by MaryBeth Omido
The process of dark things coming to light is usually painful. Upon exposure, our response to the hidden, ugly things inside ourselves is usually shock, grief, and shame. “How could that thing possibly be alive inside of me?” When we discover the ugliness hidden in those around us, our response is usually shock, grief, and anger. “How could that thing possibly live inside of you?” I have found that our response on either side of this unearthing defines how we move forward on our road to reconciliation.
My personal story of reconciliation is one that is probably a lot longer than I am conscious of, but one that I have had a heightened awareness of over the past few months. I am a black woman that has spent most of her life steeped in white culture. I am usually the only, or one of very few blacks in most social settings. Over the years I have gone through times when that feels extremely challenging and isolating, as well as seasons in which I accepted it as the reality for most minorities in the Midwest. This past season however, it has been extremely difficult. Month after month there was a new story of racial injustice that would fill television broadcasts and newspaper headlines. Every time it felt like a burden was placed right on my heart. Story after story, burden after burden. Until one day the scale tipped and I realized I was not only carrying too many burdens, but that I was also holding onto anger. I was so angry. I was angry with America for thinking it had progressed farther than it had in the area of racial reconciliation. I was angry with the Church for not crying out for justice. I was angry with white people for their silence.
In my anger I chose to isolate myself from the people who loved me. I chose to close myself off from stories of racial progress and I chose to fall deaf to the Church crying out for justice as well as to whites speaking out. I chose to stand stubbornly and let, what felt like, justified anger be my companion. I carried that deep within me, day after day. I carried it with me until one day, when I was standing in the back row during a meeting at my church and I felt the Lord nudge me to go receive prayer from a friend. I explained to my friend the anger that I felt and asked for prayer. She prayed the words I knew I needed to hear but they still felt difficult to receive. At the end she said “Since the moment you walked up here I’ve felt like I just needed to hug you and give you a kiss.” So she kissed me on the cheek and pulled me close for a hug, and bam! - Right in that moment, a wall that I had allowed to grow strong and tall within me, fell down. All because a friend that I was at war with in my spirit, drew me close to herself. In that moment the Lord took all the burdened anger that I was carrying and placed it on Himself. He said “You can be angry, but don’t be angry with these people. You can be angry with me, and we’ll work it out together.
So I did just that. I took the anger that I had placed on those around me and I handed it to the One who can handle my mess. After I handed it to Him, He asked me to step out of my isolation and begin building bridges. I began to have meaningful conversations with friends about race. I began to open up and share about how I longed for my friends and community to have deep and meaningful conversations about race and identity; because silence is the perfect breeding ground for ignorance. It was something that felt slow, but steady; vulnerable, but protected. I knew that there would be more stories of injustice rooted in racial prejudice, but I was willing to take steps in my own life to build bridges.
But then I saw a video full of racism come straight out of the heart of my community. I was shocked. I was grieved. But I had a choice of what to do with the anger.
After watching the video I laid in my bed and turned my attention to the Lord and He showed me a picture of my heart. It was like a house that was full and light and the windows in every room were open. He brought to mind Luke 11: 24-26 “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and finding none it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house swept and put in order. Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there. And the last state of that person is worse than the first.” The Lord showed me how He had been cleaning all to the bitterness and anger out of my heart, but that the rooms were all empty. I felt the Lord speak in my heart and say, “MaryBeth, you know we can’t keep these rooms empty.” I responded, asking “Well, how are we going to fill them?” At first I thought He would fill the rooms solely with Himself, but then I saw him begin to fill the rooms with people who have said and done things that have offended me. I felt him place those boys into a room. And then He said “When you fight to love them in your heart, reconciliation will be the most joyful experience of your life.” The most joyful. The most Joyful? That is an amazing promise. My job is to take the stone of hatred and anger that is in my hand, place it down and extend forgiveness and love. His promise is that joy will come in the reconciliation.
In Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, Bryan Stevenson says “You can’t effectively fight abusive power, poverty, inequality, illness, oppression, or injustice and not be broken by it. We are all broken by something. We have all hurt someone and have been hurt. We all share the condition of brokenness even if our brokenness is not equivalent[...]But our brokenness is also the source of our common humanity, the basis for our shared search for comfort, meaning, and healing. Our shared vulnerability and imperfection nurtures and sustains our capacity for compassion. We have a choice. We can embrace our humanness, which means embracing our broken natures and the compassion that remains our best hope for healing.”
I choose that. I choose to be a woman who fights for justice, who extends compassion when I feel broken by someone else’s brokenness, and who stands for reconciliation in the midst of pain. And I know that I will not stand alone.