Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me and know my anxious thoughts;
And see if there be any hurtful way in me,
And lead me in the everlasting way.
– Psalm 139:23-24
When we talk of racial reconciliation, often we speak of education, empathy, and experience as starting places for the journey. These are all vital and needed aspects of racial reconciliation: to seek to understand, care, and recognize the lived realities of racial injustice.
Yet, there may be a deeper place from which to begin the work of reconciliation. When we speak of reconciliation, we are really speaking of a healing work. As Christians, we orient this healing work in the Gospel, the work of Jesus Christ.
As one who has experienced much personal healing and journeys with others as a healing prayer minister, I have learned that all healing begins in the same way. Healing begins with the truth. It begins with a recognition of what is and a recognition that it is not what it should be. It begins when the Light breaks into darkness, bringing exposure of what is hidden. Healing begins in the heart and mind.
Racial healing shares a process that is common to all healing. Healing is what happens when order is brought to chaos, when the peaceful and ordered Shalom of God is restored, and the painful disorder of lives functioning in lies and darkness is reversed. The lies that create the pain of racism are many and are often learned by each of us during our formative years. They may be hidden to us, but still functioning.
Jesus heals us most often through a process that includes recognition, remorse, confession, renunciation, repentance, receiving forgiveness, and restoration. The first step in healing is always recognition. Sometimes, most times, when Jesus is healing us, there is a moment of recognition of a truth that we may not want to see. There is discomfort in that recognition. There is pain. There is grieving, and this is right and not be feared.
I was married to a brown man, a stunning Chinese-Indian-Portuguese-Jamaican man. Our beautiful children are mixed. Growing up, I attended several schools where I, as a white girl, was in the minority. My parents did a good job of raising us not to be racist, and to not judge or view people by their appearances. I advocate for racial justice, I love my brown children, family, and friends, and think my experience of a multiracial family has made me more sensitive and compassionate. I am a card-carrying member of the NAACP. I have sought out education and understanding of racial injustice that some others may not have.
In spite of this, there are moments where I am confronted with a thought, even if fleeting and almost subconscious, that is completely racist. For instance, I was waiting for an elevator a few months ago, standing with an African-American woman. Out of seemingly nowhere, I had a distinct impression that I was above her, better than her, smarter than her. Somehow I had this thought that I was superior. It was random, and it came as a surprise.
My first response to myself was “What in the world!” Yet there it was.
This thought was an ugly truth to see in myself. It is certainly not one that I want to admit. But, in my healing journey I have learned to not recoil, not hide, not avoid what is, but to look and to recognize that the Holy Spirit is revealing something that He desires to bring order to.
As I processed that moment with Jesus, I saw more clearly that there are deeply-rooted ways that I feel superior because of my whiteness. Maybe this feeling doesn’t come from me in a direct way, not as a coherent thought, maybe it’s just my response to culture and images and messaging and memory. In that moment, it didn’t matter where the thought came from, I was face to face with a disordered reality that I hated – real racism – and it was in me! I thought immediately of my children, and my intense love for them, and how it would break my heart for anyone to think of them as less than because of their skin color. I thought “How can these two thoughts exist in the same heart? How is it even possible?” Yet, there it was.
When we speak of racial reconciliation, we must speak of it in terms of healing.
We need not be afraid of healing, of exposure, of allowing God to show us the dark thoughts in deep places. The Holy Spirit reveals that which is in need of healing, in order to heal, not to condemn or to bring shame.
If you care about racial reconciliation, if you desire to be one who loves others, particularly of a different race or color, more completely, without the filters of culture or lies – if you desire to love and see other as they are, the way that Jesus does – then I encourage you not to be afraid to invite the Holy Spirit to help you see yourself as you are, the way that Jesus does. This is where true reconciliation to others begins, as Jesus reconciles us to Himself.
Ask the Holy Spirit to search the deep places of your heart, the places that are hidden to you, where racism may have a place and where lies may oppose the truth of God’s image in all of us. And when God allows you to see, because of His great love and mercy, that which you rightfully hate in yourself, I encourage you not to dismiss reality or to recoil in fear. Jesus is incarnational, He enters into darkness, into the very pit of ugly sin and hate, and there He overcomes darkness with light. Trust that Jesus, the perfect reconciler, desires to heal racism and is fully able to complete the work in you. May God bless us all in the journey.
Heather Celoria is a member of Soul Care Collective’s Steering Committee.