I fell in love with Charleston the first time I set foot there, probably because it was so different from where I grew up and now live, the flat plains of the Midwest. I had never been to a place with such character, beauty, and history all wrapped into one quaint package, complete with horse-drawn carriages. I was enamored from the start.
We’ve been back many times since that first visit, and every time the city captures my affections. I can’t put my finger on it, but it’s gotten under my skin. It’s a place whose history I do not understand, but a place that seems to survive, to work, to persevere, despite that history.
So when I heard about the Charleston church shooting last June, I was shocked, sickened, and saddened for a place I have grown to love. I wondered how the people there could continue, how they would go on, how they would persevere amidst yet another tragedy in their cobblestone streets.
I don’t have answers to my own questions. I don’t understand their history. I don’t know suffering that leads to perseverance like that. I just don’t know.
But I have ruminated on what I do know, rolling these thoughts round and round until here they spill. Because I just can’t keep not saying things.
Our country is sick. In fact, sometimes I feel we are very near the flat line. The fighting, badgering, choosing sides, nit picking, yelling louder than the next guy, victimization . . . all of it . . . this sickness has seeped into our bones, and we are in desperate need of healing.
I have thoughts about the problems. I have thoughts about solutions. But those don’t matter today. (I’m not sure my little thoughts ever matter much.) What we need to acknowledge is that we are full of disease and in need of healing.
And all I know, these thoughts that keep turning themselves over and over, is that the antidote to all of the hatred is love. It sounds simplistic, I know, but I believe it to be true because that’s exactly who Jesus was and who he calls us to be.
So the question I keep asking myself today is how do I love those around me? How do I, just me, make a difference today by loving just a little bit better? What does this look like?
Love looks like listening. Do we jump to conclusions about others? Are we quick to make judgments? Maybe what we need to do is to slow down and listen, to hear from another viewpoint, and to learn what it is to walk in their shoes.
Jesus spent a lot of time listening, but not a lot of time finger pointing. He spent a lot of time healing once he learned what a person’s problem really was, but he always listened first.
Love looks like seeing. Here’s what I know: looking someone in the eye makes love grow. Sometimes, when I’m angry with my husband, I just can’t look him in the eye because I know that the minute I do the fight will be over. I will see and feel love and all will be forgotten. (Yeah, I know. It’s a weakness.)
There is something about finding common ground with someone when you look them in the eye. You begin to see them for who they really are and to appreciate the people God made them to be.
Jesus looked at people, closely. In the story of the bleeding woman in Matthew 9, Jesus turns to the woman who had touched the hem of his robe, “and seeing her,” Scripture says, he healed her. This woman had probably not been seen, truly looked in the eye, in a long time before Jesus came along. But Jesus looked at her, saw her deep need, and healed her.
Love looks like reaching out. Do you need to make the first move today to restore a relationship? Do you need to pick up the phone or make an invitation in order to show someone you love them? Sometimes love is action.
Often, when Jesus healed people who had come to him, he touched them: a blind man’s eyes, a soldier’s ear. When Jesus saw injustice, he acted. When he saw need, he moved.
What do you need to actually do today to show love to another person?
These stories of hatred in our country — on both sides of the racial divide — have sobered me these past months. I have cried out to God for understanding. I have prayed for peace. I want this to end and for us to truly see one another and to love.
These past three years, God had brought a young woman into my life who has taught me a lot about listening and seeing and reaching out. I can’t go into the details of her story or our relationship, but I can say that she has opened my eyes to things I did not, and still do not, understand.
What I have learned is:
Everyone has a story—we just have to listen.
Everyone has pain—we just have to see it.
Everyone has needs—we just have to reach out.
“But God showed his great love for us that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Roman 5:8
Jesus did it. Why can’t we?