therapist Dr. Anita Phillips in a recent conversation with white author and activist, Christine Caine. She was applying a familiar verse in a deeply personal appeal:
If one part [of the body] suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.1 Corinthians 12:26 NIV
I was ready to move on in my writing journey to remembering the mighty works of the Lord when my African American friend and colleague reached across the zoom-waves and shook my side-line concern. For an hour and half she poured her heart out to me and my colleagues. My completed blog draft suddenly felt out of place and inadequate, so I pushed pause on the publish key.
I know from my member care role that the best response to someone deeply hurting is to acknowledge their pain and to listen—period. Sit with them in their sorrow. Enter into their suffering. Hear their heart.
While I was horrified to watch the clip of George Floyd’s death and have hated the many reports of similar brutality in the past few years, I remained detached as a bystander. I prayed. I could always pray. But I did not truly enter into the suffering.
So I listened. I heard the humiliation she endures because of the color of her skin. I sensed her fear for her children. I felt her frustration at racial profiling. And I finally understood that this happens over and over, again and again for her every day. She can’t catch her breath. She never truly relaxes or lets her guard down.
And now my grieving continues. But this time it’s not about me or my losses. This time mourning is collective, a world-wide lament. I’m not totally sure what this looks like because I can never understand the pain and sorrow of those I am attempting to grieve with. Nor do I know where this journey will lead me. Regardless of the unknown, I can start here with Dr. Phillips’ challenge:
Celebrate with those who celebrate, and weep with those who grieve.Romans 12:15 TPT
I weep for my friend and her pain. I grieve for a whole society whose wounds keep getting reopened, for a nation founded on the backs of the enslaved. I mourn that it took me so long to acknowledge this aspect of my friend’s suffering nor have I recognized that is not part of mine.
Lord God, a part of your body is suffering. Actually, it has been suffering for centuries. Stolen from their homeland, they were chained; their voices silenced and hearts muted; dropped into a foreign land to labor; bought and sold as an object of ownership; forced to serve. They are groaning still under the weight of centuries of hatred, supremacy, oppression, and unjust systems that linger. Heal their wounds, sweet Jesus. As I learn to suffer with them, help me to look deep within, reveal blindspots and pride. Teach me what I need to learn and how to respond.