Dispensing Grace | A Black Woman in a Mostly White Church

Welcome to Real Life.  How do you react to people who are different?  How does it feel to be a black woman in a mostly white church?  A friend of mine lives this reality. Here’s her perspective:

It seems I’ve been dispensing grace all my life.  I never thought of it as grace until taking a class[1] on the subject.  Yes, I’m talking about the race thing again.  In most situations, I’m the only person of color in a given group.  The reactions and attitudes are usually mixed.  To those with a genuine smile that travels to their eyes, I can be me.  To those with tight faces who won’t make eye contact or say hello or shake my hand, I don’t press it.  I smile and may say something pleasant.   (That is, if they aren’t moving away too fast).  Then, I move on or am left standing there.  Now get real, I’m not small of body.  I’m certainly colorful enough.  How can I be missed?  I’ve had people pass by and actually put their hand up beside their eyes acting like an ostrich:  if I can’t see her, she can’t see me.  
Some people speak to me with only their mouths smiling.  Their faces and bodies are hard as stone.  Those are the “open-minded, tolerant” ones.  I pretend I’m falling for their act.
  
How should I react when a person walks up to me and stares, no expression?  I ask, “May I help you?”  They walk away with no comment.  How should I respond when a child stares at me and asks their parent, “What is that?”  (They mean me, of course.)  The parent may or may not have the presence of mind to blush.

A woman in my Keys to Recovery group can’t stand the sight of me.  Since the group began some months ago, she has not spoken to me.  We sit in the same row, at opposite ends, naturally.  If she’s passing out hand-outs for the meeting, she skips me.  If we’re in the kitchen together (alone or with others), she won’t speak to me, even if the other person does.  I’ve said hello and she acts as though I said nothing.  Someone else noticed and told me that this woman does not like people of color.

How do I dispense grace to the ungraceful?  I ignore their behavior for the most part.  I pray for them and hope they will change, especially those I encounter in my church.  When they stand before God’s judgment seat, I wonder how they’ll answer when He asks, “Did you love others as you love yourself?  Did you treat others as you wished to be treated?”  Will God forgive them?  Or will He say, “I don’t know you.”  I wonder this about the tolerant ones as well.  Tolerance is not love.  The book of Romans says:

Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other.[2]

How would I like to respond to the ungraceful?  Sometimes, I’d like to show them how it feels.  But, that wouldn’t be grace, would it?  I’ve hidden the hurt and rejection inside for as long as I can remember.  I stopped being angry long ago.  Now, I’m mainly numb.  For this reason I am glad for “Making Peace with Your Past” and the women’s 12 Step program.  The 12 Step program has been helpful because I’ve turned to food for comfort.  With God’s assistance and the help of these programs, I’m dispensing grace to myself – uncovering the areas, owning the brokenness, and surrendering the pain to God so that I can heal.
 
People aren’t likely to change when they don’t see themselves as broken.  Still, while I’m dispensing grace to them, I’m doing the same for myself.   By not holding onto this, I’m in God’s will.

Something to think about…

  •  If you were in my friend’s situation, could you dispense grace?
  • ·How do you react to people of different races, cultures, or creeds?  Do you respond to them with openness? Kindness? Grace? Fear? Judgment? Coldness?  Ask God to expand your capacity to love.   
  •  Read What’s So Amazing About Grace? by Philip Yancey.
  •  Learn more from this Focus on the Family radio broadcast:  “Confronting Racism in our Hearts and Homes.”   
  •  Share this blog with a friend.

[1] Sunday school class on the book What’s So Amazing About Grace? by Philip Yancey
[2] Romans 12:9-10 (NLT)

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