Still More to Do
by Lori Stanley Roeleveld
Battles are exhausting. We just want them to be done. And why not? No one wants to spend their lives fighting. We long for peace and rest even when our battle is for a worthy cause.
There can come a point when we’re so spent, we consider a compromise that is partially a defeat. We settle for winning progress for some—not for all and hope those left behind will understand.
This is the temptation we face now over racial reconciliation and healing in America.
Many of us have been taught since our childhoods back in the 1960s and 70s (or by parents who grew up then), that all people are created equal and deserving of respect regardless of skin color or ethnicity. We watched Marlo Thomas and a diverse cast sing how we were free to be who we are.
Sitcoms continued the lesson of love over hate with humor. Movies and mini-series about racism reinforced love, and we vowed to teach our children a better way—and we’ve tried. Our songs promised a future where racial unity was a certainty. The pastors in our pulpits and the teachers in our church school classes emphasized God’s love for His children of every skin color. We believed prejudice would die out with the generations before us because we put our hands to the work.
Imagine our shock to learn there’s more to be done. Imagine our heartache to be mid-life and beyond only to hear that the work is far from complete. You don’t have to imagine our weariness at hearing the battle isn’t yet won.
Initially, we feel defensive and try to address the rage, pain and questions of the hurting by telling them they’re wrong. We point to signs of progress and press them to acknowledge what’s already been done as a remedy to their experience of the world. This isn’t effective because their pain is real, and their perceptions are valid.
When denial doesn’t work, we listen for a time, but our hearts break with weariness, and we fatigue easily. So, we retreat. We try not to hear. We imagine there’s been a misunderstanding. We place our hopes on the young and insist we’ve retired from active duty. The exhaustion comes though from the effort required to remain in denial. It’s wearing to try to shush the Holy Spirit.
Once we hear God, once we come to Him unguarded and trusting the love of Jesus, we receive the truth. There has been progress. We have moved forward in embracing one another across ethnicities and racial divides. Our lives have made a difference—for some.
But the battle remains. Some people continue to hurt one another and make judgements based on color, ancestry and culture. The people of God must be willing, in love, to hear the hurting, to consider others more important than ourselves, to lament, repent and continue the ministry of reconciliation that begins with salvation but then spreads to our relationships with one another and with the world.
The Bible records another time this happened.
In Deuteronomy, Moses led the Israelites into battle for the Promised Land. This was the end of a long journey for God’s people. In a sense, they were finally “home.” But first, they had to defeat two fierce kings who threatened to destroy them.
The people banded together, and God gave them the victory over these lands. When the dust settled, Moses gave this territory to a portion of the twelve tribes.
“I gave to the Reubenites and the Gadites the territory beginning at Aroer, . . . The rest of Gilead, and all Bashan, the kingdom of Og, that is, all the region of Argob, I gave to the half-tribe of Manasseh” (Deuteronomy 3:12-13 ESV).
This was momentous. Their wanderings were concluded. They had entered the land promised to them by God. They celebrated victory. Moses glimpsed the Promised Land and returned to God. Joshua assumed leadership.
The battle wasn’t done.
Two and one-half tribes had the peace that had been promised but nine and one-half weren’t yet home.
In Joshua 1, this new leader rallies the people to cross the Jordan and battle again. He turns to the tribes that have already received their land and reminds them of their commitment to their brothers.
“Your wives, your little ones, and your livestock shall remain in the land that Moses gave you beyond the Jordan, but all the men of valor among you shall pass over armed before your brothers and shall help them, until the Lord gives rest to your brothers as he has to you, and they also take possession of the land that the Lord your God is giving them. Then you shall return to the land of your possession and shall possess it, the land that Moses the servant of the Lord gave you beyond the Jordan toward the sunrise” (Joshua 1:14-15 ESV).
“Until the Lord gives rest to your brothers as he has to you.” This is God’s call to all of us now. To all His people of valor, no matter our skin color, race or ethnicity, we must open our eyes and our hearts. We must revive our will to work and to fight for racial reconciliation that touches all.
To resume the work or to acknowledge there is more to do doesn’t negate the progress already made. It is, instead, an act of love to brothers and sisters who have not yet entered their promised land.
Many Christians enjoy worship with others of varying ethnicities and skin colors. We celebrate the glimpse of glory present in our sanctuaries and at our potlucks. But the work must extend beyond our worship to the world.
God can revive our hearts. He can restore our vision and our belief that even simple conversations between differing people can advance the kingdom in Jesus’ name. We will stand because He is able to make us stand—together. And one day, we’ll all be home.
Lori Stanley Roeleveld is a writer, speaker and Christian coach with degrees in psychology and biblical studies. She’s the author of The Art of Hard Conversations and new release co-authored with Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith, Colorful Connections: 12 Questions about Race that Open Healthy Conversations. Lori speaks her mind at www.loriroeleveld.com