Your newsfeed probably looks a lot like mine today, with everyone talking about Ferguson. One post that caught my attention was from a friend sharing a snippet from an email written by an 18 year old student. It read,
I can’t even describe to you how much it makes me feel uncomfortable in my own skin. I feel hopeless. And powerless…. Because I’m black….I didn’t ask to be black…. I don’t even want to be black anymore.
I’m the proud father of five children, two of which are black. They weren’t born here but in Ethiopia, and they became part of our family 6 years ago while they were 4 and 5 years old. They were born into a family and a life that isn’t fair, one that no one would wish upon any child, and they have been brought into a family that I can only hope provides them with love and hope, but as is all things, is far from perfect. My adopted children can, I think, identify with the sentiment of the girl’s comment above. Somewhere, somehow, they picked up along the way that their skin color seems to matter to some, if not many, people. Eli, who is now 11, said to me and my wife not too long ago that he wished he wasn’t “brown.” In his mind he perceives his skin color to put him at a disadvantage. Conversely, my three white kids have never wished they were something else.
All of this got me thinking about what I hope for my kids to learn from all of the recent events in Ferguson. I know I don’t want them turning 18 feeling hopeless like the girl who caught my attention on Facebook this morning. Here are seven truths I hope to instill in all my kids – both black and white – in hopes that they will be better prepared to face the harsh realities of life. This list is far from exhaustive, and by sharing it here I hope I can learn from you how to make what is here better or add something I’m not seeing.
You are beautiful. You are beautiful because you are a child of God, created to be the object of God’s eternal joy and affection. Your beauty has nothing to do with the amount of or lack of melanin in your skin. You are fearfully and wonderfully made, knit together by God in your mother’s womb. God doesn’t make junk, and you are one of the treasure for which he died to save.
Be known by your fruit. Be known for who you are, not what you are. Don’t waste your life by reducing yourself and everyone else to the color of skin. Allow, instead, the light that is in you to shine brighter than any color the world can see. Jesus said that the world would know who belongs to him by their fruit – not what we look like on the outside but by how our hearts respond on the inside. Choose to be known for the greatness of your character, which is Christ in you.
The world is unsafe and unfair. We live in a fallen world where not everyone will see your beauty and not everyone will look for, or care about, your fruit. This same tendency is in you, and me, too. Sin infects all of our hearts and we should not be surprised when we see it manifest itself in any manner of ways, including racism. The battle we are waging is not against flesh and blood – or between whites and blacks – but against spiritual realities which are at work in every one of us, regardless of race. Your battle is with sin, with the spiritual forces at work in this world, and no matter what your skin color, there will always be people who will hurt you, treat you unfairly, not live up to your expectations, even treat you cruelly. Don’t be surprised when this happens and don’t play the victim when it does. Jesus, when he was brutally tortured and hung on a cross, prayed for those who sinned against him. We can and should strive to do the same when people sin against us. Pray for your enemies, and bless those who persecute you.
Justice. Love mercy and work for justice. But do so humbly, walking with God (Micah 6:8). Pray for peace and stand alongside the oppressed. But do this not because you dream of a utopian society here on earth but out of obedience to God. In this way you will not grow discouraged when things do not go as you think they ought. It may look like your hopes and dreams are being nailed to a cross but you have no idea how God might use your faithfulness. Remember, the reason Jesus did signs and wonders was not to bring justice to the world but to make the One who is Just known to the world (John 20:31). Your acts of random kindness and works of justice may never bring about radical social change to our fallen world but it may topple someone’s misunderstandings about God brining about a radical change of heart.
We all need Jesus. Racism is just one of the many sins you will experience in this life. Whenever you encounter it, or any other sin, learn to pray. Pray for the ones committing the sin as well as for yourself, that you would be able to extend the same mercy to them as Christ has to you, even while we were his enemies. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be careful or set boundaries or even that you must trust everyone. God never commanded us to trust fallen people or systems. He commanded us to trust him and him alone and to love people. It’s OK to feel powerless in the midst of life’s storms. It is in our weakness that God’s strength can be made known to you in ways you would be unable to see through the delusion of self-sufficiency. Remember that we are all a mess without Jesus. Apart from him, we can do nothing.
Live by faith, not feelings. Feed yourself on the promises of God and in so doing you will live by faith, not feelings. The enemy of your soul will tell you that you don’t matter, that your life is pointless, that the grass is greener on the other side, that the world owes you, and anything else it might use to cause you to feel justified in grasping upon anything or anyone in order to meet your needs. On this side of heaven and hell you will everyday be presented opportunities to move towards one or the other, and if your feelings are your only or must trusted guide, hell will be more and more your reality, in this life and the next.
Holiness, not happiness, is our aim. God’s desire for you and for me is that we become like Jesus. Jesus, God’s own son, learned obedience through the things he suffered (Heb. 5:8). If you are to become like Christ, you can and should expect to go through the same things Christ went through. Jesus promised that in this world we will know trouble. We can take heart, however, because we know that he overcame the world. How? Through humble obedience to the will of his Father. God wishes to make you holy, and every time you come face to face with rampant sin in this world, as Jesus did, know you do not face it alone, and that in all things, even this, God will work out for the good for those who love him. What good might that be? Your holiness.
It would be a mistake to think that I teach this well, or even model it well, all the time. But I pray that by God’s grace I will grow in each of these truths myself, and my kids would follow suit. As a Christian, I am convinced that given the option between feeling sorry for my kids (and thereby allowing them to feel sorry for themselves) or pointing them towards the Gospel (even with crooked fingers), the latter is far better, and far more hopeful and empowering. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayers.