I’m struggling today. Many are, I’m sure. Last night, a white man shot nine black people who were spending time with God and one another in their church. He actually sat next to these people while they studied the Bible and when they finished, he took nine of their innocent lives. Black lives. Lives that matter.
While I live 700 miles away from Charleston, SC, this attack feels close to home for me. Though my body is in Pittsburgh, a large portion of my heart lives in Charleston. Practically everyone on my mom’s side of the family lives there. In fact, I often joke that if you’re black and live in Charleston, I’m probably related to you. At the very least, my grandmother likely knew you. Grandma Betsy was a feisty, friendly, and popular woman.
I spent much of my youth hanging out in black churches all over Charleston — sometimes against my will, I’ll admit. The church is a pillar in many black families, mine included. Since I was a little girl, going to church on the regular was an inarguable expectation placed on me. I’d sit in those hard pews for hours, clapping during the music and yawning during the sermon. Slowly, as I became a teenager and matured, I began to view the church as a second home. Through personal experience I learned that they don’t call it a sanctuary for nothing.
I didn’t grow up in Charleston, but I’d visit often with my family. I always looked forward to these visits to the South, where I could actually feel comfortable in my own skin. So much of my life has been spent comparing myself to the many white people who surrounded me, but a few times each year, I’d get to visit Charleston, worship in black churches, not feel ashamed of my black curves or kinky hair, and eat real soul food. It was a place where I could actually be black. Last year, I felt such pride bringing my husband to my grandmother’s church for the first time. Being white, he may have felt a little nervous, but he was quickly welcomed with open arms. I wouldn’t be surprised if those who attended Bible study last night at Emanuel AME welcomed their killer as well, not knowing his hateful intentions.
Earlier today I posted the obligatory Facebook status, encouraging others to pray for all involved and affected by this massacre. When stuff like this happens, it’s easy to sputter over your words and sometimes, prayer is all you’ve got. Yet, as much as I love prayer, it doesn’t feel like enough. Asking folks to pray for Charleston feels trite. And as I think about it more, I become angry.
Prayer is good and all, but you know what? Those nine black lives deserve more.
They deserve not just our prayers, but for us to be answers to prayer.
Recently I’ve come to realize that something significant is missing from my own prayer life. I’m big on prayer and pray quite frequently, but it wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I realized how comfortable I am with dumping all my thoughts on God. Yet I’m so uncomfortable with listening to Him and letting Him dump His thoughts on me. This might be why I spend so much time distracting myself from life with my smartphone, television, and laptop. I don’t desire to hear from God; I desire to fill silence with noise. I desire to eradicate awkward pauses from my life.
My relationship with God isn’t the only one affected by my lack of listening. I don’t really listen to anyone, at least not without thinking about my response while they’re still talking. And I don’t think I’m the only one who struggles with this. Most of us seem to be reading, tweeting, commenting, posting, and selfie-ing ALL THE TIME. I wonder when we’re actually giving ourselves space to listen — to God (or whomever your Higher Power is, if you have one), and to each other.
Again, speaking for myself, I think that’s why I struggle with being an answer to other people’s prayers. Because I’m not really listening. I often distract myself with the words of others, but I don’t really listen to them.
Can anyone else relate?
I believe prayer is important, as long as we’re looking out for opportunities to be answers to prayer as well. I think we have to recognize that we can’t do that without first closing our mouths, opening our ears, and opening our spirits. Unfortunately, we’re not really taught to do that. Our society is big on making statements. Say the right thing and you’re praised with retweets. Say the wrong thing and you’re shamed with retweets. (The unlucky ones are taped, posted on Youtube, and auto-tuned.)
This is a big reason why it was hard for me to watch South Carolina state senators pray for Charleston, knowing that the confederate flag waves above their Statehouse. Yes, they’re allowed to pray and they SHOULD pray, but it made me uncomfortable. It seems to me that if peace is what you want, not waving a symbol of racism and divisiveness over your government buildings would be a good first step to reflect that. History, shmistory. Listen to the pain of others, politicians of South Carolina. Then, be the answer to your own prayers.
As for the rest of us, let’s pray for peace, healing, and reconciliation. Then, in addition to doing those things, let’s listen out for opportunities to BE vessels of peace, healing, and reconciliation. If you’re unsure of how to do that, you’re not alone. I am too. Perhaps we can close our mouths, open our ears, and open our spirits, together? Answers seem come to me when I humble myself. Only then do I tend to find the strength I need to live out those answers. Maybe, in the silence, you’ll find similar strength.
So, out of respect for the nine innocent people whose lives were tragically taken last night, don’t just post on Facebook about how you’re praying for their families. Actually pray! Then, listen and be answers to prayer. Racism won’t magically go away when you do. The way this country handles gun control might not change either. But, maybe you will. And who knows what’s possible when a bunch of us pray, listen, and change — and when we pray, listen, and change together.